During the pandemic of 2020, we have received an increased number of inquiries about our degree programs. For many of those prospective students, this crisis has acted as the loudest call to ministry among the ones they have been hearing for years. They are inspired by the ministry of our alums and other faith leaders and want to pursue spiritual vocations to serve others. The economic costs of theological education often presents a barrier that prevents promising individuals like them from becoming the religious leaders they were called to be. In big and small ways, our scholarship programs reduce the impact of this barrier and make ministry a reality—not just for our students, but also for the communities they serve. One such community is the Unitarian Universalist Church in Westport, CT—the late Denny Davidoff’s home congregation.
The Westport Internship Program, generously made possible by the Ken and Jerusha Vogel Scholarship Fund, was established in 2016 for the purpose of funding tuition and the associated costs of a two-year, half-time internship at the Unitarian Church in Westport for a Meadville Lombard Theological School student.
Strong Unitarian Universalist faith and family ties to the school motivated the Vogels to establish the internship. “My mother was a Unitarian minister and took classes at Meadville Lombard. I wanted to give back to the school and the faith that has meant so much to my family. We decided to start this scholarship because we wanted to support ministers in training and bring talented students to the Unitarian Church of Westport. Our minister, Rev. Dr. John T. Morehouse, (MDiv ‘90, DMin ‘15) has been a teaching minister for years and when he joined our congregation in 2015, he wanted to make our church a teaching church,” said Jerusha.
Both the student minister and the teaching congregation benefit from a scholarship program like this. Internship experience in a congregation is an extremely important step in ministerial formation for those students who are pursuing the parish ministry path, yet if there is no stipend or salary, it makes the life of student ministers unsustainable. For many congregations considering becoming a teaching congregation, adding a fair internship salary to the budget can be challenging.
The Unitarian Church in Westport has hosted three student ministers so far since the Vogel Scholarship was established. Most recently, Rev. Margalie Belizaire, who graduated from Meadville Lombard on May 17 with a Master of Divinity degree and was ordained on May 30 by two congregations: the Unitarian Church in Westport and the Unitarian Society of Hartford. “Margalie was the third student minister we have had, and we have been very happy with her and the others who have given depth and breadth to our community. We are excited about our future student ministers and are so happy that we can help them with their journey,” said the Vogels.
Margalie was very grateful for the scholarship. She shared while she was a student that “the Vogel Scholarship gives me the peace of mind I need to focus on my formation and all that I must get done, and not worry as much about the financial cost of seminary. I have also had the added bonus of interacting with the Vogels on a regular basis at the Unitarian Church of Westport where they are members. As a matter of fact, Jerusha Vogel is on my internship committee and is a great supporter of me and my developing ministry.” Margalie went on to say that “both [Jerusha] and Ken are wonderful and loving people who care about the UU faith and its future.” To cap off her Meadville Lombard education, Margalie was awarded the Roberta Nelson Prize in Religious Education during our first virtual Commencement ceremony. She now serves as Assistant Minister of Pastoral Care and Adult Spiritual Development at the First Unitarian Church of Rochester, NY.
The Vogel scholarship pays a taxable $18,000 annual stipend to the student recipient, to offset living expenses during a two-year congregational internship that is required for our MDiv students. The remaining funds, $12,000, cover the full tuition of the recipient’s Vocational Studies and Leadership Studies signature courses, typically the second and third year of the studies, when the congregational internship is integrated into the curriculum. The candidate is selected through a process between the president of the school and the senior minister of the Unitarian Church in Westport.
The Vogel Scholarship is only one example of the ways our donors empower our work of helping our students become the best faith leaders they can be and spread love and light into the communities they serve.