REENFIELD — Jonathan Roller spends his work days organizing Sunday morning services for young children, Sunday evening youth gatherings, and activities for the fifth- and sixth-graders in between.
He serves as family minister at Fall Creek Christian Church in Pendleton, a position he assumed not long after graduating from Johnson University in Tennessee.
The transition from college to the ministry was eased for him by a scholarship from a Greenfield-based foundation that has awarded more than $2 million to aspiring ministers and missionaries in the 50 years since it began.
“It definitely made college more possible for me and … reduced what I would have had to pay back in student loans,” Roller said. “It definitely eased the weight a little.”
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Aside from the college cash, Roller said being nominated for the scholarship gave him a boost by “people recognizing where my heart was and what I was passionate about.”
That recognition came from the Alexander Christian Foundation, which awards scholarships to students involved in an independent Christian Church/Church of Christ who want to pursue a career in ministry.
It was the dream of Bill Duncan, an insurance salesman and a deacon at Southport Heights Christian Church in Indianapolis. He wanted to set up a fund that offered money for Bible college for young people who felt called to ministry.
In the early 1970s, he was at the hospital while a family member had surgery. Two pastor friends came to sit with him. As they talked in the waiting room, he shared the idea.
Ministers Bruce Miller and Ken Arnold liked the concept. Duncan contributed some of his own profits and contacted business leaders around the state, who also made contributions. The Alexander Christian Foundation was born.
“The word, Alexander, means helper,” said David Woods, senior minister at Park Chapel Christian Church and foundation vice president. “The early directors landed on that — that it would be a helping organization.”
The first scholarship was awarded in 1964 to Mary Faith Hall of Bedford. She would become a college classmate of Woods’ at Johnson University (then Johnson Bible College), but that was before he knew about the foundation.
In the earlier years of the foundation, Woods was organizing a youth rally when he crossed paths with some minister friends involved in it. They invited him to join its board; he later served a 25-year tenure as president.
During that tenure, the foundation’s headquarters, which had once been in Duncan’s insurance office on the northwest side of Indianapolis, moved to Hancock County. Twenty years ago, the headquarters were moved into an office near U.S. 40 and County Road 600W; for the past 14 years, the foundation has occupied an office in the Hancock County Community Foundation building on East Main Street.
That’s not all that has changed; the amount awarded and the number of recipients in a year have grown. The foundation offered a single scholarship in the beginning of about $300 per semester.
A laywoman at one of the Christian churches urged a larger scholarship, Woods said; today, first-year college students receive $1,500, with the potential to earn a $2,000 scholarship in later years if they maintain a B average.
There are graduate-level scholarships these days, too. According to the foundation’s office manager, Judith Colip, 817 students have received scholarships over the past 50 years, totaling $2.1 million.
The foundation grew by not only addition but also multiplication. About 25 years ago, Duncan asked Gene McElroy to travel for a year for the foundation to try to establish foundations in other states. About seven or eight were formed, Woods said, and not all of them lasted, but several are still in existence. Each has its own scholarship structure and does its own fundraising.
That is how an insurance salesman’s dream became more than $3 million in scholarships for future ministers and missionaries.
“Many of (the recipients) have become really amazing workers in mission fields,” Woods said.
Others have found their calling closer to Greenfield. Danny Curry, spiritual development minister at Park Chapel, was a scholarship recipient from the foundation and also served it as a summer intern. Tom Scott, senior minister at Cumberland Christian Church, was also a recipient and became president of the foundation in 2011.
Scott remembers 1964 recipient Mary Faith (Hall) Enyart from his days at college, where her husband was a professor. According to Scott, she’s a “great Christian lady … highly respected,” part of a long list of remarkable recipients.
“Students have gone on to every part of the world, every part of the country, and are doing amazing things,” he said, and the foundation exists to help free them to do those amazing things sooner.
“Huge student loans are a huge shackle,” he said. “Through ACF, we try to lighten that load a little. That’s why it’s important to keep it going.”
Scott writes letters thanking individuals and churches who donate to the foundation and tries to spread the word by making sure ministers and students in independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ know about the scholarship.
Roller is trying to do that, too. He said some of the students he works with are considering ministry, and he’ll be ready to tell them about the scholarship.
When Roller was a teenager, he was involved in Wilkinson Church of Christ. His minister there was Ryan McCarty, himself a past scholarship recipient. He nominated Roller for the award.
While some colleges and universities will match contributions from churches, “I don’t know of any other foundation that offers a scholarship for specifically targeting mission and ministry-minded students,” McCarty said. “The ACF is definitely in its own genre.”
Alexander Christian Foundation provides scholarships to high school seniors and college students pursuing ministry vocations in college, as well as presenting Outstanding Christian Student awards to high school juniors.
The foundation receives donations from individuals and churches and also has an annual golf outing to raise funds. This year’s golf outing is set for May 21 at Hawk’s Tail Golf Club in Greenfield, with a shot gun start at 8 a.m. Lunch will be served following the outing at Park Chapel Christian Church in Greenfield.
Students have gone on to every part of the world, every part of the country, and are doing amazing things.
Tom Scott, president, Alexander Christian Foundation