Recently the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry released findings that show the average education debt of graduating seminarians has risen to $49,303. Clergy are among the most highly educated professionals, requiring at least four years of college and three years of seminary for the standard Master of Divinity degree. For a Doctor of Ministry degree, add two to four more years, making the required training for a D.Min. equal to or greater than that for physicians and lawyers. And unlike medical doctors and lawyers, clergy do not anticipate making salaries that lend themselves to paying off huge educational debts. First year United Methodist elders have a median base salary of $38,000, or $49,742 if you include parsonage or housing allowance. I often say we don’t have to take a vow of poverty, because that is implied in our calling!
With declining church memberships and soaring seminary tuitions, many men and women who feel God’s call into ministry may simply be unable to answer that call. The goal of the W. L. Jenkins Scholarship is to alleviate some of the financial burden for one or more seminarians each year in perpetuity.
Many ministers with basic (Masters’) education who have been out of seminary for a few years are finding they need more training. Doug Taylor expresses it, “They need more tools in their ministerial toolbox” as the role of ministry evolves in our rapidly changing society. This is particularly true with ethnic pastors. Even a small help with tuition will make the difference between being able to expand their training or not.
Founded in 1828, Columbia is one of the oldest and most respected theological seminaries in the United States. It’s faculty has included the father of President Woodrow Wilson, and graduates have included Dr. Peter Marshall, twice chaplain of the US Senate whose life was portrayed in the 1955 Oscar nominated movie, “A Man Called Peter”; and Dr. D. James Kennedy who founded Evangelism Explosion International. Columbia Seminary, located in metro Atlanta, is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA) and serves a growingly diverse student base including United Methodists, African Methodist Episcopal, and AME-Zion ministers.
Many of you know I previously established the Martha Roberts Jenkins Education Scholarship at Delta State University, my alma mater, in honor of my mother. That scholarship helps a student from the Mississippi Delta prepare for a career in teaching. I am grateful these two scholarships, “bookends” at the schools where I completed my undergraduate and graduate education, will help train teachers and ministers for this and future generations.
Equal to my parent’s insistence their children get a good education is their spiritual legacy. My sister Linda is an institutional pillar in the religious community of Yazoo City, MS, having served a half century as the office manager at the two largest churches in town. My late sister Ellen’s church named their social hall in honor of her selfless service to her church and community. My sister Marietta and her husband Ron have been lay leaders of their church and are regular speakers at Gideon’s International events nationwide. My brothers Norman (now deceased) and Louis served as Baptist deacons, Sunday school teachers and leaders of their churches in Tupelo and Starkville.
Daddy was a man of humble means whose values were God and family. My favorite memory was when he would say, “I may not have a plug nickel, but I have a million dollar family”. What a blessing those words were, and remain.
Larry Hendricks graduated from Yazoo City High with me and became a Baptist missionary and preacher. As a young man, Larry was invited to preach at First Baptist Church in our hometown as one of their proud “preacher boys”. Larry, like most of us, was poor and particularly self-conscious that he did not have a decent pair of shoes. Larry recently told me he will never forget that my father, without fanfare, bought a pair of brand new shiny shoes for Larry to wear into the pulpit. Knowing Pop, I can just see him shining those shoes before he presented them to Larry.
Larry’s experience with my Daddy reminds me of the Old Testament verse:
“Behold upon the mountains
the feet of him
that brings good tidings,
that publishes peace!”
But his blood runs through my instrument and his song is in my soul,
My life has been a poor attempt to imitate the man,
I'm just a living legacy to the leader of the band."
Daddy touched many lives with his love and faith. And now his legacy will live on, as the scholarship bearing his name helps equip “the feet of those who preach good tidings and publish peace” for generations to come.
In Christ’s Service,
W. L. Jenkins, Jr.
Springtime at Columbia Theological Seminary