FAQs

If you want to learn more about ELCA Fund for Leaders scholarships, the eligibility criteria and the application process, you’ve come to the right place! We recommend that you start your inquiry by reading about the four types of scholarships offered by ELCA Fund for Leaders and their respective eligibility criteria.

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ELCA Fund for Leaders offers four types of scholarships:

  • Full-tuition scholarships provide $18,000 per year to all recipients, a total value of $54,000 for Master of Divinity students and $36,000 for Master of Arts students over the course of their seminary studies (internship and clinical pastoral education excluded). Our ELCA seminary partners have committed to make up any difference between their actual tuition costs and the amount of our scholarship. In cases where their actual tuition is less than our scholarship, they will apply any difference toward other costs, such as books and fees. New students who will be enrolled full‐time in the upcoming fall semester are eligible to apply. Current ELCA seminary students who will have completed no more than one semester of coursework by the start of the upcoming fall semester are also eligible to apply. Applicants must have received a positive entrance decision or at least begun the process of seeking candidacy for rostered ministry in the ELCA. A full list of eligibility criteria is included with the application. Applications are completed and submitted online through ELCA GrantMaker. Scholarships are awarded to students for the duration of their required seminary coursework, provided they remain in good standing with their seminary and in their candidacy process.
  • Mission developer/redeveloper scholarships provide $10,000 per year for full-time Master of Divinity students and $4,000 per year for Theological Education for Emerging Ministry (TEEM) students. Students must be nominated by their seminary and by the ELCA Domestic Mission unit as mission developer/redeveloper candidates before completing and submitting an application online through ELCA GrantMaker. These scholarships are one-year awards but are automatically renewable for an additional year if the student has another year of studies remaining and remains eligible.
  • Federal Chaplaincy scholarships: These scholarships vary in value based on funds available and the number of students awarded scholarships each year. These one-year awards have been averaging $4,000 to $6,000 each year and are intended for students attending an ELCA seminary and preparing for ministry as a military, Veterans Administration (VA) or federal prison chaplain. This scholarship is awarded through ELCA Federal Chaplaincy Ministries. Students may complete and submit an application online through ELCA GrantMaker.
  • Synod and congregation scholarships: These scholarships vary in value based on each participating synod’s or congregation’s available funds and the number of students awarded scholarships. In the past, awards have ranged in value from hundreds to thousands of dollars per year. Students nominated by their synod submit an application online through ELCA GrantMaker. Synod scholarships are one-year awards.
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There are set periods of time each year during which ELCA Fund for Leaders scholarship applications are accepted. Please note that applications — particularly applications for full-tuition scholarships — require multiple documents and may take several weeks to complete. Please begin early to allow time for submission!

For scholarships that will be awarded for the 2020-2021 academic year:

  • Full-tuition scholarships: Applications are accepted in ELCA GrantMaker from Nov. 15, 2019, through Feb. 14, 2020.
  • Mission developer/redeveloper scholarships: Applications from nominated students are accepted in ELCA GrantMaker from Dec. 2, 2019, through Feb. 1, 2020.
  • Federal Chaplaincy scholarships: Applications are accepted in ELCA GrantMaker from Feb. 14, 2020, through March 13, 2020.
  • Synod and congregation scholarships: Applications from nominated students are accepted in ELCA GrantMaker from May 15, 2020, through June 5, 2020.
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We seek people who are passionate about Jesus Christ, spiritually grounded, ecumenically oriented and committed to growing their leadership capacity in an increasingly complex world. Applicants must demonstrate outstanding leadership potential and be exceptionally gifted in ministry, innovation, creativity and other qualities that will make them successful leaders for a changing church. All applicants must plan to be enrolled at an ELCA seminary during the coming academic year and must be pursuing rostered ministry in the ELCA. The following eligibility criteria apply for specific scholarship types:

  • Full-tuition scholarship candidates:
    • Must have been offered admission by at least one ELCA seminary or must be an admitted student at an ELCA seminary. Once awarded, a scholarship will follow the student to whichever ELCA seminary the student attends.
    • Must plan to enroll as a new, first-year ELCA seminary student in the fall of the coming academic year. Current ELCA seminary students who will have completed no more than one semester of coursework by the start of the upcoming fall semester are also eligible to apply.
    • Must be pursuing a Master of Divinity or Master of Arts degree. Theological Education for Emerging Ministries (TEEM) students are not eligible to apply.
    • Must be studying on what their seminary considers to be a full-time basis.
    • Must be pursuing a place on the ELCA roster of Ministers of Word and Sacrament (pastors) or Ministers of Word and Service (deacons).
    • Must have received a positive entrance decision through the ELCA candidacy process or begun the process of seeking candidacy for rostered ministry in the ELCA.
  • Mission developer/redeveloper scholarship candidates:
    • Must have completed at least one year of ELCA seminary studies and must be studying on what their ELCA seminary considers a full-time basis. Theological Education for Emerging Ministries (TEEM) students are eligible to apply.
    • Must be nominated by their seminary and by the ELCA Domestic Mission unit as a mission developer/redeveloper candidate.
    • Must participate in the ELCA behavioral interview process.
    • Must agree to attend ELCA Congregational Vitality training.
    • Must be considered by their synod to be in good standing in the ELCA candidacy process.
    • Must not be a full-time intern during the upcoming year.
  • Federal Chaplaincy scholarship candidates:
    • Must be attending an ELCA seminary on what their seminary considers a full-time basis and must be preparing for ministry as a military, Veterans Administration (VA) or federal prison chaplain. Theological Education for Emerging Ministries (TEEM) students are not eligible to apply.
    • Must be enrolling or enrolled as a Master of Divinity student at an ELCA seminary.
    • Must be pursuing a place on the ELCA roster of Ministers of Word and Sacrament (pastors).
    • Must be considered by their synod to be in good standing in the ELCA candidacy process.
    • Must not be on internship during the upcoming year.
    • If military applicants, must be appointed as a chaplain candidate and a commissioned officer.
    • If VA or prison chaplaincy applicants, must have completed one unit of CPE.
  • Synod and congregation scholarship candidates:
    • Must be enrolling or enrolled at an ELCA seminary. Theological Education for Emerging Ministries (TEEM) students are eligible.
    • Must be nominated by a synod or congregation with a Fund for Leaders endowment fund. Do not apply unless your synod or congregation has invited you to do so.
    • Must be pursuing rostered ministry in the ELCA.
    • Must be considered by the synod to be in good standing in the ELCA candidacy process.
    • Must not be full-time interns during the upcoming year.
    • May also be recipients of Fund for Leaders full-tuition scholarships.
    • Need not be enrolled full-time.
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To remain eligible for Fund for Leaders scholarships, students must continue to be in good academic standing with their seminary and must be proceeding as expected with their candidacy committee. First-year full-tuition scholarship recipients must receive a positive entrance decision from their candidacy committee by the end of their first semester to continue to receive funding.

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TEEM students are eligible for mission developer/redeveloper scholarships (valued at $4,000 per year) or synod and congregational scholarships (amounts vary).

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For your application, you will be required to provide the following materials:

  • An essay (up to 4,000 characters, approximately 1,000 words) in which you describe your faith journey, to include the events and factors that formed your faith and nurtured your sense of call to public ministry. Your seminary admission essay may be used for this requirement provided that it does not exceed the 4,000-character limit.
  • A video essay, no longer than five minutes, in which you respond to prompt questions provided with the application. After you upload this video to YouTube or a similar site, provide a direct link to your video in the application.
  • A copy of your most recent academic transcript (unofficial transcripts are acceptable).
  • Employment history for the past five years.
  • Optional: A list of your volunteer experience from the last three to five years.
  • A copy of an offer-of-admission letter from at least one ELCA seminary, and preferably one from each seminary you are considering attending (Fund for Leaders scholarships may only be used at ELCA seminaries).
  • A PDF copy of your positive entrance decision from your synod of candidacy, if you have one.

Other supporting materials that are required for application but must be submitted separately by third parties include the following. (NOTE: The application deadline applies to these materials as well; please plan your time accordingly.)

  • Letters of recommendation from 1) an ELCA rostered minister and 2) a layperson who knows you and can speak about your leadership experience and potential. (Neither of these people may be relatives.) The application includes a downloadable form to give your letter writers, with instructions for them to submit their letters to FundforLeaders@elca.org on your behalf.
  • Candidacy verification form: To qualify for a Fund for Leaders scholarship, you must have either received a positive entrance decision or already begun the process of applying for candidacy. Whichever is the case, a candidacy verification form is required. Please download the form from the application page, send it to your synod and request that the synod submit it to FundforLeaders@elca.org by the application deadline.
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Each type of Fund for Leaders scholarship has its own selection process.

  • Full-tuition scholarships: Eligible students apply directly to the ELCA Fund for Leaders through ELCA GrantMaker. The Fund for Leaders convenes a selection committee composed of a representative cross section of the ELCA: bishops, other rostered ministers, lay leaders, members of the Fund for Leaders Leadership Table (advisory board), Fund for Leaders donors, former Fund for Leaders scholarship recipients and ELCA churchwide organization staff. The committee considers all application materials and makes scholarship selections
  • Mission developer/redeveloper scholarships: Each ELCA seminary nominates up to two students each year. Nominated students apply through ELCA GrantMaker. Fund for Leaders convenes a selection committee composed of Fund for Leaders and ELCA Domestic Mission staff. The selection committee considers all application materials, including the seminary nomination, the behavioral interview report and the student application, and makes scholarship selections.
  • Federal Chaplaincy scholarships: Students apply directly through ELCA GrantMaker. The ELCA Federal Chaplaincy Ministry convenes a selection committee to consider all application materials and make scholarship selections.
  • Synod and congregation scholarships: Synods and congregations with ELCA Fund for Leaders endowment funds nominate candidates using processes determined by each synod or congregation. Nominated students apply through ELCA GrantMaker. Fund for Leaders staff verify student eligibility.
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Lutheran-year students are eligible for synod and congregational scholarships for the required coursework they complete at an ELCA seminary.

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Fund for Leaders scholarships can be used at any of the seven ELCA-affiliated seminaries. Fund for Leaders scholarships cannot be used at non-ELCA seminaries or divinity schools. The ELCA seminaries are:

  • Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn.
  • Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, Chicago, Ill.
  • Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary of Lenoir-Rhyne University, Columbia, S.C.
  • Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary of California Lutheran University, Berkeley, Calif.
  • Trinity Lutheran Seminary at Capital University, Columbus, Ohio
  • United Lutheran Seminary, Gettysburg/Philadelphia, Penn.
  • Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa

Vocational discernment resources and more information about all seven ELCA seminaries can be found here.

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Fund for Leaders scholarships may be used for the following types of programs:

  • Master of Arts programs (for candidates pursuing ministry of Word and Service)
  • “Traditional” Master of Divinity (M.Div.) programs, consisting of three academic years of study plus one year of full-time internship
  • Distributed/distance learning M.Div. programs
  • Unique programs available at only one seminary, including:
    • Collaborative M.Div. at Wartburg
    • M.Div. Co-op at United
    • 2+2 M.Div. at Trinity
    • 3-year M.Div. at PLTS
  • • Students in some unique programs are not eligible for full-tuition, mission developer/redeveloper or Federal Chaplaincy scholarships (but may remain eligible for synod scholarships). These programs include:
    • Certificate programs
    • 5-year M.Div. at PLTS
    • MDivX at Luther

If you have questions about the eligibility of a special academic program, or if your program is not listed here, contact us at FundforLeaders@elca.org.

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Full-tuition scholarship recipients are also eligible to receive a synod or congregational scholarship or Federal Chaplaincy scholarship. Note that any scholarship funding received in excess of the cost of tuition, books and fees may have tax implications for the student.

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If you transfer, your Fund for Leaders scholarship will follow you to any other ELCA seminary. If you transfer to a non-ELCA-affiliated seminary or divinity school, your scholarship will be discontinued. This is true of any scholarship type.

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ELCA seminaries have differing scholarship and financial aid policies. Some seminaries guarantee full-tuition scholarships to some or all of their students; in those cases, it may still be to a student’s advantage to apply for other scholarships such as those offered by the Fund for Leaders. Please check with your seminary’s admissions and financial aid team for details.

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For all four scholarship types, Fund for Leaders sends payments twice per academic year (fall semester and spring semester) directly to your ELCA seminary in your name. These payments occur automatically for all scholarship awards, and you need not request them. Fund for Leaders staff communicate with seminary staff to verify continued student eligibility and ensure that the current amounts of scholarship funding reach the right students at the right times.

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In order to qualify for a Fund for Leaders scholarship, you must have already begun the process of applying for candidacy. You must receive a positive entrance decision by the end of your first semester of seminary to remain eligible for the Fund for Leaders scholarships.

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If you applied for and received the scholarship in good faith and later discern that the Holy Spirit and the church are not calling you to rostered ministry, you will not be required to repay the funds already granted to you. However, your scholarship will be immediately discontinued.

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Perhaps you can do both! By special arrangement with the YAGM program, if you apply for and receive a full-tuition scholarship from ELCA Fund for Leaders, you may defer that scholarship for one full year to participate in the Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) program. If you receive the full-tuition scholarship and choose the YAGM deferral option, you are guaranteed to receive your scholarship after your YAGM year. It is also possible to apply for the full-tuition scholarship during your YAGM year. If you apply for a full-tuition scholarship and do not receive it, you are welcome to apply again in future years, provided you meet all eligibility criteria.