(SSSEF) - On Thursday, August 9, 2018, the Stegall Seminary Scholarship Endowment Foundation celebrated its 11th year in ministry at the annual Dinner of Celebration. The banquet, held at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Montgomery, welcomed approximately 425 students, alumni and supporters. Including those in attendance were some of the 53 seminary students being supported by the Foundation during the 2018-2019 school year. These 53 seminary students, in addition to 10 local pastors completing the advanced course of study, sets a new record of 63 individuals receiving foundation support.
Each year, two extravagantly generous donors underwrite the entire cost of the banquet, ensuring that donations made to the Foundation are allocated for scholarships. Rev. Anthony J. McCullough, senior pastor of Prattville (Ala.) First United Methodist Church, served as the evening’s Master of Ceremonies. The invocation was given by Rev. Robin C. Wilson, senior pastor of Opelika (Ala.) First United Methodist Church.
One of the most exciting parts of the evening was the announcement that the foundation had reached a new milestone. “Last year, when our Dinner of Celebration was held in this same ballroom, it was announced that we wanted to raise over $10 million for our scholarship foundation, through present assets and promised bequests, said Dr. Karl K. Stegall, volunteer president of the foundation. “ i give thanks to God, and to all of you tonight, that we have now exceeded our $10 million goal. To God be the glory!”
Bishop David W. Graves, resident bishop of the Alabama - West Florida Conference (AWF), shared episcopal greetings with those assembled. Speaking to the donors he said, “I give you thanks for all that you are doing...we need clergy to be called from our local churches, we want to be a place that has excellent clergy, and we want to develop a call not only for clergy but for laity, as well. God has called us all to present the good news of Christ. “
Mr. Lee Jackson performed a solo of "You Raise Me Up." Later in the program he also sang “Here I Am, Lord.”
A highlight of the annual banquet is the ability for donors to hear firsthand from current seminary students. This year, three students shared words of thankfulness to donors.
Mr. Hunter Bethea, a second-year student at Asbury Theological Seminary, is from Shalimar, Fla. During his witness, Bethea said “I’m a firm believer that I stand on the shoulders of giants. Giants like my parents who taught me the unconditional love of God and encouraged me to experience that love for myself. Giants like Wayne Walker, my former youth director who God used to reveal to me that he was calling me into ministry. Giants like Jonathan Hart and Christina Shaver, both of whom were Stegall Seminary scholarship recipients, who have been mentors to me as I walk through this process to become a pastor. And, Giants like you, who have sacrificed so much to make all of this possible,” he said.
Miss Bria Rochelle, a first-year student at Duke Divinity School, is from Eight Mile, Ala. Rochelle thanked donors for their support, telling them: “It is because of you that I will be able to delve deeper into what I feel God has called me to do; to go into unfamiliar places, to make a home, and truly illustrate what God’s kingdom is meant to look like and to be like,” she said. Although she didn’t begin her college career thinking about ministry as a vocation,“I am glad that this exercise science graduate decided to let go of her own life and allow God’s will to be done in it. “
Mr. Ryan Runager, a second-year student at Candler School of Theology, and native of Moulton, Ala., spoke about his late mother, who died during his freshman year at Huntingdon College. “She is the reason I switched my major to religion, and she affirmed the vague nudge to ministry that I felt,” he said. “She knew something about me that I never did; that I was called.” Runager said he thanked God that faith “takes a community,” and recognized the donors for their endless support. “Thank you all for giving me a community; one where I feel loved, where I am accepted and my call to ministry is continuously affirmed; a community where I will be proud to serve in the future,” he said.
Dr. Paulette Thompson, on behalf of the Stegall Foundation Board of Directors, presented the ninth annual "Spirit of the Foundation" Award to Mr. George T. Goodwyn. This award is presented annually to honor a donor who has shown faithful commitment to the mission of the foundation. In presenting the award, Thompson said, “As the ripples from a pebble dropped in a still pond flow outward, so do the many acts of kindness, insightful guidance and generosity of this man.”
In response to his receiving of the award, Goodwyn said: “The Stegall Foundation has certainly been a ministry that recognizes God and develops young people; it has been a blessing to me to be involved in this program.“
Previous recipients of the Spirit of the Foundation Award are: Mr. Boyd Goddard; Bishop Paul A. Duffey; Mr. John Bullard; Mr. Temple Millsap; Mr. Wayne Russell; Mr. Dan Lindsey, Sr.; Dr. Paulette Thompson; and Rev. Arthur Carlton (posthumously).
Also on behalf of the foundation’s board of directors, Dr. Jeremy K. Pridgeon then presented the second annual Church Appreciation Award to Lillian UMC in Lillian, Ala. The award recognizes a congregation who faithfully supports the mission of the foundation.
Present to receive the award on behalf of the church was their pastor, Rev. Daniel Randall. In his acceptance speech, Randall said: “I want to challenge every pastor here tonight to make it a goal to fully support a seminary student, as we can all do our part.”
The first recipient of the Church Appreciation Award in 2017 was Fort Davis (Ala.) UMC.
As a challenge to those attending the Dinner, Mr. David E. Housel shared a video message, as he was unable to attend in person. Watch it here.
Dr. Karl K. Stegall, volunteer president of the foundation, personally offered a word of appreciation to donors at the conclusion of the banquet. “One of the lessons that God has taught me over these past 11 years is how God can take something very small and use that small gift for His glory,” he said. “I believe so strongly in what we are doing that i am not bashful to ask for your continued support, remembering that we now support 63 individuals.”
Dr. Stegall then invited all seminary students present to come forward as Bishop Graves offered a blessing over the students as a sending forth for the evening.
Click here to see photos by Luke Lucas.