Effort to fully fund the scholarship continues
Yvonne Jones Lembo, a third-year scholar at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP), is the first recipient of the Dr. Grover C. and Irma S. Wright Scholarship for African American Lutheran Students.
The Wright Scholarship Fund was established with a $75,000 gift from Irma Wright, the widow of African American Lutheran pioneer, Grover Wright, who persuaded dozens of Black scholars to serve as Lutheran professional leaders. The gift was made possible through proceeds from the dissolution of the Black Lutheran Community Development Corporation (BLCDC), a non-profit enterprise founded in 1987 by Grover Wright to provide affordable housing and support services to single parent families in order to help them become self-sufficient. This is the single largest African-American Lutheran gift to LTSP in its nearly 150-year history.
Lembo is a candidate for rostered ministry with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). She joined Little Zion Lutheran Church of Telford, PA in 2006 and in 2008 began Master of Divinity studies at LTSP. As a field education student, Lembo served as Vicar with St. Mark's Lutheran Church, where the Rev. Dr. Charles Leonard serves as pastor. Leonard also is director of Contextual Education at LTSP. Recently, Lembo assisted the Rev. Claire Burkat, Bishop of the ELCA’s Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod (SEPA), as pianist and worship leader for the Synod’s “God is Doing Something New” series of three Fall Gatherings She has served as part of LTSP’s Office for Philanthropy since 2009, first as a work-study student, then as an administrative assistant and since October 1 as a Philanthropic Advisor. In this capacity, she is devoted to cultivating strategic relationships in support of LTSP’s Urban Theological Institute (UTI) and funds like the Grover and Irma Wright Scholarship, which provide resources for equipping African-American scholars and Black Church leaders for 21st century ministry.
Lembo has excelled as a student. During her second year as a seminarian two years ago, Lembo was honored with the Karl Elster Wurster Award, recognizing her academic merit and “promise of ministry.”
Sharing her thoughts on receiving the first Grover and Irma Wright Scholarship award, Lembo said: “I’m inspired and deeply, deeply moved by Grover and Irma's life of faith, courage, hope, perseverance and humility and incredible investment in raising up African-American Lutheran leaders for the Church. Mrs. Wright could have chosen to do many things with the funds she received from the BLCDC. But she chose to invest in the future of African-American Lutheran leaders. I feel as if God has lavished these gracious gifts -- of receiving the scholarship and this opportunity to raise funds for the seminary --- as part of a wonderful plan to extend and enlarge Grover and Irma's incredible legacy. So it’s not only the financial gift, but also the Spirit behind the gift that is a blessing to bequeath to each succeeding generation. It's a vision of hope and promise for the future of African-Americans in the Lutheran Church. It's an investment in the future of our communities-- to raise up caring qualified leaders who are sensitive and responsive to giving a hand up to those in need. In Grover’s words, it’s ‘a challenge, an opportunity and a dare’ to minister with integrity in new ways and new settings to expand the frontiers of the Gospel. When I’m moving in that direction, I feel their wind beneath my wings.”
Since the Wright Scholarship was established in 2010, there has been a wellspring of support from African-American Lutherans. A Celebration of Thanksgiving Service this past May generated nearly $3,500 in additional gifts for the Grover and Irma Wright Fund. This August, New Hope Lutheran Church in Jamaica, NY, an African-American Lutheran congregation designated a gift of nearly $6,000 to the Wright Scholarship Fund.
In her capacity as Philanthropic Advisor, Lembo has organized a Grover and Irma Wright Fund Task Force to follow through with the goal of increasing the Fund from the original $75,000 gift to $100,000 or more in 2012. The Task Force includes the Rev. Jessie Brown, Dr. Addie Butler, the Rev. Daniel Shook and Sister Cecilia Wilson -- all of whom have been longtime friends of Grover and Irma Wright and who served on the original Scholarship Task Force.
Lembo is excited about continuing to build momentum and support for the Wright Fund. “The Task Force is working with Dr. Charles Leonard, Larry House and, of course, Mrs. Irma Wright, to produce a short DVD that will tell the Grover and Irma Wright story through footage and photos from Grover's life and interviews with Irma and several of Grover's key colleagues and protégés.”
The DVD will be used to invite others to join in the Wright’s spirit of philanthropy and investment in African-American Lutheran leaders. It is scheduled to be ready by Spring 2012 and to be introduced at an African-American Lutheran History Day at LTSP that Lembo is working on with LTSP faculty member, the Rev. Dr. Richard Stewart. The History Day is tentatively scheduled for this coming April or May. Pastor Larry Smoose and Reformation Lutheran Church of Media, PA have taken the lead in supporting the Grover Wright DVD and 2012 fundraising initiative by pledging $2,500 for DVD production costs and an additional $2,500 matching gift that will double the impact of those who contribute to the Grover and Irma Wright Scholarship over the next year.
For more information about the Grover and Irma Wright Scholarship Fund contact Yvonne Lembo at the LTSP Office for Philanthropy- 215-248-6318 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The LTSP website also features information about the Grover and Irma Wright Scholarship and the signing ceremony celebrating the establishment of the scholarship: http://ltsp.edu/GroverIrmaWrightScholarship.
In the photo: Yvonne Lembo (left) with Irma Wright and The Rev. Dr. Rudolph Featherstone at the May 1, 2011 celebration. Photo courtesy JesseBrown.com
Written by seminary writer Mark Staples