Over 400 gather for Foundation's annual Dinner of Celebration (Montgomery, Ala.) - On Thursday, August 6, 2015, the Stegall Seminary Scholarship Endowment Foundation held its annual Dinner of Celebration at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Montgomery. Over 400 supporters gathered to hear words of thanksgiving from representatives of the 46 seminary students that are being supported by the Foundation during the 2015-2016 school year. 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. Dr. Jeremy Pridgeon, Director of Ministerial Services for the Alabama - West Florida Annual Conference, served as the evening’s emcee. The invocation was given by John Russell, Jr., a third-year student at Gammon Theological Seminary. [caption id="attachment_1850" align="alignright" width="300"]Dr. Jeremy Pridgeon Dr. Jeremy Pridgeon[/caption] Dr. Lawson Bryan, senior minister of First United Methodist Church of Montgomery, Ala., offered words of welcome to those gathered. He highlighted the special reason for the evening’s celebration. “Of all of the many conferences that meet in this convention center, this gathering is different,” said Bryan. “This is a conference on generosity. Let us not forget how unique this type of generosity truly is.” Bishop Paul L. Leeland, resident bishop of the Alabama - West Florida Conference, spoke words of gratefulness saying, “This Foundation is preparing a way for us to be able to fully fund our seminary students. We give our thanks to both him and his wife, Brenda, for their tireless efforts and leadership.” A highlight the annual banquet is the ability for donors to hear firsthand from current seminary students. This year, three students shared their stories of hope and thankfulness with those in attendance. Brad Goode, a third-year student at Asbury Theological Seminary, recalled how he first learned of the Stegall Foundation. He was already serving as a local pastor and was not seeking ordination because he felt there was no way he could make that vision a reality. Upon learning about Dr. Stegall and the Foundation from another student, his reply was “He just gives money away? Like some seminary Santa Claus?” “The reality is that so many people called by God to enter into this life of ordained ministry simply cannot because the finances aren’t available,” said Goode.  He shared how several of his fellow students could not continue the course of seminary because they could no longer afford it. Goode recalled Galatians 6:9-10:Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” “Please don’t grow weary of supporting this Foundation,” Goode said after reading the scripture.  “As pastors, when we give all of our money toward debt, and all of our lives toward service, that becomes a recipe for burnout.  I can’t explain to you how much your gifts position new pastors to be able to enter the ministy and serve long and healthy ministries where THEY do not grow weary.” Second-year Candler School of Theology student, Taylor Bean, shared how the Foundation’s donors had provided her with just what she needed, when she needed it.  She spoke of how when she would begin to feel that she just couldn’t do it, couldn’t make it through the journey that is a seminary education, she received validation that the call God had  placed upon her life was real. [caption id="attachment_1866" align="alignright" width="200"]Taylor Bean, student. Taylor Bean, student.[/caption] “Every three months and sometimes in between, I was reminded of this community that had never stopped loving or supporting me,” said Bean. “You all reminded me of God’s call upon my life. Not only would I receive a financial gift in the mail, but I received cards, or letters, or text messages, or phone calls just to say how proud you were. “I was reminded that no matter how impossible things seemed you still believed that I could do it,” she said. “When you give to this Foundation, yes, you pay for our books, you put food on our table and you lessen the great financial burdens that come along with seminary. But you do so much more than that,” she said. “You root for us. You pray for us. You invest in us, you proudly claim us, and you believe in us when the only thing we can think to ourselves is 'I can’t do this.'  Thank you for giving me hope that things will get better, because they did.” Patrick Craig, a second-year student at Duke Divinity School spoke honestly about the doubts that many seminarians have when confronted with the enormous call upon their life as an ordained minister. “While I’d like to stand here tonight and portray myself as a courageous follower of God, boldly walking through this new adventure  while believing steadfastly that God had prepared a place for me, the truth is I try to appear calm and content but in reality I’ve said ‘Uh Oh’ to myself, my family, and my friends more times than I care to admit.” Craig spoke of how through his divinity school experience thus far he came to some realizations. “I’ve realized that knowledge, while important, is not what this journey is ultimately about,” said Craig. “What I truly know after one year of divinity school is that my part is not knowing - but looking, touching and loving.” He went on to add, “As John Wesley once said, ‘An ounce of love is worth a pound of knowledge.’ I know this is true because as donors to the Stegall Foundation you all have looked upon us, and loved us and we have each been touched by your generosity.” Recalling that through baptism, we are all initiated into God’s family, Craig told those in attendance: “This evening, if nothing else, I want you to know that I think of you not as strangers, or as donors, or even as friends. But as family.” A duet of “You Raise Me Up” was performed by Susan Cooper and Patrick Craig. Susan is the wife of Rev. Jay Cooper, a Foundation alum and pastor at First United Methodist Church of Bay Minette, Ala. Dr. Paulette Thompson, on behalf of the Stegall Seminary Scholarship Foundation Board of Directors, presented the fifth annual Donor Appreciation Award to Mr. Daniel Lindsey, Sr. [caption id="attachment_1856" align="alignright" width="300"]Daniel Lindsey, Jr. accepts the Donor Appreciation Award on behalf of his father, Daniel Lindsey, Sr. Daniel Lindsey, Jr. accepts the Donor Appreciation Award on behalf of his father, Daniel Lindsey, Sr.[/caption] “He has been a connector, a contributor, and a passionate advocate for the Stegall Foundation,” said Thompson. Past recipients of the award are: Bishop Paul A. Duffey, Mr. John Bullard, Mr. Temple Millsap, and Mr. Wayne Russell. For a complete article on the award presentation, please click here Personally thanking the donors present, Dr. Karl K. Stegall, retired Alabama-West Florida Conference pastor and volunteer executive director of the Foundation said, “Tonight is a celebration of you as donors and of  your generosity, and for that we are very, very grateful.” As a going-forth challenge, Dr. David Saliba, Foundation alum and pastor at First United Methodist Church of Greenville, Ala., reminded those gathered that, “The good that is done with your donations reaches far and wide in the name of Jesus Christ.” He emphasized the thoughts from other speakers by saying that, “I believe the most important knowledge being dispensed in the world today is theology, what people believe about God. When you make an investment in a seminarian, when you make an investment in the Stegall Seminary Scholarship Foundation, what you are investing in is good theology; ...a theology of love and grace.” [caption id="attachment_1843" align="alignright" width="300"]Seminary students in attendance gather at the front of the room for a time of prayer and blessing. Seminary students in attendance gather at the front of the room for a time of prayer and blessing.[/caption] “My challenge to you tonight is really a plea: will you please continue to invest in making good theologians?  Yes, it is in reality a cash gift you are giving,” said Saliba. “But what you are really giving, what you stretch yourself to give, is an investment in spreading the light of Jesus Christ across this world.” In closing, Dr. Stegall invited all of the seminary students present to come forward and asked Bishop Leeland to offer a blessing over the students. To view a gallery of photographs from the evening, please click here. All photographs courtesy of Luke Lucas.