(by Mary Catherine Phillips, AWF Conference) - Life-changing moments are expected to happen with the birth of a child, marrying your true love, saying goodbye to a parent, perhaps even being called into the ministry. It’s the unexpected moments and generosity of others that can have a profound impact on one’s life. On the evening of August 7, 2014, a capacity crowd gathered at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Montgomery, AL, to celebrate a remarkable foundation. The Stegall Seminary Scholarship Endowment Foundation held its annual banquet honoring numerous donors and hearing testimonies from current seminary students on how generosity has been life changing for them. An anonymous couple who told Dr. Stegall to, “invite everyone” underwrote the dinner. Pastors from around the AWF Conference also traveled to celebrate the evening. The Stegall Seminary Scholarship Endowment Foundation was established upon Dr. Karl K. Stegall’s retirement from the ministry seven years ago. His passion then and now is to assist students financially as they obtain a seminary degree. Upon inception, each student received approximately $1200 per year. That amount, thanks to many in the crowd attending the dinner, is now $10,000 per year for full-time, on-campus students. Rev. Patrick Quinn, teaching pastor at Frazer Memorial UMC and Candler School of Theology alumnus, welcomed those in attendance and served as the master of ceremonies. He served with Dr. Stegall as an associate pastor at Montgomery First United Methodist Church while attending seminary and recalls the small envelopes that would come in the mail at just the right time when he and his family were not sure how they would pay a bill. Rev. Levi Gardner, who was recently commissioned as a provisional elder in the AWF Conference and serves as associate pastor at Perdido Bay UMC, offered the invocation as the banquet began. Dr. R. Lawson Bryan, senior pastor at Montgomery FUMC, welcomed special guests from Emory University and Huntingdon College’s Department of Religion. Four seminarians provided special music as dinner was served. The highlight of the evening came from two current seminary students and one alumnus that personally thanked donors for allowing them to embrace the call into ministry. Hunter Pugh, a recent Vanderbilt Divinity School graduate, spoke of his late father and the impact he had on him in making the right decisions on his path to ministry. His father, the late Rev. Glen Pugh, died in a tragic car accident on Ash Wednesday earlier this year. Perhaps the most powerful words cam from Emily Hagan. She is attending Asbury Theological Seminary online and is the mother of three small children. Her husband, Ebb, attended Princeton Theological Seminary and is now in his first appointment at Jay UMC in Jay, FL. Ebb was also a scholarship recipient. She candidly told of her family selling all of their possessions and driving across the country when Ebb started seminary. Tears passionately and lovingly flowed as she told about the small little envelopes that would show up at just the right time when she wondered if her family would be able to eat. She told the donors, “you have contributed so substantially that it fosters hope that {ministry} could become a reality.” She thanked donors for giving with no strings attached. She specifically thanked one donor from Montgomery, AL, who sent each of her children a $20 bill of their very own to spend however they wanted. Checking the mail for those small envelopes with the Stegall Foundation logo was a critical part of their family answering the call. But it’s not just the money in the envelopes. Notes of encouragement seem just as important to these persons who have sacrificed so much. Rhett Butler is a current Duke Divinity School student who grew up in poverty and did not attend church until the age of 17. Through his choice to attend Huntingdon College, he realized ministry was his calling. He expressed that telling his family he was going into the ministry was one of the hardest things he has ever done. His family is unable to support him financially or spiritually so he leans on this devoted group of foundation donors and said, “you are helping them {seminary students} maintain their faith. He physically had no way to get to seminary and a car was even donated to him. Nothing has stood in the way of this young man hearing the call. Board member Dr. Paulette Thompson recognized this year’s Stegall Scholarship Appreciation Award. This year’s recipient, Wayne Russell, battled the most serious health issues one could face and is a cancer survivor. She said, “For those in the know, he was an inspiration not only for his faithfulness to this new ministry for Christ’s church, but also for the undefeatable spirit he maintained as he battled multiple myeloma.“ Rev. David Saliba addressed the audience and reminded the group of the late Bishop Paul Duffey’s challenge of the “loaded” one dollar bill. A dollar bill that can be multiplied by God’s grace. The Stegall Seminary Scholarship Endowment Foundation has a goal of reaching $5 million in donations. They are $100,000 short of that goal and encouraged donors to find that coveted small envelope at their dinner tables to help reach this milestone. Dr. Karl Stegall closed the evening thanking the distinguished group and reminding them of the goal to be able to pay each seminary student in the AWF Conference’s tuition 100%. Karl is a tireless leader with a genuine passion who fully understands the dire need of good, young leaders in the United Methodist Church. As one student expressed, no donation is too small. Those envelopes traveling across various states into the mailboxes of students just seem like regular US Mail. But, they are a substantial promise of hope, love and commitment. For the donors know that investments can have big returns—and they usually do in the form of baptisms, weddings and hours of pastoral leadership and care. Photos of the 2014 event may be found here.