Rhonda Jordan, Diane Hart, Nelson Sinchi, Katie Snipes Lancaster, Damon Smith, Maria Fowkes, Julie Peterson
Inspiring. Humbling. Hopeful. Just some of the ways people described Kenilworth Union Church’s first Meet Our Scholars program on April 25.
For thirty years, Kenilworth Union’s Centennial Scholars program—a gift made to honor the church’s 100th anniversary in 1992—has supported divinity students preparing to serve in under-resourced areas of Chicago. The Centennial Scholars committee selects candidates called to urban ministry, providing financial support for the second half of their studies and then for two additional years as they pursue full-time work in agencies, missions, or other avenues of service.
Both the Rev. Damon Smith and Nelson Sinchi were confident in accepting their calls, but weren’t confident in financing them. As recipients of Centennial Scholarships, they spoke at “Meet Our Scholars” about their vocations and the impact of their scholarships.
When starting at McCormick Theological Seminary, Smith found that upon embracing the call and striving to be appropriately educated and prepared, more challenges arose.
“And one of the biggest [challenges] is financial,” he said.
Sinchi agrees. While a full-time Master of Divinity student at Catholic Theological Union, he worked five jobs. He would frequently stay up all night to squeeze everything in, not knowing if he could afford tuition, pay off his credit card or books, or afford other basic essentials.
“Looking back on it right now, I wasn’t really present with my studies,” Sinchi acknowledged.
Earning their Centennial Scholarships not only helped cover costs for tuition and books, but also provided for less tangible growth opportunities, like when Smith traveled to Memphis on the fiftieth anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, or when Sinchi achieved the mental clarity amidst the pandemic to refine his empathetic listening abilities.
Event moderator and Centennial Scholar Committee member Julie Peterson, of Winnetka, said “Getting to know our scholars over the years has been one of the most deeply meaningful projects with which I’ve been involved. To a person, each scholar brings crystal-clear integrity and humility. Not to mention work ethics you wouldn’t believe…I’m so proud my church supports their work.”
Kenilworth Union’s Rev. Dr. Katie Snipes Lancaster was similarly moved. Said Lancaster, of Evanston, “I was inspired by their articulation of what is hard about ministry in urban contexts and what brings them hope especially in light of the isolation of a pandemic.”