Hundreds gather for Foundation’s annual banquet (Montgomery, Ala.) – On Thursday, August 11, 2016, the Stegall Seminary Scholarship Endowment Foundation held its annual Dinner of Celebration at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Montgomery. A record crowd of over 475 students and supporters gathered to hear words of thanksgiving from representatives of the 47 seminary students that are being supported by the Foundation during the 2016-2017 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 to student scholarships. Rev. Dr. David Saliba, Senior Pastor of Perdido Bay United Methodist Church, served as the evening’s Master of Ceremonies. The invocation was given by Miss Kathryn Beck, a first-year seminary student. Beginning the program, a duet of “The Prayer” was performed by Dr. James Seay and Mrs. Mabs Seay. They Seays serve First United Methodist Church of Montgomery, Ala. A highlight of the annual banquet is the ability for donors to hear firsthand from current and past seminary students. This year, three current students and one recent graduate shared their stories of hope and thankfulness with those in attendance. Chelsey Jones, a second-year student at Asbury Theological Seminary, thanked those gathered for their support during her first year of studies. “The joy I have tonight is because of what God has done through you and so many others, providing a way for me to pursue the call of vocational ministry in the United Methodist Church,” said Jones. “More than a financial partnership; in actuality it is a ministry that empowers the community of faith to say ‘yes’ to God’s call, to dream big and to make known the kingdom of God to our nation and world.” John Russell, a recent graduate of Gammon Theological Seminary, focused on what the donors have done in spirit alongside him as he has simultaneously journeyed through seminary and pastored a local congregation in Mobile, Ala. “Together, you and I traveled over 100,000 miles in three years back and forth between Gammon in Atlanta and Mobile,” said Russell. “Together, we were tested on our faith and together we almost gave up a couple of times. “Yet I can now say that I am no longer worried about the future of the church. Today I’m not concerned about where the church will be 10 years from now. Today I believe that what we’re doing together – this scholarship, this fellowship - has not only strengthened our local churches, it has strengthened our conference and our general church. Many of you are making your own sacrifices to give to this foundation because you share a belief that the church must be even stronger tomorrow than it is today.” Matthew Montgomery, a second-year student at Duke Divinity School, told a story of how he felt like a fish out of water upon first beginning his seminary education. But, after a phone call with his sister, he realized that through seminary he was truly being formed in a way to fulfill his calling. “Without our donors, seminary really wouldn’t be an option,” said Montgomery. “You make my training possible. Thank you for your generosity; I really look forward to coming back and serving you in the Alabama – West Florida (AWF) Conference.” Lucas Tribble, a first-year student at Candler School of Theology, spoke to the importance the local church had on the development of his call to ministry. “Regardless of the impact made by all of the other varied ministry opportunities I was involved in, they pale in comparison to the impact the local church has had on my life,” said Tribble. “The pastoral impact that clergy have had in and around my life has been the cornerstone to me accepting and pursuing my call to be an ordained elder in the AWF Conference.” Mentioning the financial realities associated with a seminary education, Tribble reflected on years of family discussion surrounding his call into vocational ministry and the debt that could accompany such a decision. “I dream of a day where people called to ministry no longer have their call questioned or challenged by the threat of financial instability – the threat of a perpetual circle of debt,” he said. “Let us now work together to make an even bigger impact for the people after me, thus impacting the United Methodist Church in the AWF Conference for decades and decades to come.” Upon the conclusion of the student witnesses, Rev. Tony McCullough, on behalf of the Stegall Foundation Board of Directors, presented the seventh annual Donor Appreciation Award to Dr. Paulette Thompson. In presenting the award, McCullough said, “Tonight’s recipient embodies exceptional and incarnational leadership qualities and the compassion necessary to forward the cause of our foundation. She has an unrelenting affection for seminary students, ministers, and the church.” Speaking of Dr. Thompson’s service as a member of the foundation’s Board of Directors, he went on to say: “She is a woman who embodies the purpose and values of the foundation, and is faithful in the way she engages the opportunities of life with grace and orders her life after the example of Christ.” Upon receiving the award, Dr. Thompson said: “It has been my gift to be a part of all of this. Together, a really remarkable thing has happened. People have stepped forward – you have stepped forward – and in doing that, together we have enabled an amazing thing to happen. We are experiencing a renewal.” Past recipients of the Donor Appreciation Award are: Mr. Boyd Goddard, Bishop Paul A. Duffey, Mr. John Bullard, Mr. Temple Millsap, Mr. Wayne Russell, and Mr. Dan Lindsey, Sr. Bishop Paul L. Leeland, resident bishop of the AWF Conference, expressed a word of appreciation to the seminary students, and encouraged them as they continue to prepare for ministry. Leeland also thanked Mrs. Brenda and Dr. Karl Stegall for their vision and dedication. “This foundation serves as a model for the larger church,” he said. “We would be hard pressed if we looked throughout the entire denomination to find another that is more dedicated, visionary and passionate about the next generation of leaders than you and Brenda.” Recognizing the role the foundation has in dealing with the denomination-wide clergy debt crisis, Leeland expressed thanksgiving for the relief it is offering the students from the AWF Conference. “We don’t want the gifts from the Stegall Foundation to be a band-aid; we want this to be a cure,” said Leeland. “We want this to be a cure for the overwhelming worry and anxiety too many students experience as they take on indebtedness to simply prepare them for ministry.” Personally thanking donors present, Dr. Karl K. Stegall, retired AWF Conference pastor and volunteer executive director of the Foundation, spoke about the dedication of each donor to the cause of our seminary students. He also expressed appreciation for the leadership of Bishop Leeland and Mrs. Janet Leeland and presented them with a plaque on behalf of the Board of Directors. Beginning September 1, 2016 Bishop Leeland has been assigned as the new episcopal leader of the Western North Carolina Conference. “With Bishop Leeland’s episcopal voice and support, over the past eight years we have grown from giving $1,000 per year to each full-time student to a minimum of $10,000 per year to each full-time, on campus student,” said Stegall. “That would never have happened without their leadership.” In closing, Dr. Stegall invited all of the seminary students present to come forward and join the Leelands in front of those assembled. He then offered a blessing over them all as they departed in service to God. Photos of the evening may be found here.