By Diane Hart

Twenty-eight years ago, during our Kenilworth Union Church Centennial year celebration, four families came together and funded a Centennial Scholar Program. The program was to provide financial assistance for seminary students, for those in their final two years of seminary, and who hoped to pursue jobs in urban ministry, and to also provide a continuing two year payment to subsidize their urban ministry income after graduation. The Church’s goal was to encourage ministry in urban communities in need, and to broaden Kenilworth Union Church’s impact in ministry. Today our program is still supporting this important work.

We currently have seven seminary scholars at various Chicago area seminaries, or who are working in urban ministry following seminary graduation. This fund also supports the chaplain intern program at Presbyterian Homes.

Having served on the Board of Trustees when this program was first established, I am pleased to now join this committee as their Moderator. We are grateful to all those who have served on this committee over the past twenty-eight years and I am grateful for the current members:

  • Nancy Davis
  • Bob Dold, Sr.
  • Jo Forrest, Senior Associate Minister
  • Rhonda Jordan
  • Julie Peterson
  • Mike Peterson
  • Doug Petrie, one of the original funders of this program
  • Jeff Snell

Currently COVID-19 has created great uncertainty and trauma in the urban communities in which our scholars minister, and further upended the lives, training, and security of the scholars themselves.

Caught in a spot of tending to a community in need while also securing their own health, well-being, and finances, most scholars found themselves in a very different places (sometimes literally) than they had planned at the beginning of the year. The financial support they received through the Centennial Scholarship Program allowed for at least a baseline of security as several scholars found themselves without jobs, without dependable income, and amidst communities who needed them more than ever.  Much of their work in anti-racism was called upon and amplified as a result of the protests and the racial disparity in healthcare.

We give thanks for the support our scholars provide for these communities in need. Below we have outlined a brief background/update for each of our scholars, and ask that you keep them and their important work in your prayers.

Meet the Scholars

Nelson Sinchi completed his Masters of Divinity from the Catholic Theological Union, but not before experiencing a turbulent final semester. A long-planned study-trip to the Holy Lands was canceled, necessitating a schedule change that created logistical, financial, and emotional hardship. However his subsequent independent research project on burial rites and customs in the Book of Matthew was then turned into a presentation on how this research could connect to deaths and burials during COVID-19. He will begin his residency as a hospital chaplain this fall.

The Rev. Damon Smith has been helping his congregation and community members through COVID-19 with hospital stays, funerals and arrangements, and counseling. Speaking to the trauma inflicted both by the virus and racism, he further worked to prevent looting in his neighborhood, and counseled others using his experience and perspective as a Black man. He is working toward police accountability through training and other anti-racism measures and has undertaken some ministerial campaigns including “Stop Being Evil” and “Un-Whiting Jesus.” He will be the graduating speaker for Youth of Faith.

Shaune Thompson continues to minister to the marginalized, offering peace, hope, and calm to those with fewer social and emotional support resources. Through text messaging and social media, he is staying connected to his community in a safe way.

Nilwona Nowlin had to leave her hospital chaplain residency in March due to concerns over COVID-19, creating much financial and emotional difficulty, but plans to return to her residency at Rush Hospital, and hopes to be able to teach incoming interns as well.

Megan Westra graduated from Northern Baptist Seminary and has been working with Transformation City Church, holding online services and programming, creating masks for local organizations, and distributing food. She has participated in peaceful clergy-led protests and is actively listening for ways to better practice anti-racism. As she hopes to pursue ordination in the United Church of Christ, she is leaving TCC to do denominational training as a hospital chaplain. Her book Born Again and Again was published on August 11.

Anthony Halmon graduated with a Master of Divinity from University of Chicago Theological Seminary. He continues to feel called to ministry and more recently feels encouraged to speak and be affirmed of the power and importance of his voice as a Black man. He learned new tools and skills, and the power of presence and silence, through a clinical pastoral education unit at Rush Hospital. He is now living in Indiana and continues to lead prayer, instructional classes, and counseling online for the Christian Community Church at Ithaca College.

Abraham Moller graduated from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. He continues to support the youth programs at Bethany Jesus El Buen Pastor UMC and is also assigned to Leland Ottawa United Methodist Church.

The Presbyterian Homes Chaplain Internship program hosted three interns who helped create worship services and spiritual life programing that could be broadcast through the Homes’ closed-circuit televisions. In this time of isolation for the residents of Presbyterian Homes, the interns fostered connection through personal phone calls, notes, and letters.