Hannah Rasmussen, a graduating senior at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, has won the 2014 Presbyterian Outlook Church- Partnership Award.
McKenna Lewellen, of Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, took second place in the contest.
The competition was based on college seniors’ essays on the topic, “How my education at a PC(USA)-related college has shaped my faith and prepared me for significant service and leadership.”
Winning essays were picked by a panel of Presbyterian leaders. Rasmussen was awarded $1,000 by the Presbyterian Outlook Foundation, and Lewellen received $200. Both essays will appear in the Presbyterian Outlook’s 2015 Guide to PC(USA)-Related Colleges, to be published October 13, 2014.
Rasmussen, who lived in Tanzania and Kenya for 16 years, earned a B.A. in sociology and English with a 3.92 GPA. While at the college, she was the Servant Team Coordinator, hosting weekly Bible discussions, planning retreats and organizing collaborative campus events on gender justice, Christian privilege and Jewish-Christian dialogue.
In her essay, she reflects on how her college experience presented needs and opportunities to which she has responded and that have led to a call to Christian vocation. She concludes, “A school of 2,000 may be an unlikely place to grow world changers. But we have alumni like Kofi Annan and Walter Mondale. Margaret Mead’s quote seems especially applicable to Macalester: ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’”
After graduation she is staying in St. Paul, to continue to serve her church, Bethel Christian Fellowship, which houses five ethnic groups. She is writing a college-level curriculum about gender in the church and editing a book on pastoral responses to witchcraft accusations in Africa.
“I plan to use my degrees in sociology and English to be a freelance editor and writer, and eventually go into church ministry,” she says. And she adds, “If anyone reading this would like to contact me about writing projects, my email is [email protected]”
Lewellen earned a B.A. in religious studies, maintaining a 3.66 GPA. She has been a Bonner Service Scholar and Kemmons Wilson Service Scholar, which required 1,680 service hours through her college career. She served primarily with inner-city neighborhood development agencies and churches. She also earned a religious studies grant to develop independent research in trauma theory and theology and served as a teaching assistant in the department.
In her essay she recounts the experience of being raised a Methodist, which for her was heavy in praxis but light on theology. She arrived on campus asking, “Can I reconcile a call to serve with a deep passion for theory? Can theology really be practical?” At Rhodes she found herself drawn to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s commitment to bridge the academy and the church. She reflects, “There is something about liminality, about those bodies that dwell permanently and purposefully in the clumsy middle space, that I have come to love here.”
She joined Idlewild Presbyterian Church in Memphis and plans to pursue ordination. She will enroll this fall at the Boston University School of Theology, drawn there especially by the scholarship of Shelly Rambo, a leader in the field of trauma studies and Christian faith.