A group of 22 Southwestern Adventist University theology students pose with their professors, members of the university administration, and the Southwestern Union administration. Photo provided by Southwestern Adventist University

North America

Southwestern Union Announces Initiatives to Support Southwestern Adventist University Theology and Education Majors

Church leaders join together to establish tangible incentives for students to pursue their callings to ministry

Texas | Coby Federowski

In a bold step toward fostering the next generation of church leaders, the Southwestern Union, under the leadership of Carlos Craig, union president, and in collaboration with Southwestern Adventist University (SWAU), has announced two groundbreaking initiatives to support students following a call to ministry through the study of theology and education. The strategies provide financial incentives, up to $15,000 per student, in response to the increasing need to recruit and retain teachers and pastors who choose to serve the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Southwestern Union.

The union established a steering committee led by its treasurer, John Page. The committee included Craig and other administrators: Tony Anobile, union vice president for Church Ministries; Carol Campbell, union vice president for Education; Elton DeMoraes, Texas Conference president; Carlton Byrd, Southwest Region Conference president; Ana Patterson, SWAU president; Todd Goodman, AdventHealth CFO (Florida division); and Samson Sembeba, pastor of the First Seventh-day Adventist Church. Together, the group analyzed employment and retention trends for pastors and teachers and created a proposal to improve collaborative recruiting and financial incentives to better support students who major in theology or education at SWAU.

The plan will go into effect in Spring 2024 and support theology students through a scholarship program and education graduates through a three-year loan forgiveness incentive.

The Southwestern Union Theology Scholarship: The scholarship program will provide financial support to SWAU students who are majoring in theology and intend to pursue a career in pastoral ministry. Freshmen and sophomores will receive a $1,000 annual scholarship, while juniors and seniors will be awarded $6,500 per year, totaling $15,000. To qualify, students must maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA, demonstrate involvement and service in ministry to a local church, community organization, or the university campus, and submit regular reflection papers on their ministry journey. Scholarships will be awarded beginning this spring semester to existing and new students.

The Southwestern Union Teacher-Student Loan Forgiveness Program: After graduating from Southwestern Adventist University, teachers who are hired by the Southwestern Union will receive a $5,000 bonus at the end of each of the first three years of teaching, totaling $15,000. This incentive will be applied directly toward the teacher’s student loan debt. If the teacher does not carry student loan debt, the $5,000 will be paid directly to the employee.

In addition to providing financial assistance, there are plans in place to begin visiting the Adventist academies in the union territory to inspire future pastors and teachers to listen to God’s call in their lives. In a proactive move, the Southwestern Union Ministerial Department will coordinate yearly campus visits between the presidents of the conferences in the union and the Department of Religion at SWAU to meet with students and foster authentic relationships. Similar collaborations will take place between SWAU’s Department of Education and the Southwestern Union Education Department.

Patterson shares, “It was a privilege to be a part of the steering committee and witness the commitment of my colleagues to support future pastors and teachers in a tangible way. Our students are eager to pursue their education and live out their faith through a life of service. These initiatives are not only financial support but a vote of confidence from the union and conferences.”

“Investing in our students at Southwestern Adventist University is investing in the future of the Seventh-day Adventist Church,” says Craig. “We’re honored and blessed to be able to provide financial support and incentives for students who are pursuing careers that will further the Gospel in our territory. We value their commitment as they answer God’s call to serve His people and impact His kingdom. We are grateful for the work of the steering committee and for the gift from the Rex Callicott estate that, along with funds from the Southwestern Union, has allowed us to pursue these initiatives.”

These initiatives underscore the Southwestern Union’s commitment to nurturing the next generation of Adventist leaders. As they actively pursue connections with students, they express their excitement to share the blessings entrusted to them.

The original version of this story was posted on the North American Division website.