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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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A resounding 'yes'

Fund for Leaders in Mission helps seminarians reduce debt

Lynnae Sorensen has been involved in ministry for a long time: first as a missionary's kid, then as a volunteer missionary in Slovakia and finally as a youth minister. This fall an endowment fund is bringing Sorensen one step closer to her goal: becoming an ELCA pastor.

The ELCA Fund for Leaders in Mission helps Sorensen by paying for her classes over the next three years. Sorensen is a Wartburg Seminary (Dubuque, Iowa) student who takes classes at The Lutheran Seminary Program in the Southwest, Austin, Texas.

Currently the fund pays full tuition for one student from each of the ELCA's eight seminaries, distributing more than $52,000 in scholarships this year. But it won't stop there. Next year at least eight more seminarians will receive the three-year scholarships.

"The goal is to pay full tuition for every seminarian entering ELCA ordained or professional lay ministry," says Cynthia Halverson, fund director. "It will allow a student to accept a call wherever they are needed most — not just where they can afford to go.

"The average debt for ELCA seminarians who borrow is $25,000. But the average salary package for first-call pastors is $33,000."

Living expenses while in seminary increase the debt load. For a single person, annual living expenses — not including tuition — are about $10,000, Halverson says.

Those expenses jump to $20,000 for someone with a family, such as Charles Newman, a Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago student. "This scholarship will not only offset my financial needs, but it will provide resources that will make me a better leader for our church," he says.

Halverson says, "The fund gives a resounding 'yes' to these seminary students. It says, 'Yes, the whole church supports you — as do the specific gifts from seminaries, synods and congregations.' "

Aiming to raise $200 million by 2025, so far the fund has $5 million in cash gifts and commitments, including $500,000 each from Aid Association for Lutherans and Lutheran Brotherhood.


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