Spring has finally arrived at Princeton Theological Seminary, where the whole campus is now in full bloom.
Including Sabrina Slater.
The Spokane native and former education administrator—who was certified in January by the Presbytery of the Inland Northwest as ready to receive a call—never expected to be in seminary in the first place, much less preparing to graduate in May, ready and eager to bloom wherever she is planted.
“I never planned on attending seminary or on a call to full-time ministry,” Slater says. “Or perhaps, to state it more plainly, although I had made responsible financial decisions in eliminating the debt of my first degree, I had not anticipated becoming a full-time student again. Then God had a conversation with my heart, and I felt a desire to earn a Master of Divinity degree.”
After being accepted to Princeton, Slater’s first question—alongside many others she had about how and how and where God might be calling her to serve—was understandably a financial one.
“When you do not have savings to support a graduate degree and you are planning on walking away from your full-time salary, finding a way to finance a seminary education becomes a reality,” she says.
For many nontraditional or second-career students like Slater, the cost of graduate school can be prohibitive. Slater, however, was determined not to say “no” to seminary just because she didn’t know how she would pay the bills. She turned hopefully to the denomination in which she was raised and nurtured.
The program serves full-time MDiv or MACE students attending a PC(USA)-related seminary who are preparing to serve in a PC(USA) congregation. It awards students between $1,000–$4,000 annually, with the possibility of supplemental grants for students who meet the eligibility requirements, namely racial ethnic and Native American students, as well as women of color.
“The aid that I have received from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on this journey through seminary has been invaluable,” Slater says. “In this time of preparation to become as equipped as possible to serve God in ministry, I desired that finances not be what determined my experiences. For me, seminary was a time to grow, to be set apart, to engage in theological study and reflection and to translate what is being heard and read into the framework and the fabric of life. This for me included growth in my sense of call and voice in ministry while still being very open to exactly where God might direct me to move.”
And where she will be moving following graduation is literally all over the world.
As the recipient of Princeton’s 2015 Parish Pulpit Fellowship—which will take her abroad for approximately one year with the objective of helping her to become a more effective pastor and preacher through a cross-cultural experience—she was able to propose and select the places and the people with whom she would study.
Her itinerary includes a 30-day spiritual retreat in the US, the Camino de Santiago (“Walk of St. James”) pilgrimage from Paris, France, to Santiago, Spain, as well sites in Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji.
“I am very excited for this coming year and how God will use the experience and the opportunity for a ‘Mary’ moment—you know, sitting at Jesus' feet—to be formative in preparing me for the people and places God will call me to serve,” Slater emails from Brazil, where she is taking her final seminary class, “Preaching in a Global Context,” taught by Princeton’s Dr. Cleophus J. LaRue.
But before she embarks on her yearlong journey of discovery and discernment, she will be making a stop in Minneapolis for the 2015 Churchwide Gathering of Presbyterian Women, for which she serves on the programming planning team. Her specific responsibilities have included development of the Spirituality Center and the Clothesline Project in the activities hall, as well as the get-togethers that are being offered on the Friday and Saturday night of the gathering.
For all of these experiences—past, present, and future—Slater is grateful to God and the church.
“For me, the financial aid offered through the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has not only helped me to manage the educational debt that I will have when I graduate in May, it has done two additional things,” she says. “First, it has been a witness to the support that the church, the body of Christ, offers in this season of discernment of call. And second, it has offered a freedom to allow God the opportunity to develop and use my gifts in a variety of ways and communities while in seminary. Support and freedom is what this aid has meant to me personally.”
The only advice Slater says that she can give to other potential seminary students is to ask questions and to apply for aid.
“My prayer is both that finances would not stand in the way of what God has called them to and that the church would always be in the faithful practice of offering them support and freedom,” she says. “It will make all the difference in ministry and in changing lives.”
Applications for the Presbyterian Study Grant are due May 15 for the 2015–2016 academic year. Visit the website to download an application.