A $2 million gift from the family of David Lewis, a former school trustee, will provide full-tuition scholarships for up to five students a year at Starr King School for the Ministry through the David and Norma Lewis Scholarship Fund.
Beginning next academic year, the endowed fund will provide $100,000 a year for full-tuition scholarships at the Unitarian Universalist seminary in Berkeley, California. When fully enacted, it is expected to support as many as five students a year, said Jessica Cloud, vice president of advancement at Starr King. It is “a game changer for us,” Cloud said.
Lewis, a businessman from Ohio who became a Unitarian Universalist in 1974, retired to California in 1981. He was a longtime friend of Starr King and served for years on its board. He also studied at the school as a non-degree student and was “a very valued volunteer and donor,” said Cloud. It was Lewis’ longtime wish to create the $2 million scholarship endowment at Starr King, and when he died in 2015, his children ensured that his desire would be honored, Cloud said.
“David Lewis was an ally before the word became fashionable. He believed in Starr King School, the counter-oppressive ways we teach, and the religious leaders we help form,” said Starr King’s president, the Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt, in an announcement on the school’s website on November 15. “Thanks to the generosity of the Lewis family, even more students will benefit from a Starr King education, and the ministers they become will bless our world.”
The rising cost of seminary and the student debt load of new ministers is a serious challenge for Unitarian Universalists and an issue that UU leaders are working to address. Starr King already offers scholarships, but none covers the full cost of tuition for a student’s entire degree program, Cloud said. By significantly reducing expenses for its recipients, the Lewis fund will offer them more freedom in choosing their ministries, which will have a positive spillover effect for congregations and the communities they serve, she said.
While some recipients may need to borrow money for living expenses and books, Cloud said, “tuition is a huge, huge gift that definitely will make a huge difference for a lot of students going forward.”
The first full-tuition scholarships will be awarded in the 2017–2018 academic year, Cloud said. In addition, David’s children Kristi, David, and Laura donated another $20,000 this year to kick-start the program as the endowment grows. Their gift is supporting a student for the 2016–2017 academic year, Cloud said.
“Regarding David’s generosity, there are no words to really encompass what he’s doing for the school and the entire movement of Unitarian Universalism and progressive religion,” Cloud said. “This is a big deal and we are so, so grateful.”
Lewis supported other charitable causes as well, Cloud added. Among other things, he endowed the Lewis Ministerial Internship program at First Unitarian Church of Saint Louis, Missouri, where he and his wife Norma were married. The fund has supported dozens of interns at the congregation, many of them from Starr King.