Published: March 31, 2022
By Heather Grennan Gary
ELKHART, Indiana — Barbara Peterson of Elkhart, Indiana, was an artist who took a long view on how she could make a difference. In addition to creating worship banners and teaching visual arts at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart, Indiana, Peterson and her husband, Duane, decided in 2001 to donate stocks to the seminary to establish a scholarship that would support students who are preparing to use visual arts in ministry or theological studies.
Since then, seven AMBS students have benefited from the Petersons’ generosity, receiving $2,899 total in scholarship aid. Kajsa Herrstrom, a Master of Divinity student from Champaign, Illinois, is one of them.
“The very existence of a visual arts scholarship is affirmation for someone trying to integrate the arts with ministry, and that affirmation has been as meaningful to me as the financial help itself,” she reflected.
When Barbara Peterson died in 2013, memorial gifts in her honor added to the scholarship. And to mark the scholarship’s 20th anniversary in 2021, Duane Peterson made an additional contribution, helping to deliver an even larger impact for recipients. The Visual Arts Scholarship also then received a new name (with Duane’s blessing): the Worship Arts Scholarship.
“Though the arts in worship have always been important, we are keenly aware of the significant role of words, music, visual art, preaching, drama and dance in today’s worship,” wrote retired AMBS professors June Alliman Yoder, DMin; Marlene Kropf, DMin; and Rebecca Slough, PhD; in a letter to former students about the scholarship in January. (Alliman Yoder, Kropf and Slough all taught courses in worship, among other subjects.) “The arts can invite us to experience God’s presence in profound ways; they connect us with other worshipers, and they enliven us for Spirit-inspired action beyond the walls of the church.”
Joel Beachy, Pastor of East Union Mennonite Church in Kalona, Iowa, says the Visual Arts Scholarship helped him afford a seminary education. He graduated with a Master of Divinity degree in 2020 through AMBS’s distance-friendly MDiv Connect program.
“Tapping into my creativity has been a way for me to strengthen my understanding of who God is and of who God is calling me to be as a faith leader in my church,” he said. “The creativity necessary to be a pastor has always been important, but in a world that is so quickly changing, the ability to learn, to adapt and to integrate new ways of thinking, being and doing is critical.”
The Worship Arts Scholarship is one of about 100 endowed scholarships at AMBS, according to Bob Yoder, DMin, CFRM, Director of Development. Most AMBS students require financial aid, he said, and most of the seminary’s endowed scholarships are awarded based on need, not merit. Some endowed scholarships support up to three students each year.
All endowed scholarships work in the same way: after a donor gives a financial gift to the seminary, AMBS invests the money and uses the interest to help students. Endowing a full-tuition scholarship requires $300,000; a half-tuition scholarship requires $150,000; and a scholarship covering one-third of tuition requires $100,000.
It doesn’t take that much to establish an endowed scholarship, though, and anyone can contribute to an existing one. This year, for instance, Yoder said the seminary’s goal for the Worship Arts Scholarship is to raise $20,000 so that the scholarship can support 10 percent of the tuition cost for one student for one year.
AMBS President David Boshart, PhD, said that by contributing to the Worship Arts Scholarship fund, individuals can honor the work of AMBS professors who have inspired and supported students in developing gifts and skills for planning and leading worship, and in making interdisciplinary connections among art, culture and theology. He noted that in addition to Peterson, Alliman Yoder, Kropf and Slough, professors such as Mary Oyer, Orlando Schmidt and Ross Bender have influenced many alumni — and by extension, many congregations and ministries — over the years. Current Teaching Faculty members who are carrying forward this tradition include Malinda Elizabeth Berry, PhD; Rachel Miller Jacobs, DMin; Andy Brubacher Kaethler, PhD; and Allan Rudy-Froese, PhD.
While the Worship Arts Scholarship is not named after a specific person, Yoder said that many of the other endowed scholarships are. (The name of a benefactor can be added to an endowed scholarship once the fund reaches $25,000.) He has researched the back stories of many of the scholarships.
“It’s been powerful to read about the lives of these people — whether it’s their generosity or a child’s generosity in honor of their parents,” he said. “I think of these scholarships kind of as the great cloud of witnesses, cheering on students before they’ve even been born.”
Herrstrom agrees. “I have been on a lifelong artistic and spiritual journey,” she said. “I wouldn’t always have articulated it that way, [but] I became much more intentional about integrating the two when I started my studies at AMBS.”
“I’ve been grateful for the opportunity to explore presenting faith-based creative practices as part of my coursework,” she continued. “Whatever comes next, I hope to be able to share what I’ve learned about artistic and creative spiritual practices with others in ways that can lead toward healing and renewed awareness of communion with God. I’m grateful for the role this scholarship has played in the process.”
To establish a new scholarship or contribute to an existing scholarship, contact [email protected].
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