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Since 2018, Union Theological Seminary and Trinity Church Wall Street have been proud to offer the Trinity Union Scholars Program. Thanks to a generous grant from Trinity Church Wall Street, the Trinity Union Scholars program offers faith leaders from India and China the opportunity to come to New York City for one year to pursue a fully-financed Masters in Sacred Theology (S.T.M) at Union.
“The program was a great help for me in so many amazing ways,” shared graduate Moses Shanti Bollam, who recalled how the program helped to further his academic studies, provide financial stability, and offered rich experiential opportunities. “This program taught us to be compassionate and courageous leaders to bring about change and transformation in this broken world.”
The Trinity Union Scholars Program (TUSP) combines worship and learning at Trinity Church Wall Street with scholarship at Union Theological Seminary, equipping participants with abundant resources and support for their work as future community faith leaders. “Without the support of the Trinity Union Scholars Program, I could not have had an opportunity to get an excellent theological education with the resources of a world-class research faculty and theological library at Union,” reflected graduate Yanan Lu. “During that year, the Trinity Union Scholars Program allowed me to participate in conferences, such as the American Academy of Religion conference and Pacific, Asian, and North American Asian Women in Theology and Ministry conference, which were very eye-opening and allowed me to meet many scholars with similar research interests. The vision, leadership, and management of Trinity Church on Wall Street inspired me a lot and guided me to think deeply about the role of the church in the Christian community and society.”
The Trinity Union Scholars Program has a strong emphasis on cohort, encouraging participants to develop deep relationships with their Trinity Union Scholar peers. “The friendship we built in the Trinity Union Scholars Program is continuing now,” shared Yanan Lu. “We support and encourage each other in our academic and faith journeys.” Even amidst the unprecedented challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the program was able to remain adaptable and continued to deliver excellent offerings to its participants. “Union and the colleagues at Union did a stunning job of taking care of the students and delivering a high quality education during the pandemic,” shared Dr. Rob Garris, Managing Director for Leadership Development at Trinity Church.
Studying at Union provides these emerging leaders with the opportunity to focus intensively on their studies, receive academic support, develop relationships with one another, and ultimately translate a global educational experience into localized action. “One of the things we are finding is a real need in all sorts of different settings for faith leaders who can serve as a point of connection between their church, their congregation, and the community. A focus on faith leaders who are deeply embedded in the community and are connecting points between community and church is a real theme in a lot of the work that we are doing,” shared Managing Director for Leadership Development at Trinity Church, Dr. Rob Garris. Moses Shanti Bollam elaborated on this, and shared, “Trinity Church Wall Street has a global vision and at the same time is conscious of the local mission. Their mission and vision can be summed up in one word, “Glocal,” meaning concentrating on both global and local issues.” And, as Program Director Esther Parajuli highlighted, the “glocal” impacts of TUSP are symbiotic. In addition to all that the Trinity Union Scholars contribute to Trinity Church and Union through their presence, faith, and scholarship, they also bring the gift of transnational perspectives.
Rev. Winnie Varghese, whose work was foundational to the program’s inception, shared that “The idea was not that we had things that they must know so that they would be indoctrinated in any way. The idea was exposing people to a wonderful educational and experiential opportunity, and to be equipped to be in their own spaces in that way.” TUSP is, according to Varghese, “building a more enculturated, indigenous, locally-led church.”
Since its conception, the program has graduated 16 students who have since continued forth in their rigorous pursuits of faith leadership and academic study. As former Program Director Rev. Jane Huber shared, “The students’ success in the program has been exemplary. Every single person who has been accepted into the program has gone on to even more demanding work.” Many have gone on to PhD programs in the United States and around the world, which, as Huber emphasized, “is extremely important for their return to their home countries and their academic standing in teaching in the seminaries and churches there.”
The impact of the graduates of the Trinity Union Scholars program is already being felt, and will surely continue to be influential in the years to come. “Five to ten years from now I would love it if every one of the Trinity scholars is seen as a uniter and a healer in their community,” Dr. Rob Garris stated. And, as Rev. Winnie Varghese offered, the opportunity for these scholars to develop close relationships within their cohort equips them to be able to speak across differences and political divides, becoming “forces for reconciliation” in their future positions as senior faith leaders in their communities.
Union President Rev. Dr. Serene Jones shared, “We are so grateful for our partnership with Trinity Church Wall Street with whom we have a shared mission and vision of advancing faith and justice. The Trinity Union Scholars Program does exactly that, allowing Union the honor and privilege of working with remarkable faith leaders from India and China who are advancing justice in their communities and beyond.”
The value of the Trinity Union Scholars program is immeasurable. As Program Director Esther Parajuli testified, “TUSP creates unique and rich opportunities for transnational theological conversation on faith leadership, which helps cultivate deep solidarity among faith leaders, across differences, for the collective work of transformation. An urgent work in this polarizing socio-political-cultural milieu.” Graduate Moses Shanti Bollam echoed the importance of this program, stating, “As far as I know, this is one of the best programs in the whole world. This generous support of Trinity Church Wall Street has been a blessing to many Indian and Chinese scholars and I wish and pray that this program would continue to equip and empower many more leaders and scholars. As there is a great dearth of scholarships and many bright students from India and China cannot afford to study in the West, this program is and will continue to be a great support for all the emerging scholars.”