Seminarian feels lifelong support of the PC(USA) in her call to ministry
by Beth Waltemath | Presbyterian News Service
Victoria Robinson has been shaped by her own experiences and by a willingness to attune to the perspectives of others. Discerning a call to ministry with the support of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has been a part of Robinson’s experience.
As a second-year student at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, Robinson recently reflected on what her theological training has taught her about the human search for meaning. “Our lived experiences shape us and explain why we do certain things and why we are motivated to do something or not,” Robinson said as she considered what her coursework and community at Columbia have taught her that she wishes others would take closer to heart. “I feel like people understand this to a degree but are not fully aware of the differences of human experience.”
For two years, Robinson has applied for and received the Presbyterian Study Grant, administered through the Office of Financial Aid for Service by the Presbyterian Mission Agency. It is one of many grants and programs that support the educational goals of Presbyterians through their undergraduate and seminary careers. “I am immensely thankful for the support of the PC(USA) for getting me closer and closer to achieving my goals of ordination,” said Robinson.
“The impact of receiving this financial award was huge and truly allowed me to enter into seminary with less fear of finances and worry if we had enough month by month,” said Robinson, who moved in 2021 from South Carolina with her husband, Melvin, who works as a high school band teacher. In January, Robinson participated in a contextual immersions trip at Columbia. A cultural immersion experience during a January term is a requirement of the Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree at the institution. “I really wanted to travel to India, and because of the funds from the Presbyterian Study Grant, I was able to attend this amazing trip,” said Robinson.
The Presbyterian Study Grant serves full-time seminary students seeking an MDiv or a Master of Arts in Christian Education at any Association of Theological Schools institution in the United States, including online programs. MDiv students must be under the care of a presbytery. In 2022, the program provided $431,000 in aid for 67 students. It can support up to 100 students with awards of up to $6,000 each.
Supplemental Awards for People of Color and Native American Education Grants, which do not require separate applications, are made possible by basic mission support. Eighty students each received $2,000 in supplemental aid last year. Since 2018, the percentage of people of color participating in aid programs has steadily increased from 40% to 59% by 2022.
After college, Robinson worked in a church before applying to seminary. She heard about the scholarship through her local presbytery. “As a lifelong Presbyterian, education is important for my faith and my vocation. I want to be educated to speak with conviction and learn from other scholars and activists who think different from me so that I may learn new perspectives to share with others.”
Other recipients have learned about the scholarship program from their congregations or school financial aid counselors. Laura Bryan, coordinator for Financial Aid for Service, hopes that students will pursue all the available options for funding through the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Bryan points out a possible trajectory for a Presbyterian high school student to apply for the Presbyterian Undergraduate Scholarship Program, to participate in the Young Adult Volunteer discernment program, and to apply for a Presbyterian Study Grant upon entering seminary. “Additional funds are available for both undergraduate and seminary students of color,” said Bryan, who has worked to make historic grants and new platforms more accessible to students.
Bryan said she believes that the grants the Presbyterian Mission Agency offers will help students “gain valuable knowledge for the world and engage with discovering who God created them to be.”
For Robinson, the support of her home congregation has been unwavering. “I have been so fortunate to have grown up with a loving, supportive and challenging (in a good way!) congregation who pushed me to be the best version of myself,” she said. “As I graduated high school, they continued to check in on me and cheer me on. As I entered seminary, the same people who raised me in the faith are now cheering me on.” As she considers her future role in congregational ministry, Robinson hopes to return the favor, saying, “I am excited to walk alongside people as they journey through faith just as I was nurtured.”
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