At its May meeting, the Great Plains Board of Ordained Ministry revised its scholarship policies, including implementing new awards from combined trust funds for our legacy conferences. The board is responsible for making awards for seminary students from two different sources.
The first is the Ministerial Educational Fund (MEF). According to the United Methodist Church, “The Ministerial Education Fund is one of seven apportioned funds of The United Methodist Church. The Ministerial Education Fund is at the heart of preparing people for making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The Ministerial Education Fund enables the church to increase financial support for recruiting and educating ordained and diaconal ministers and equipping annual conferences to meet increased demands. Of the total money raised in each annual conference, the annual conference retains 25 percent to use in its program of ministerial education as approved by the annual conference and administered through its Board of Ordained Ministry.”
Each year, through mission shares faithfully paid by churches across the conference, the board has designated $110,000 per year of MEF funds for seminary scholarships. These scholarships are designated for certified candidates for ordained ministry or provisional members (elder or deacon track) who are attending seminaries approved by the United Methodist Church. Starting this year, these scholarships are going to be awarded on per-semester-credit-hour basis and are expected to range from $200 to $3,000 per semester. The amount is set each year by the board based on available funds and number of applications and is subject to change.
This year, the board is also implementing awards for a combined trust fund that was created out of several trusts for seminary students in the former Kansas East, Kansas West and Nebraska conferences. Some of these individual trusts had different restrictions and were generally smaller and often had gone unused. In 2016, conference leaders undertook legal action to consolidate these trusts and to reform the restrictions that made these trusts difficult to award. As a result, a new Great Plains Seminary Scholarship Trust was created. Its only restriction is that scholarships must be given to “United Methodist seminary students located in the Great Plains Annual Conference … who are attending a seminary approved by the United Methodist Church.”
At its May meeting, the board approved a recommendation from its Call Team that scholarships from this new trust be available to any person that meets the criteria listed in the trust. As a result, in addition to supplementing the MEF scholarships described above, awards from the new trust can be made to laypersons who are attending approved seminaries who may be exploring ministry, seeking better understanding of theology and the church, or seeking professional certification in the United Methodist Church. Scholarships from this new trust could also be awarded to clergy who are attending approved seminaries who may be taking additional seminary course work as part of additional theological graduate work or who are seeking professional certification. These scholarships will also be awarded on a per-semester-credit-hour basis and are expected to range from $100 to $1,500 per semester. This amount is also subject to change by the board.
For both of these scholarships, the board set a priority application deadline of July 15 for fall and winter terms and Nov. 15 for spring and summer terms. Additional awards may be made for persons applying after these deadlines if funding is available. The online applications and full policies can be found here.
Like all graduate education, the cost of seminary education is high, and these awards will not cover all costs for any seminary student. Tuition ranges from $480 per credit hour to $961 per credit hour at different seminaries and does not include fees, books, transportation and costs of living. While some seminary students also receive assistance from their seminaries and other institutional sources, it is still incumbent upon local churches to consider assisting their seminarians. Theologically educated clergy and laity serve the church in many ways, and when possible, the church should support these seminarians both in prayer and in finances.
One way some local churches have supported seminarians in our conference is by making grants from designated trusts held by a local church. Many local churches have trusts to assist seminarians, but may not have had a person from that local church attend seminary for some time. If your church has such a fund that has been unused for some period of time, you might consider making an award to the Great Plains Seminary Scholarship Fund, where that award can be combined with the other designated funds and used to support seminarians from across the conference. If you have any questions about this, contact board treasurer Randall Hodgkinson.