Tomorrow’s leaders serving in your church today

The Foundation celebrates scholarship recipients who are bringing God’s message of hope to a world in great need.

Rev. Cindy Nanney

Rev. Cindy Nanney’s first visit to a United Methodist Church would prove to be life-altering. It was 2005, and Cindy had just lost her father to cancer. A friend invited Cindy to Thermal City UMC in Union Mills (Rutherford County) for a talk by a cancer survivor.

Looking back, Cindy says today, it wasn’t so much the speaker’s message that stood out. It was the grace and hospitality shown by members of the church. “From the moment I walked in, I felt welcomed. I felt loved,” Cindy recalls. “That’s something I didn’t have a lot growing up.”

This summer, Cindy is pastoring at Mt. Olivet UMC in Concord, her first appointment as a Full Connection Elder. Cindy graduated from Duke Divinity School with minimal tuition debt thanks to the Rachel C. Allred Scholarship Fund, which supports WNCC students attending United Methodist colleges and universities. It’s one of the resources offered by the Foundation to raise up the leaders of tomorrow.

An invitation from a friend lit a spark. In her new role, Cindy wants the broken and hurting to encounter the same sense of belonging: “The UMC,” she says, “showed me the love I had always wanted.”

Rev. Seth Craver

Growing up in rural Davidson County, Seth Craver says he was surrounded by two families — one at home and another in the church. The Cravers were (and still are) faithful members of Reeds UMC in Lexington, where Seth’s grandmother, Marilyn, played piano and his grandfather, David, sang in the choir and taught Sunday School.

Maybe it’s no surprise Seth wound up in ministry. The Duke Divinity student is doing his field education this summer at Cullowhee UMC, leading worship, making hospital visits and tending to office tasks. The Foundation supports Seth through the William R. Blanton Ministerial Scholarship Fund, created for seminary students who plan to serve in the Western North Carolina Conference.

Seth’s path has not been a straight one. During college, Seth drifted from church and struggled with questions of faith. He went into teaching as a way to use his degree in English literature.

God’s call would soon make itself known. Following his grandfather’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis in 2016, Seth reconnected with his home church and began to recognize a gift for sharing the love of Christ. This awakening would lead to Duke and a future as an ordained elder.

Looking back, Seth senses the influence of his late grandparents. “I feel that I am finally on the right path in life,” he said.

Joseph Navarro

Being part of a United Methodist faith community helped Joseph Navarro and his family endure the worst kind of heartbreak. Joe was 8 years old when his mom passed away. The cause was cancer. He’s never forgotten how the congregation of Harrison UMC in Pineville enveloped his family with love and support.

Now 21, Joe says he feels a responsibility to give back to the Church that gave so much to him. This sense of call guided Joe through childhood and now his college studies at Wofford, where he plans to graduate next year with a double-major in biology and sociology/anthropology.

The Foundation is proud to recognize Joe as part of a series spotlighting United Methodist scholarship recipients. The William R. and Mattie T. Alexander Fund supports students who demonstrate an interest in Christian evangelism, with a preference given to ethnic minorities.

Inspired by his upbringing at Harrison, Joe wants to help others experience the United Methodist Church the same way he did — as a place of welcome, love and acceptance. This purpose led Joe to roles as a Lay Delegate to Annual Conference as well as a member of the Conference Council on Youth Ministries (CCYM), including as president from 2020-2021. At Wofford, Joe is active in the Wesley Fellowship campus ministry.

“What motivates me is to help the Church become better — in ways that make all people feel welcome,” he said. “And I think that starts with strong laity willing to be heard.”

After graduation, Joe hopes to earn a Master’s degree in athletic training while continuing his work as a lay leader. It’s a blessing to witness Joe and other scholarship recipients use their gifts to make a positive difference in the world.

Rev. Hopper Gibby

Hopper Gibby started in July as an associate pastor at FaithBridge UMC in Blowing Rock. The congregation exists to be a bridge of faith through Christ for those who are disconnected from church.

This was not the future Hopper envisioned as an undergrad at Western Carolina University. A degree in criminal justice and a minor in Cherokee studies pointed toward a career in law enforcement. Hopper wanted to help people in crisis: “When you have your worst day, it matters who shows up.”

God’s call would soon make itself known. Through the Wesley Foundation at WCU and the Hinton Rural Life Center, Hopper discovered a passion for ministry – building porches for the elderly, organizing construction teams, delivering firewood to people in need.

“I became United Methodist because I loved how much service I, as a young adult, could be involved in,” Hopper said. “That’s what drew me in.”

Hopper graduated from Duke with minimal tuition debt thanks to the Rachel C. Allred Scholarship Fund, which supports students in the Western North Carolina Conference attending United Methodist colleges and universities. It’s one of many resources offered by the Foundation in partnership with individuals, families and other funders.

“I’m really excited for this next chapter,” Hopper said. “I feel as ready as a person can be.”

Rev. Brittany Morris

Today we celebrate Brittany Morris, who graduated from Pfeiffer University with a Master of Art in Practical Theology. It was quite a journey to this point. Brittany taught in public schools for nine years until God called her to ministry. She currently serves as director of youth ministries and congregational care at Mt. Zion UMC in Cornelius, the church where she grew up.

Brittany benefited from the Cornelius F. and Hettie C. Womble Ministerial Fund, which supports certified candidates for ministry preparing to serve in the Western North Carolina Conference. Brittany plans to seek provisional membership as a deacon.

“I have two young children,” Brittany said. “Graduate school would not be possible without these scholarships. I appreciate every penny, more than you will ever know.”

What a blessing to walk alongside next-generation leaders as they use their gifts to bring light to the world.

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