The holidays allow us to reflect on family traditions, and one family tradition alive and well in the Alabama - West Florida (AWF) Conference is that of pastoral leadership. Currently, the Stegall Foundation supports seven seminary students with a clergy parent(s): Chris McCain, son of Rev. Freddie McCain; Riley Newton, son of Rev. Allen Newton; Mary Ann Pickard, daughter of Rev. Jamie Pickard; Joel Sigler, son of Rev. Ralph Sigler; Harden Spencer, son of Rev. Lester Spencer and Rev. Janeese Spencer; Katie Wachob, daughter of Dr. Wesley Wachob; and Kristen Curtis Wright, daughter of the late Rev. Joe Curtis. Growing up a “Preacher’s Kid” often means that children learn from an early age about a life of service to God and others. “Some of my favorite memories are of being extremely involved in the church as a child,” says Kristen Wright. “I always felt like the church my dad was serving was my second home and I actually enjoyed moving every few years, as my mom taught my sister and me from a young age that God and friends are found everywhere.” [caption id="attachment_2589" align="alignleft" width="154"] Harden Spencer and his
parents, Lester and Janeese.[/caption] Joel Sigler remembers special times of waking up early with his father on Sunday mornings in order to accompany him to church to open doors and turn on lights. “When Harden was in First Grade, we took him on his first mission trip to Venezuela,” says Rev. Lester Spencer. “We were amazed at how eager he was to connect with people of other cultures and faith backgrounds and believe this was the beginning of his love for the poor and marginalized.” Rev. Jamie Pickard remembers how his daughter, Mary Ann, enthusiastically participated in the music and drama activities at church. “She is a true Methodist, singing passionately!” he says. “She kept our family singing the Vacation Bible School songs all year long, and when she was 10 or 11 she even wrote our children’s Christmas pageant.” These seminary students say that both parents played a vital role in modeling Christian leadership and values. “My mother  exhibits many traits that are central to ministry,” says Joel. “She’s never bitter about my dad’s unusual and, often, inconvenient, ‘work hours.’ She consistently sacrifices her own desires for the Lord’s will.” [caption id="attachment_2584" align="alignright" width="188"] Kristen Curtis Wright and her late father, Joe, in 1996 at Citronelle UMC.[/caption] These future clergy hope to honor their parents by emulating their pastoral attributes. “My dad was amazing at pastoral care,” says Kristen. “He was known for going ‘above and beyond’ to be present with people who were not only sick and hurting, but also joyful and celebrating. He had a way of authentically connecting with people and extending the love of Christ through his interactions. I hope that I can emulate his empathy and deep compassion for people in my own ministry.” “My father is an authentic and humble leader,” says Joel. “(Growing up) I saw that he was consistent whether at home or in the pulpit. This showed me the real, practical impact of the Gospel and how following Christ is not merely an ideal that we strive for, but one we can joyfully live out. “ “The traits I admire most about my Dad are his love for others, integrity, and strong conviction to view all people as beloved children of God,” says Mary Ann. “I hope to be able to embody his kind spirit and passion for walking closely with God in my everyday interactions with those around me.” As the students prepare themselves during this time in seminary, the parents have hopes and dreams for these future pastors. “My wish for Joel is that he would continue to grow in his relationship and commitment to God and continue to be transformed into all God wants him to be,” says Rev. Ralph Sigler. “I am so proud of his decision to take this time to be equipped so that he may bear much fruit for the kingdom of God.” [caption id="attachment_2586" align="alignleft" width="300"] Joel Sigler and his father, Ralph.[/caption] One way in which the legacy of family service continues is through gifts to the Stegall Foundation. Without the prayerful and financial support of donors, many of these students would not be able to follow in the footsteps of their parents and come “home” to serve the people and churches of the AWF Conference. “I am deeply grateful that the Stegall Foundation has helped alleviate financial burdens, and allowed me to focus on my studies in a manner which I hope honors my family's legacy and history within the United Methodist Church," says Harden Spencer. “Just as Rhonda and I were also blessed with support from Dr. Stegall’s church when we were in seminary, the Stegall Foundation is now encouraging Joel and Olivia,” says Ralph. “This legacy of support has enabled Joel to focus on his new marriage, his studies, and community ministry among other students. Because of being able to concentrate on schooling rather than oppressive financial responsibilities, he is gaining the most from this wonderful opportunity to prepare for a lifetime of ministry.” [caption id="attachment_2588" align="alignright" width="200"] Mary Ann Pickard and her father, Jamie.[/caption] “The Stegall Foundation has made it possible for me and my husband, Micah, to answer God's call on our lives debt free,” says Kristen. ‘Without the generous support of so many donors, it would not be possible for us to both be full-time students at Candler School of Theology. It means the world to me to be able to continue my family's legacy of service to Christ and the church alongside Micah.” Rev. Pickard also sees another continuing “family” tradition: “It touches my heart that Mary Ann gets to see what I already know: The Alabama-West Florida Conference is truly committed to supporting future leaders in the church!”