Establishment of the Walworth Jefferson Scholarship

Congregations have long played a crucial role in the formation of students and church leaders. Wartburg has been blessed this past year by churches in the South Central Synod of Wisconsin coming together in new and creative ways to make a difference for students.

Last year the endowment committee members of Sugar Creek Lutheran Church (pictured below) in Elkhorn, WI worked together to make a difference. They were moved to think big, tackling the question of how they could impact ministry in communities like theirs across the country. They decided to support a seminary student with a $6,000 gift to Wartburg Theological Seminary. What they did not yet realize was that the Holy Spirit was working through their gift to inspire others. They soon found themselves building a partnership within the Walworth Jefferson Conference. Sugar Creek Lutheran’s pastor, Pastor Dick Inglett (WTS class of 1989), began spreading word of the gift around the conference in hopes of partnering with another congregation. When asked why Wartburg Seminary, Pastor Dick explained, “Wartburg Seminary is a recognized leader in providing quality education in preparing pastors for our setting, so it seems like a natural fit and partnership. Wartburg has also been a leader in being innovative on how pastors are trained and educated for ministry. This forward thinking is vital.”

This forward thinking inspired Pastor Linda Winkelman (WTS class of 2007) of Jefferson Prairie Lutheran Church in Poplar Grove, IL. She jumped at the opportunity to both partner in ministry and lift up leaders in the church. The Jefferson Prairie endowment committee agreed, gifting $6,000 to the WTS Scholarship Fund. One Jefferson Prairie council member shared: “Part of Wartburg Seminary’s mission is to foster community, which is what we are doing by partnering with other congregations to do ministry.”

The Jefferson Prairie congregation (pictured left) has witnessed this community-building firsthand, as they have hosted January term “Rural Plunge” students for a number of years. This has been a deeply meaningful experience for students and congregations alike, as many of the students who participated have worked or been formed solely in urban or suburban settings. This rural immersion gives them a broad experience and new understanding of different contexts.

With a total impact of $12,000, Sugar Creek and Jefferson Prairie found themselves in the wonderful position of being able to fund a half-tuition scholarship for a Wartburg student in need! This was already great news, but the Holy Spirit was not finished doing God’s work. Pastor Dick and Pastor Linda shared the story of their partnership at the Walworth-Jefferson clergy meeting, asking if any other congregations felt moved to join and support Wartburg Seminary students training to share the Good News. Pastor Amy Waelchli (WTS class of 2014) of Trinity Lutheran Church (pictured below) in Fort Atkinson, WI heard the call to bring this opportunity before her council, who voted to gift an extra $5,000 toward the scholarship. The Walworth Jefferson Scholarship at Wartburg Theological Seminary was now ready to provide a full tuition annual fund scholarship, helping students in need follow their call.

Pastor Amy shared that Trinity was so excited at the opportunity to support a student because this had been their goal for years. “Trinity has an endowment fund for theological education to further Christ’s church in the world. It was unused for many years, awaiting the opportunity to send one of ‘our’ members to seminary. However, all students are ‘our’ members because we are one church in Christ. Using the fund to further someone’s education is a gift of faith to the whole church.” She added that they were particularly excited to support a Wartburg Seminary student because “Trinity treasures leaders who are community-minded, theologically sound, passionate preachers, and good teachers.”

Since 2015, scholarship dollars awarded to students at Wartburg Seminary per year have increased by 224%. This year Wartburg will award over $2.2 million in scholarships. This initiative by the entire Wartburg Seminary community has led to a 76% decline in total student tuition borrowing. Partnerships like the scholarship set up by Sugar Creek Lutheran, Jefferson Prairie Lutheran, and Trinity Lutheran have made this reality possible. The Wartburg Seminary community coming together makes all the difference.

“Together we can provide a full scholarship for a student at Wartburg. This is not something that we could do by ourselves.” Pastor Dick Inglett

A member of the Jefferson Prairie Council agreed: “We motivate and inspire each other. Sharing ideas between congregations helps keep us from getting stagnant. … It’s exciting to be able to significantly change someone’s life by giving them the financial means to learn and then go out into the world to lead God’s people in sharing the gospel in word and service.”

Wartburg Seminary is dedicated to growing relationships with congregational partners and knows how students and congregations can be transformed when they relate to one another. This fall Wartburg will be connecting a student to the partnership. This student will truly know that they are being lifted up by three communities of faith and will have an opportunity to preach at one or more of the congregations when possible.

Wartburg Seminary celebrates our ministry partnership with the Walworth Jefferson Conference and thanks every leader who came together to make such an impact in a student’s life. Each pastor has made it clear they do not see this as the end of the road. The Walworth Jefferson Conference Scholarship is open to being renewed each year and will continue to encourage other congregations to join the partnership or create their own to support students following their call to seminary.

“Not only will we be building relationships with Wartburg and a Wartburg student,” Pastor Inglett of Sugar Creek explained, “but we will also have a greater opportunity to build relationships with sister congregations.  It is also a witness and model for other congregations in the ELCA to work together around shared interests and ministries. All three of our congregations hope that other ministry partnerships will develop and congregations across the ELCA will provide scholarships.”

If your congregation is looking to support leaders following their call at Warburg Seminary, please call our Development Team at 563-589-0220.