by Nancy Benson-Nicol
Since 1986, when the Theological Education Fund (TEF) was established by the 198th General Assembly, we in the ministries of theological education have stood in awe and gratitude for each and every gift offered in support of our Presbyterian seminaries. Theological institutions educate church leaders and worshiping communities call and receive these leaders. Schools and churches carry out different missions, but they unite in one purpose—building up of the body of Christ to promote God’s realm “on earth as it is in heaven.” Both require the nurture and cultivation of minds, spirits, bodies, voices, hands, hearts, ears and feet in Christ’s service. Both, it may be argued, need one another in order to do these things responsibly and response-fully.
It is not every day in the Office of Theological Education that we receive an envelope containing an individual gift of $100,000 in support of our seminaries. In fact, there had never been any day on which that occurred prior to one staggering Friday afternoon in late May when the TEF received the largest individual gift in its history. Faith Presbyterian Church in Sun City, Arizona, identified seminary education (among other ministries at the community, presbytery, synod and national levels of our connectional church) as a valuable mission to enrich through a named trust bequeathed to it by a beloved friend of the church. According to interim pastor Doug Baer, theological education represents “a vital and sustainable mission of the church that demonstrates a measurable impact on the lives of individuals.” As news of these gifts was made public on Sunday, June 8th, this historic gift to the TEF has been dubbed the “Pentecost Gift.”
The life-giving Holy Spirit ignites churches as they practice “spiritual acts of worship” by offering gifts to support our seminaries, breathing possibility and promise throughout the Christian community. More specifically, their offerings enable seminaries to increase the amount of financial aid they extend to individuals struggling financially as they seek to obey God’s call to prepare for ordained ministry. They fund field education experiences in various regional and global settings. They foster conditions for campus groundskeepers to earn living wages. They grant access to archived sacred texts and scrolls for faithful scholarship and exploration. Churches that contribute to our seminaries participate in the promises made within their baptismal vows to provide “guidance and nurture by word and deed, with love and prayer, encouraging [one another] to know and follow Christ and to be faithful members of his church” (Book of Common Worship). Resembling the name of the tuneful hymn, “Called as Partners in Christ’s Service,” seminaries and churches stand together, circled around the baptismal font, in witness and in service to our creating, redeeming and sustaining God.
NANCY BENSON-NICOL is the associate for Theological Education Funds Development of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).