On Thursday, August 1, 2013, the Stegall Seminary Scholarship Endowment Foundation held its annual Dinner of Celebration at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Montgomery. Nearly 400 supporters - a foundation record - gathered to hear words of thanksgiving from representatives of the 17 seminary students in attendance that evening. Each year, two extravagantly generous foundation donors underwrite the entire cost of the banquet, ensuring that donations made to the foundation only go directly toward student scholarships. Rev. David Saliba, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church of Greenville, Ala., served as the emcee for the evening. The invocation was given by Brady Baird, pastor of the Summerville Road United Methodist Church in Phenix City, Ala. Baird is a new foundation scholar, and enters Candler School of Theology this Fall. [caption id="attachment_1483" align="alignright" width="240"]P1020913 Some of the 17 seminary students in attendance that evening pause for a moment with Dr. Karl K. Stegall (far left) and Bishop Paul L. Leeland (far right). Photo courtesy of Joe Bryan.[/caption] The highlight of each year’s banquet is the ability for donors to hear firsthand from current seminary students and alumni. This year, four students and one alumna spoke on behalf of the 38 seminary students the foundation currently supports. Rev. Carolyn Nelson, a native of Prattville, Ala. and foundation alumna, spoke first. Carolyn, currently serving as the associate pastor at St. Luke UMC in Pensacola, Fla., is a graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary. She reminded donors of the importance of the additional benefits their support provides. “The benefits of the Foundation extend beyond financial – they provide special and life giving relationships with donors that provide a connection to home. Through your encouragement, I was able to fulfill the dream God laid upon my heart.” John Russell, a native of Mobile, Ala., and a current student at Gammon Theological Seminary in Atlanta, Ga., spoke next. Addressing the donors, he said, “Seminary is hard, but this journey is wonderful. I celebrate you on this day. Just continue to do what you do; you’re making a major difference.” Russell reinforced the idea of partnership between donors and students, saying: “I want to go all the way, and with your support we can go together.” Woods Lisenby, a native of Dothan, Ala., will begin his third year at Candler School of Theology this fall. He spoke to donors about how their support creates a lasting relationship. “You mean more to me than I can explain. Thank you for being a part of our stories, and letting us be a part of yours.” Ebb Hagan, a native of Evergreen, Ala. and a student at Princeton Theological Seminary, joined the banquet via a pre-recorded video message. He took the donors on a tour of the seminary and a local church where he interned. Hagan discussed how God had put a call to ministry on his heart, but the real-world financial realities of responding were daunting. “With an undeniable call you have to commit,” he told donors. “It is because of people like you that I’m able to commit to something this big.” Colby Leonard is a native of Coker, Ala. and a graduate of Huntingdon College. Currently a student at Duke Divinity School, Leonard shared how his experience with the foundation allows him the opportunity to watch God at work through others. “When looking at you, I see people who want to build the church. With whatever gift I have for ministry, I hope to make every one of you proud. It is only because of your generous gifts that I have the opportunity to attend Duke Divinity School. This is an opportunity that my parents – and my grandparents – never even imagined.” A duet of “You Raise Me Up” was provided by Susan Cooper and Jack Horner, of First United Methodist Church of Montgomery. Dr. Paulette Thompson, on behalf of the Stegall Seminary Scholarship Foundation board, presented the third annual “Spirit of the Foundation” Award to Temple Millsap. “This award is designed to give a special recognition to someone whose insight, guidance, and support have furthered the foundation’s capacity to respond to student needs,” said Thompson. Millsap, who was joined at the banquet by his wife, SuSu, was honored with a standing ovation. “I am speechless. Thank you,” said Millsap when recognized by the crowd. Bishop Paul A. Duffey and Mr. John Bullard are the two previous recipients of the Spirit of the Foundation award. Introducing the visionary behind the foundation, Rev. Saliba said, “No man has ever worked as passionately or as fervently for a cause without any credit or compensation whatsoever as Dr. Karl Stegall does for the seminary scholarship foundation. He works, he lives, he breathes to support the future of Christ and His church through the education of ministers.” Dr. Karl K. Stegall, retired Alabama-West Florida Conference pastor and executive director of the Foundation, then took to the stage to share a word with those in attendance. “When we very informally began these dinners in the late 1980s, we had 25 people and tonight we celebrate that we have nearly 400 people,” said Stegall. “However, our job is not finished and I want to challenge you to help me once again.” Stegall invited the donors to provide a minimum scholarship of $10,000 per year per student. “Will you join me in this effort,” he asked. He went on to share, “I don’t know of a greater investment - I don’t know of a greater feeling that could dwell in your hearts - than that of knowing one day in the future the felling you will know that you have made a financial investment in the life of one of these seminary students who comes to be your pastor.” In closing, Dr. Stegall introduced Bishop Paul Leeland, resident Bishop of the AWF Conference, to share a few words. “It’s like we’re sitting on the front row of watching what God is doing to build the church,” said Leeland. Leeland then invited each seminary student to join him on the stage as a blessing was said over them. To view photos of the evening, please click here.