Since 1992, Kenilworth Union Church’s Centennial Scholarship Program has provided grants to seminary students pursuing urban ministries. Established at the church’s 100th anniversary, the intention was and continues to be twofold: first, to encourage ministry in areas with unique urban challenges, be they economic, educational, housing, health care, or more; and second, to broaden Kenilworth Union’s impact in ministry.

The Centennial Scholarship Fund additionally supports the Chaplain Intern Program at Presbyterian Homes in Evanston. There, interns provide spiritual support to residents whose needs range from short-term healthcare to full-time assistance with health or cognitive issues.

The scholarship committee engages with Chicago-area seminaries and divinity schools to identify second- and third-year students who meet the scholarship criteria. Students chosen for a scholarship receive four years of funds: the final two years of school plus two post-graduate years. As part of their applications, candidates discuss their involvement with urban ministries, their call to serve in urban ministry, and their post-graduate plans. Currently, the Centennial Scholarship program is assisting nine seminarians from seven schools.

Meet the Scholars

Alexa Eisenbarth of Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary began to receive her scholarship while serving at Gilead Church in Rogers Park, where she led retreats and Clearness Committees, a practice of inhabiting silence and questions. Gilead was planted three years ago to serve LGBTQ+ with a unique approach to storytelling and hosting services in a comedy club.  She has a podcast called In Real Life Adult Friendship and has traveled to the Holy Land for her studies. Upon graduation, she returned home and serves at Orting United Methodist in the Pacific Northwest and is a provisional elder in the United Methodist Church.

Anthony Halmon of University of Chicago Theological Seminary is in his second year of school and plans to write his senior thesis on how theology can be used as a therapeutic method for African-American men who feel invisible in society. He enrolled directly at The University of Chicago after graduation from Colgate and was married over the holidays.

Abraham Moller of Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary ministers at Bethany Jesus El Buen Pastor UMC in Albany Park, and Redeemer of Calvary/El Redentor Del Calvario UMC in Jefferson Park. He works to engage with the community, asking how the church can better serve their needs. As a result, he offers free English classes to immigrants and is building relationships with youth while raising money for families in need.  He began to feel the call to ministry while attending youth group as a teen.

Nilwona Nowlin of North Park Seminary is in her chaplain residency at Rush University Medical Center. She has also facilitated a Sankofa Journey, which is a cross-racial prayer journey, and co-facilitated a discussion on the film Just Mercy with church partner Winnetka Covenant Church.  She is pursing ordination though the Evangelical Covenant Church.

Sherrie Phillips of the Chicago Theological Seminary is focused on chaplaincy in a hospital and/or a women’s prison, and has completed a year residency in a Level I Trauma Center as well as field work in a federal prison. She seeks to start her own 501c3 organization providing support and assistance to currently and formerly incarcerated women, and is preparing for discernment to be ordained as a United Church of Christ minister.

Nelson Sinchi of the Catholic Theological Union is “inspired by Christ’s commitment and love to the poor and marginalized” to become a hospital chaplain, and begins his residency this summer. He met with striking teachers from the Chicago Teachers Union about the need for mental illness support for their students, and is attempting a pastoral response on how faith leaders can provide support for young adults with mental health struggles. The scholarship has allowed him to travel with his seminary to the Holy Land and to lead a mental health Bible study for eighth graders.

The Rev. Damon Smith graduated in 2019 with a masters of divinity degree from McCormick Theological Seminary, where he was awarded prizes for Imagination in Preaching and Preaching to a Congregation. He is an employee of the Community Renewal Society as the Congregational Organizer of Churches for the Westside of Chicago, where he works to improve conditions and train churches to organize, protest, and understand legislations. He is also now minister and director of the new youth department at Liberty Baptist Church.

Shaun Thompson, also of McCormick Theological Seminary, mentors children of single mothers. He prepared eighth graders for their graduation, providing both emotional support and lessons in tying neck-ties, and helped the children put on a Mothers Day brunch.

Megan Westra of Northern Baptist Seminary helped to launch a church in urban Milwaukee that provided much needed after-school youth mentorship programming. She also engages in pastoral care for activists and organizers, taking them on the Ruby Woo Pilgrimage from Syracuse, NY to Washington, D.C. with the organization Freedom Road. Her podcast The Podluck seeks to make theological education more accessible to the average listener.

The Kenilworth Union Church Centennial Scholarship Committee liaises with seminaries in an effort to identify candidates and maintain relationships with scholarship recipients.  The committee is fortunate to receive the guidance of one of the founders, Doug Petrie, whose financial support and vision enabled this ministry. If you are interested in joining the committee, please contact Jo Forrest.

Committee Member Liaison To:
Nancy Davis Catholic Theological Union
Mike Peterson Chicago Theological Seminary
Julie Peterson Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary
Rhonda Jordan McCormick Theological Seminary
Bob Dold, Sr. North Baptist Seminary
Jeff Snell North Park Seminary
Open University of Chicago Theological Seminary

Posted on February 25, 2020