In a society many would argue needs spiritual guidance, fewer than 7 percent of clergy in most denominations are under age 35.
That's not surprising, given that interest among seminary students in congregational ministry has declined in recent years. It underscores the need for leadership development among students from diverse backgrounds.
Millsaps College senior Katie Sorey is determined to reverse those statistics. The religious studies major from Brandon is exploring ministry as a vocation. Already, she's interned at two Jackson United Methodist churches, traveled as a student missionary to Honduras, and lent her talents to the Mississippi United Methodist Conference's Connectional Ministries Office.
As the recipient of a 2010 Fund for Theological Education Undergraduate Fellowship, Sorey was among 40 fellows who attended the FTE Leaders in Ministry Conference earlier this year at the Boston University School of Theology.
Her Millsaps experiences may be charting the course of her future. "All the religious studies professors have encouraged me to grow in what I believe and learn new things," Sorey said. "I've been challenged, and I've been supported and encouraged by professors in other departments at Millsaps, too."
Sorey's fellowship recognizes students who have gifts for leadership and are exploring ministry as a vocation. She received $2,000 for tuition, other educational expenses or a self-designed experience related to ministry.
At the Boston conference, she gleaned valuable lessons from workshops about spiritual development and leadership in the church. The conference, she said, was "an opportunity to see the breadth and depth of Christian ministry and how young people can engage."
Dr. James E. Bowley, professor of religious studies at Millsaps, nominated Sorey for the fellowship award that is funded by the Lilly Endowment. "Katie's remarkable devotion to her church and her commitment to service of others are wonderfully matched by her joy of learning and desire for true academic scholarship," he said.
Fellows are selected by a national committee of theological educators and church leaders. Students must hold a minimum 3.0 grade point average, have an interest in pastoral ministry, and demonstrate leadership in a church or school community. FTE awards the fellowships to help ensure quality leadership and inclusive excellence in pastoral ministry.
"These exceptional students see ministry as a compelling path to serve others, to renew the church, and to create change in the world," said Kim Hearn, director of FTE Ministry Fellowships. "They bring intellect and compassion to community challenges of every type: spiritual, educational, social, and economic."
Sorey, daughter of Millsaps Parents Council co-chairs Marti and Will Sorey, has chosen a pre-ministerial concentration with a minor in education. "I've learned a lot in education classes that can apply to ministry," she said.
Last summer, she assisted with logistics for the Mississippi Youth Annual Conference sponsored by the Mississippi United Methodist Conference. "There were great worship opportunities that were able to take place because everything ran smoothly," she said.
Sorey interned last year at Alta Woods United Methodist Church in Jackson. She worked with the Rev. Eric Sanford, senior minister at the church, and the Rev. Jake Wilson, B.A. 2005, associate pastor. She assisted with the ministry to the homeless, preached twice, and taught a Wednesday night Bible study.
She also interned at her home church, Galloway Memorial United Methodist, where she worked with the Rev. Emily Sanford, pastor to students. Sorey wrote the Bible study curriculum used during the 2009 Mission Fest, a week when youth from grades seven through 12 and adults from churches across the state come together for inner-city service, Bible Study, worship, and fellowship. Participants are housed at Millsaps.
Sorey traveled to Honduras as part of a Galloway mission trip in January. She was among participants who built a house, worked in a soup kitchen, and led a Vacation Bible School. "It was an eye-opening experience," she said.
At Millsaps, Sorey is a member of the Campus Ministry Team and co-chairs the Chapel Committee. She led a morning Bible study last semester and has preached at the contemporary worship opportunity, SoulFood, and at the Wesley Connection. She is president of CALLS, or Considering a Life of Ministry and Service. And as a Millsaps freshman, she attended an Interfaith Youth Conference in Chicago.
Sorey said she's interested in working with racial reconciliation ministries and plans to attend seminary after graduation in May.
"That experience has been a springboard for me into the interfaith experience at Millsaps," she said of the Chicago conference. "Millsaps has been a blessing in terms of the opportunity and experiences provided."