(Reprinted from the Alabama - West Florida Conference website) - An anonymous donation. A student quietly hearing the call to ministry. Letters from donors to seminary students to show their support. The Stegall Seminary Scholarship Endowment Foundation makes a monumental impact on the future of the United Methodist Church but much of their work goes unnoticed or is behind the scenes. Thursday, August 9, 2012, the Stegall Scholarship Foundation hosted its annual banquet at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Montgomery. A record number of supporters gathered to show their support of this ministry while also welcoming twelve seminary students back home; placing donors and students face to face, some for the first time. Despite a most elegant evening, the night was paid for by two generous donors so that no money was taken away from scholarships. Dr. Karl K. Stegall, retired Alabama-West Florida Conference pastor and now executive director of the foundation, was the host for the evening and welcomed all in attendance. Dr. Nathan Attwood, pastor at Millbrook First United Methodist Church, gave the invocation but before explained the importance of small checks that came in the mail while he was attending seminary. He stated, “Each young clergy person in this room knows what it’s like to have Dr. Stegall take an interest in him or her.” The highlight of the evening was hearing from three current seminary students and one alumnus, now serving as a leader in the AWF Conference. First speaking was Angie Long, who attends Candler School of Theology at Emory University. Circumstances of her childhood led her to be self sufficient and a non-trusting woman. She always had a strong sense of God’s presence in her life and after having two children, felt the need to search for a church home. She found that home in Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Montgomery, AL and was introduced to Christ. She heard the call to ministry at the time in her life when she was married, 33 years of age, had two children and a full-time career--she had no idea how to respond. Long said to the donors in the room, “At any time I begin to feel alone or worry, you’ve been there. I’ve found what it means to be a part of your Christian family.” Hearing those quiet prayers during her long and monotonous travels to and from seminary. Gabe Holloway delivered an emotional testimony about a very dark time in his life. He attends Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, KY and is from Opelika First United Methodist Church. After hearing what he was hoping wasn’t a call, he started work towards his master of divinity in 2010. In April of 2011, Gabe and his wife, Lynn, found out she was pregnant but the baby was diagnosed with anencephaly, a fatal defect of the neural tube that would not allow her to survive outside of the womb. Annie was born on a cold November morning and lived for 45 minutes. Holloway sincerely expressed, “No other organization stepped in like this one.” He explained that it wasn’t just the financial support but prayers, phone calls and e-mails. He concluded by saying, “Keep on loving and trusting Jesus.” Before the other guest speakers gave their messages, a duet was provided by Susan Cooper, wife of former seminary student, Rev. Jay Cooper, and Jack Horner, Director of Music at First United Methodist Church Montgomery. They performed a beautiful rendition of “Amazing Grace.” Drew Willis of Duke University, made the drive from Durham, NC to express his heartfelt thanks. His home church is Livingston United Methodist Church in the Demopolis District. Willis eloquently shared with the group, “You are the ones that we are stepping out in faith hoping to find.” Drew is a first-generation college student from a single parent home and did not think a seminary education at Duke University was within reach until he found out about the Stegall fund. Current pastors in the Alabama-West Florida Conference, Tim and Cherie Meadows, supported and encouraged him and members of Demopolis District affirmed him. “I could only do it if I leaned out in faith and you all were there to support us,” he said. “Seminary is not a solo journey.” Robin Wilson, seminary alumnus, grew up in Prattville First United Methodist Church and is now co-senior pastor at Dauphin Way United Methodist Church with her husband, Jeff. In 1996, at 22 years old, she had just finished her first year of seminary. Looking to explore how to answer a call into ministry, she interned with the Holston and Western North Carolina Conferences. Both conferences urged her to make her ministry home there. She and a friend made a journey to the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference and met a man that would change her life forever—Dr. Karl Stegall. After learning her story, he promised she would receive a check from the foundation that became the Stegall Seminary Scholarship Fund. All of a sudden, she had a connection to home. She stressed the importance of financial commitment, but more than that, how much donors have made a difference in their lives. Wilson explained, “You have made us want to be not only better pastors, but better Christians.” Dr. Paulette Thompson, Stegall Seminary Scholarship Foundation board member, presented the second annual Stegall Scholarship Appreciation Award to John Bullard. Lovingly she said, “This recipient is unique in a singular way that sets him apart from the rest of us.” Bullard exemplifies what it means to be a United Methodist and has served at every level of the church. In the local church he participated and led Bible Studies, was the chairman of the trustees and administrative board as well as the finance committee, council on ministries and staff parish relations. He has served the district through the board of trustees, nominating committee and grounds committee. At the conference level he was an active board member of the UM Foundation, chaired the conference CFA as well as serves as a delegate to annual conference. He has also participated at the general church level and has attended world Methodist conferences. He has shown a lifelong commitment to time, talents and service. Bullard is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Duke University in Civil Engineering. Under his leadership and at his home dining room table, others were pulled into the birthing process to make the Stegall Scholarship Endowment Fund a legal and functioning reality. Bullard was honored by a standing ovation of nearly 400 guests. Dr. Stegall introduced Bishop Paul Leeland, resident Bishop of the AWF Conference, to share a few words. Bishop Leeland was proud to inform the guests that the AWF Conference has 55 persons enrolled in seminary and broke into the top ten conferences for receiving young adult clergy of 35 and under into their conference. He further explained that 70% of United Methodist seminarians leave with a tremendous amount of debt and stressing the important of the great work of the donors. Terry Mitchell , treasurer of foundation, shared, “We have much to be thankful for and celebrate this night. Imagine the multitude of disciples that will be made from these seminary students.” A surprise $500,000 check from the estate of Irene Miller was presented to Dr. Karl Stegall, bringing the fund close to the goal of raising $5 million of funds within 5 years. Mitchell eloquently concluded by saying, “God’s blessings are flowing from your faithfulness.” Dr. Stegall emotionally expressed his thanks to God for the faithful ministry of Irene and Carlisle Miller. Quiet servants changing the lives of many. A most appropriate conclusion was held by having each seminary student in attendance come to the stage where the Bishop offered a benediction and prayer for those taking on this quiet, but sincere call. Maybe you haven’t heard from these students yet, but rest assured, you will. For the future of the AWF Conference is quietly studying and preparing to lead you and future generations. To view photos of the evening, please click here.