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Scholarships enable call to ministry

By: Doreen Gosmire, director of communications, Dakotas UMC


Janson Steffan is attending Garrett Seminary while working at Flame of Faith UMC in West Fargo, North Dakota. Photo from Facebook.

“Once I learned about the scholarships were available, the wall crumbled. Then, finally, I knew I could step forward in my call.” These are the words of Janson Steffan, a staff member at Flame of Faith UMC in West Fargo, North Dakota. Steffen is attending Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary on his journey to becoming an ordained elder of the Dakotas Conference. 

One of the challenges that all denominations face is encouraging more people to head to seminary and become ordained pastors. As a result, the Dakotas Conference decided two decades ago to dedicate funds for scholarships. The first year, $18,000 of funds were distributed for scholarships to seminary students. Today, more than $100,000 of scholarship funds are distributed each year. 

“This conference has distinguished itself in support of ministry through a scholarship program that is the envy of United Methodist Conferences throughout the United States,” said Jack Marsh, a member at First United Methodist Church in Sioux Falls and a member of the Scholarship Committee for more than twenty years. “We may be small, but we are mighty.”

There has been a shift in what seminary looks like. Some students attend seminary remotely for at least one-half of their seminary years. Others are attending the Kairos University, a competency-based seminary degree. 

“Today, we have $2.4 million in our endowed scholarship funds. The bulk of those funds were contributed to our Dakotas Conference Foundation through estate gifts. Unfortunately, they’re not with us anymore, to see what their legacy is allowing us to do, and how we can prepare for the future and encourage more ministry.” 

In 2021, the scholarship committee distributed $93,200 in funds to: 
Bryce Blank, Perkins Theological Seminary
Thanael Certa-Werner, Garret Evangelical-Theological Seminary 
Don Dinger, Kairos Project, Sioux Falls Seminary
Andy Early, Kairos Project, Sioux Falls Seminary
Stephanie Eliason, Kairos Project, Sioux Falls Seminary
Kim Hastings, Kairos Project, Sioux Falls Seminary
Justin Jenness, Kairos Project, Sioux Falls Seminary
Taylor Johnson, Kairos Project, Sioux Falls Seminary
Barbara Krumm, Kairos Project, Sioux Falls Seminary
Amber Laffey, Kairos Project, Sioux Falls Seminary
Teresa Person, Kairos Project, Sioux Falls Seminary
Janson Steffan, Garret Evangelical-Theological Seminary
Kippy Udehn, Kairos Project, Sioux Falls Seminary 

One of the award recipients, Janson Steffan, is quick to point out that he would not be in seminary without the scholarship funds. He is now attending Garrett Seminary online and will continue to attend in-person as he completes a Master of Divinity degree. 

“I have been thinking about ministry since I was 17 years of age. I always found myself doing things in and for the church. I would often question myself and God, ‘what will my future look like?’ I think I was too scared to go into ministry and head to seminary. The scholarships removed a hurdle and some of the fear.” 

Steffan has always been actively involved in music ministry. He spends much of his time leading the music and planning worship at Flame of Faith UMC. Janson also serves as the administrative assistant, and teaches confirmation, as well as adult Sunday school. “The timing is now right for me to step forward in my call," he said.

He praises and credits Rev. Sara McManus for encouraging and challenging him to step into his call. “I work well with Pastor Sara. She has a gift for raising new leaders,” said Steffan.
Several endowments and donors make the scholarships possible. One contributor is United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM). Funds from GBHEM come through  donations on United Methodist Student Day. In 2021, that day will be celebrated in many congregations on Sunday, November 28, 2021. Access information and recourses here

“We are taking a serious look at how we can be helpful in other ways like debt reduction for those who are currently serving in ministry,” said Marsh. “I am so grateful to those that give funds and the endowments that make the scholarship. It gives me chills when we think about what we have achieved as a conference.”


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