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One in mission | Linda Valentine

Stepping into the gap

Presbyterians move to reduce financial barriers to education and young adult service

Linda Valentine is executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency

To our children and grandchildren, I wish to pass along a society that gives them every opportunity to grow, learn, and fulfill their deepest, God-given potential. This is my prayer for every child. But I fear that they will instead inherit a society where that education is a privilege available only to a select few. Even now student debt hampers the futures and limits the options of students who leave school with tens of thousands of dollars of debt. Others are discouraged from pursuing education altogether.

It’s a new issue but a very old problem. As a lifelong student of history, my inquiring Presbyterian mind has been delighted to rediscover—particularly through a host of new resources released on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of John Calvin’s birthday in 2009—just what a remarkable and wonderful tradition Calvin set for us and how meaningful it is for us today, especially his emphasis on education and inclusion of young adults.

In his May 2010 piece “John Calvin the Educator,” Michael Dewalt cites the following as “one more reason why John Calvin is important for today.” He writes, “Calvin models for us a proper recognition of the importance of education—especially seminary training, which is the backbone of the Christian enterprise.”

Of particular interest to me—in light of the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s directional goal to “inspire, equip, and connect the church to engage and join with young adults in reforming the church for Christ’s mission”—was Calvin’s insistence on educating the youth of 16th-century Geneva. “One should hardly discount the impact that came from the public education of young people,” Dewalt writes, “especially in a day when education was normally reserved only for aristocratic scions or for members of Catholic societies.”

Calvin’s bold witness in his day continues to be relevant for us in times such as these, when the ever-widening gap between rich and poor impedes equal access to education. As heirs of the Reformed legacy—who are called to step into that gap—the Presbyterian Mission Agency is committed to the support of Presbyterian students at all ages and stages of their education toward a life of discernment and service.

The office for Financial Aid for Service in our Theology, Worship, and Education ministry area offers $1.5 million in aid to Presbyterian college and seminary students through a variety of programs. But we’ve decided to go further. The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board recently approved a proposal to expand the use of financial-aid funds to provide debt assistance to young adults pursuing opportunities for Christian service. Additional funds are available to assist teaching elders serving small Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations in part-time and/or temporary pastoral positions.  

Photo of Laura Bryan

Laura Bryan is the associate for Financial Aid for Service for the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

“While our office will continue to serve Presbyterian students by awarding them money to go to school, our goal is also to encourage students to discern who God created them to be through such opportunities as mission service,” says Laura Bryan, associate for Financial Aid for Service. 

“We also want to remove barriers so pastors can answer God’s call to serve in smaller congregations or join in the movement to start 1,001 new worshiping communities. Our financial aid has been made possible by gifts of generations of faithful Presbyterians, making a profound impact on lives today and on the church and the world for the future.”

Inspired by Calvin and called by God to step into the gap, I hope that you will take Calvin’s commitment to education to heart, not only by learning more about the financial-aid programs but also by joining with them in faithful acts of generosity that truly make a difference.

Discover scholarship and loan opportunities, stories of impact, and related resources at the Financial Aid for Service website:


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