Students are drawn to Drew’s Theological School for all sorts of noble reasons. The promise of parlaying their degree into a high-paying career, it’s safe to say, is not one of them.
Yet there’s no escaping the fact that graduate school is an increasingly costly proposition. And as the nation’s student debt crisis worsens, theology graduates, in particular, struggle to keep their heads above water. This makes scholarships and grants more important than ever at the Theo School, where roughly half the student body works full time.
“If it weren’t for the amount of institutional aid we can provide,” Dean Javier A. Viera says, “most of our students would not be able to afford a theological education.”
The good news: Thanks to the One And All campaign, the Theo School now has four additional endowed scholarships. What’s more, the momentum from the campaign continues to generate additional gifts, such as the newly minted David and Mindy Kwon Visiting Scholar and the Dr. Hwain C. Lee T’99 and Dr. William Lee Scholarship, which is in the process of being endowed.
Here’s a look at how the recently created Theo scholarships are already making a difference.
Like Jesus’ Parable of the Talents, the story of this gift hinges on a wise investment. As Miller tells it, back in 1980, as a pastor in New York, he paid $80,000 for a home in Florida. He ultimately sold it, 26 years later, for $1 million. “I’ve been very, very fortunate,” says Miller, a former Drew trustee and adjunct professor in the Theo School.
Tithing the proceeds from the sale of the property provided funding for the scholarship, which supports Drew students preparing for pastoral ministry in the United Methodist Church. Now retired, Miller says he could have set aside money for the scholarship in his estate. Instead, he wanted the satisfaction of being able to see the funds bear fruit while he was still alive.
The active role Miller has taken as a mentor to the beneficiaries of his gift sets this scholarship apart. Go to the Celebration of Benefactors, an annual affair that brings together donors and scholarship winners, and you’re sure to see Miller engrossed in conversation with a Theo student.
Lawrence Hillis T’18, the most recent recipient of the scholarship, has spent hours talking with Miller at these gatherings. What strikes him most about Miller is his focus on the “here and now.” One contemporary issue they’ve discussed—a topic Hillis is especially interested in—is the challenge of ministering to members of a church that, for financial reasons, has to be closed. Hillis, 27, calls Miller “a particularly fascinating individual.”
Peter Brown T’14 is just as big a fan. Three years after he was selected as the first recipient of the scholarship, Brown still meets with Miller monthly. Brown spent decades in the business world before discerning a latein-life call to ministry. Now 64, he’s the pastor of a small church in Connecticut. And he considers it a blessing to be able to discuss the challenges he’s facing as a new pastor with Miller.
“For me,” Brown says, “it’s a great opportunity to learn from someone who has a wealth of experience in the pastoral field.”
It’s obvious that Miller enjoys these exchanges as much as the scholarship winners.
“The gift that I give to them is not an end in itself,” he says. “It’s a means to a greater gift, which is their ministry.”
Both of these awards, inspired by one of Korea’s most revered foreign missionaries, Henry Appenzeller T1885, were created to assist exemplary Korean or Korean-American students who have a passion for spreading the Gospel.
Significantly, none of the donors are Drew alumni. That’s a frequent occurrence in the Theo School, Viera says, a testament to the school’s far-reaching influence.
The Yanghwajin scholarship takes its name from one of South Korea’s most sacred Christian sites, the Seoul cemetery where many of the country’s early foreign missionaries are buried, including Appenzeller himself. The award is funded by an interdenominational organization that has become the cemetery’s caretaker, the Foundation for the 100th Anniversary of the Korean Church.
Viera, who has visited the cemetery, says it was a profound experience to see the graves of so many men and women who responded to Christ’s command to bring the faith to the ends of the earth.
“What was most moving is the way the Korean people preserve the memories of these men and women and revere their legacies,” he says.
One of the scholarship’s first recipients is Sooah Na T’17, a Theo student from South Korea.
Receiving the award is “helpful financially, as well as spiritually and mentally,” she says.
This scholarship had its genesis in a gathering of Drew alumni and their friends at the annual Hampton University Ministers’ Conference in Hampton, Virginia.
The discussion that day turned to the enduring legacy of two of the Theo School’s most ardent supporters: the late Rev. Dr. Shellie Sampson, Jr. T’71, ’77 and his son-in-law, the Rev. Dr. Johnnie G. McCann, Sr. T’93, ’95, ’01.
Together, the two recruited and mentored untold numbers of African-American Theo students, who have gone on to serve in churches, large and small, throughout the United States and abroad. The group decided a scholarship named in memory and honor of Sampson was the perfect way to pay tribute to him and carry on his work.
Sampson was a microbiologist-turned-pastor who led Thessalonia Baptist Church in the Bronx from 1982 until his death in 2014. Under his leadership, Thessalonia became a catalyst for educational and economic empowerment in one of the country’s poorest neighborhoods. “He was a walking encyclopedia, a brilliant teacher [and] a no-nonsense man,” says McCann, the pastor of St. Luke’s Baptist Church in Brooklyn.
McCann provided principal funding for the scholarship, along with Kevin Miller, the Theo School’s director of admissions and one of McCann’s many recruits. Additional support has come from numerous other donors. “It’s really a group of people, Drew alums and friends of Drew alums, who came together,” Miller says. “Drew has so profoundly influenced them, they want to give back to the institution.”
The scholarship is awarded to Master of Divinity students pursuing social justice work in primarily urban, African-American churches and communities in the United States.
Melaine Rochford T’16, who credits McCann for bringing her to Drew, used the award to help pay for her final semester last spring.
“If I can follow in their footsteps, and the path they’ve already blazed,” she says of Sampson and McCann, “then I think I’d be doing something great.” The scholarship support also boosted Rochford at a critical moment and helped affirm her plan to continue her PhD studies at Drew.
As with the other Theo scholarships, the award is as much a source of moral support as financial assistance, says recipient Janelle Greene T’17.
“It’s not about the actual dollar amount, it’s about community,” Greene says. “That’s ultimately what’s important—that somebody walks alongside of you in your journey and says, ‘I believe in you.’”