Pass It On

By Pastor Rob Fuquay | 05/5/2017

Her name was Mildred Swicegood. I learned about her when I was 18 years old, though I hadn't met her. I just knew there was a scholarship in her name at the college I was going to attend. The scholarship was for students planning to go into full-time Christian work. I met the academic requirements and was able to receive the $1,000 a year. Not much by today's standards but then it represented 20% of tuition at Pfeiffer College (now university), a private United Methodist school.

My father found out about Mrs. Swicegood, that she was not only living, but lived just a half mile from their house! When I was home one break, I went to visit her and thank her for establishing this scholarship. I found out some interesting details. She wasn't United Methodist. She was Presbyterian. Her son had gone to Pfeiffer College but he wasn't a ministerial student. He was a chemistry major. Mrs. Swicegood and her husband appreciated the spiritual emphasis at the school, and valued the work of the church. She and her husband wanted to support students who might not ever earn the kind of money to pay off their college debts very quickly. In other words they wanted to support future pastors!

I got back in my car from that visit, realizing I was the beneficiary of other people's grace. Because the Swicegoods acted on an impulse of the Spirit, I was able to afford my undergraduate education and enter seminary debt free. So few students today can do that. In fact, here in the Indiana Annual Conference, this has become a focus of study and action. Realizing the overwhelming debt burden many young pastors face coming out of seminary, the Indiana UMC started a program called Rejuvenate to help alleviate education debt for clergy.

Therefore, I am tremendously honored that Garrett Seminary would establish a scholarship in my name, to help future students planning to enter full-time Christian work. While I feel uncomfortable with funds being solicited for something in my name, I am proud to be associated with an endowment to ease the burden of debt for pastors, especially at a school like Garrett.

Garrett Evangelical Theological School is 164 years old, started by the founders of Northwestern University, and is the second oldest UM seminary in the country. One of the early supporters of Garrett was Abraham Lincoln, which is probably why Garrett has always maintained a passion for social justice. In fact, the second president of Garrett, Bishop Matthew Simpson, conducted Lincoln's funeral. Many of the early pastors who graduated from Garrett became known as "free soilers." They were like missionaries going to churches in the developing western states dedicated to keeping them anti-slavery.

Women could not be ordained in the church at this time, yet women were critical in the establishment of Garrett. Eliza Garrett, widow of a Chicago mayor, gave the money to start the school.  Francis Willard, the suffrage and temperance leader, taught at Garrett. The first woman in the US to hold a position as full professor of theology was at Garrett, Georgia Harkness, the prominent author and poet. Deaconesses coming out of Garrett in those early years were responsible for many hospitals started around Indiana and beyond, opening some 60 hospitals in total!

Garrett has one of the highest (if not THE highest) percentage of African American students in UM seminaries and has produced leaders like our own bishop, Julius Trimble, Indiana DS Michele Cobb and newly elected bishop, Tracy Smith Malone.

Other notable graduates include our current president of the Council of Bishops, Bruce Ough, Lloyd Ogilvie and Bishop Emerson Colaw.

I am honored to be able to support a school with such an outstanding record and encourage your support. In the end it is about doing what the psalmist commended, to cause God's name to be remembered for future generations. Like the old church camp song sings, "I want to pass it on."