Presbyterian Study Grant supports seminarian’s sense of call

Student says her ‘passion for social change is grounded in my faith’

by Beth Waltemath | Presbyterian News Service

Emily Dawn Sutphin says she can see herself “promoting social change and betterment while working with and alongside a PC(USA) congregation as an associate pastor.” (Photo courtesy of Emily Dawn Sutphin)

DECATUR, Georgia — Emily Dawn Sutphin studied religion from a sociological perspective in college. After graduation, she chose to apply to seminary to have “the opportunity to examine my faith from a variety of angles.”

The financial support from the Presbyterian Mission Agency encouraged Sutphin in her pursuit of a Master of Divinity degree at Princeton Theological Seminary. “The Presbyterian Study Grant made it possible for me to have a wonderful experience at seminary. Especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Presbyterian Study Grant allowed me to focus on my academic pursuits.”

An academic engagement with her faith has encouraged Sutphin “to think beyond my faith’s implications for myself and my life and consider what claims my faith makes about how to live in community with other people.” Sutphin explained that loving God with all her mind means “trusting that our God can withstand our questions and scrutiny.”

Sutphin entered seminary feeling called to care for marginalized communities through nonprofit work, but over the course of her degree, she felt her call shift. “Seminary helped me to discover that my passion for social change is grounded in my faith.” While a pastoral intern at First Presbyterian Church of Hightstown, New Jersey, Sutphin’s supervisor worked collaboratively with her and offered her opportunities to lead and put into practice what she had been learning at seminary. “Now, I see myself promoting social change and betterment while working with and alongside a PC(USA) congregation as an associate pastor.”

As she prepares for her call to ministry, Sutphin said “the downward trends in church attendance, participation and tithing” are daunting. Nevertheless, she brings enthusiasm to the job. “I am most excited about building new relationships with the members of the congregation and helping each member of the congregation realize their unique spiritual gifts.”

Emily Dawn Sutphin

She hopes to engage people in a more holistic view of mission. “I believe that mission work should be a mutually beneficial endeavor where both parties give and receive, a two-way street. We can learn much from the people we serve.” Sutphin also recognizes that the church she is called to today may not be the church of tomorrow. “Will we continue to do things the way we have always done and risk becoming irrelevant, or will we bravely journey forward into the future seeking what new things God is doing in our midst?”

In the meantime, she is trying to be faithful to her belief that we are called by God “to be present in the here and now.” That present for her is a few more months of study to complete dual Master of Christian Education and Master of Divinity degrees. “Our ministry’s start date is not a year or two in the future after we graduate,” said Sutphin. “Our ministry’s start date is right now. God is calling us to care for the people currently in our lives while also preparing for those we have yet to meet.”

The Presbyterian Study Grant serves full-time seminary students seeking a Master of Divinity (MDiv) or 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.

“The programmatic emphasis on leadership development and discernment of vocation challenges participants to not only gain valuable knowledge for the world, but also to engage with discovering who God created them to be,” said Laura Bryan, coordinator of Financial Aid for Service, which oversees the scholarships for the Presbyterian Mission Agency. In addition to the study grant for seminarians, there are two scholarships for undergraduates: the Presbyterian Scholarship for Undergraduates and the Samuel Robinson Award for an undergraduate in their junior or senior year.

This year, Financial Aid for Service would like to be able to give out even more scholarships. It’s getting the word out through advertisements in print, e-newsletters and social media. Since qualified candidates must be members of a PC(USA) church, it is important that mid councils and churches share the news about the applications and their deadlines.

Applications in English, Korean and Spanish are now open and must be completed before May 15.

For more information, contact finaid@pcusa.org or visit pcusa.org/scholarship.


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