CHICAGO, IL (December 28, 2009) – Former Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) President Glenn Palmberg didn’t know Stephanie Stultz, Greg Applequist, or Erik Strom 10 years ago when he initiated the Presidential Scholarship program to benefit North Park Theological Seminary students.
The trio are among the 148 students who have benefited from the scholarship, which Palmberg considers one of the denomination’s most important achievements during his tenure. The scholarship, which was launched with the assistance of North Park’s former president, David Horner, pays all of the student’s tuition. Donations fund the scholarships.
The scholarships assist up to 20 new students each year who otherwise might not be able to attend seminary due to cost, or who would have to choose post-graduate work based on salary rather than fit. They are awarded to students with a proven commitment to academic excellence and aspirations to serve the Covenant.
Stultz (accompanying photo) is a current student who also serves as youth pastor at Agape Community Covenant Church, which also includes pastor and director of the congregation’s youth center and programs, Teen-Town Ministries. She is grateful for the opportunities the scholarship has provided her.
“It is well known that not many pastors have large salaries, especially pastors in urban communities – especially pastors of children and youth,” Stultz says. “Yet, due to the faith and generosity of many saints, some whom I know, but many whom I do not know, I am blessed to pursue God’s call, free of the worries that often accompany debt.”
Strom, the youth pastor at Winnetka Covenant Church in Wilmette, Illinois, says the support of the denomination has done far more than relieve him of a financial burden. “The Presidential Scholarship also provided for me a deep sense of the denomination’s belief in my call and gifts to serve the church,” he explains. “It was, and continues to be, a gift and inspiration to know of the ECC’s commitment to me.”
Covenant President Gary Walter says that is one of the primary goals for the scholarship. “In an ideal world, I would love to see everyone be able to graduate from seminary without incurring educational debt. In the meantime, growing the leaders that we do through Presidential Scholarships is an important aspect of investing in those investing in the kingdom of God.”
The impact of the scholarship program has exceeded everyone’s expectations, Palmberg says. “The church, and especially those who care deeply about the future of the denomination, have been eager to step up and support the people who are committing themselves to prepare for ministry,” he explains. Seventeen new recipients enrolled at the seminary this past fall, joining 32 returning Presidential Scholars.
“Presidential Scholarships have brought a number of gifted and godly women and men to the seminary to prepare to be pastors, chaplains, missionaries, and scholars,” notes Dr. Jay Phelan, president of North Park Theological Seminary. “They are serving in your congregations: preaching, teaching, working with youth, advocating for justice, leading worship, and managing the work of the congregation.”
Recipients are expected to work at the school or help at ECC offices in any number of capacities. Greg Applequist, a former insurance broker who is now pastor at Bethany Covenant Church in Lyndhurst, Ohio, prepared class notes and made photocopies for faculty, transported speakers to and from the airport, and assisted students in the computer lab.
“In my second year, I was able to work as the chaplain for the North Park basketball team,” he adds. “This was especially meaningful because I played basketball at North Park as an undergraduate.”
Increasingly, students such as Stultz are also participating in the seminary’s dual degree program with the university’s School of Business and Nonprofit Management. Already the education is making a difference.
“Last year alone, we ministered to over 2,000 youth and many of their families throughout Chicago’s west side neighborhoods,” Stultz says. “I have been able to take what I have been learning in the classroom and apply it to our ministry here.”