Decatur, Ga.

The Presbyterian Church has been home to Minna Kara Pritchard since the first grade.

Today the college freshman – who is originally from College Park Ga. – is completing her first semester at Queens University of Charlotte (N.C.) with the assistance of the National Presbyterian College Scholarship (NPCS) program. NPCS, which was started in partnership with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s related colleges and universities in the 1950s, is designed to assist Presbyterian students attending Presbyterian-related schools.

“It feels like it’s a good fit for me,” said Pritchard of her new school.

Pritchard’s Presbyterian family is incredibly important to her. Through the years, she has taken advantage of all that the connectional church community has to offer, discovering and exploring her own gifts and finding her voice

Pritchard has been very active in the PC(USA) since she and her mother joined New Life Presbyterian Church (NLPC) in College Park. From NLPC’s local youth group and dance ministry to leadership in the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta Youth Advisory Council and involvement in the National Black Presbyterian Caucus, Pritchard’s life is interwoven with that of the church and with the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), where her faith and educational journeys converged. KIPP, “a national network of free, open-enrollment, college-preparatory public schools dedicated to preparing students in underserved communities for success in college and life,” provided Pritchard with academic enrichment programs, financial support, and introduced her to the Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School, a historically Presbyterian college preparatory day and boarding school in Rabun Gap, Ga., from which she graduated.
Queens University informed Pritchard of the National Presbyterian College Scholarship last winter after she was accepted for admission at the university. KIPP, which had provided Pritchard with scholarship assistance for Rabun Gap, has also matched her NPCS scholarship this year. Pritchard remains connected to the Presbyterian Church and continues to grow in faith through her involvement in Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ). “We have Bible study on Mondays and prayer group on Tuesdays,” said Pritchard.

Queens requires an academic study of the Bible through the school’s Core Program in Liberal Arts, in which students are challenged not only to think critically about Scripture but to reflect on the meaning of the texts for their lives. “Because I was having to read the Bible everyday for Core I was kind of going away from reading the Bible for pleasure,” said Pritchard, “but Cru challenges me to keep on my devotion schedule and to be involved.”

Pritchard’s passion for Scripture and the church is born out of her personal development in NLPC’s youth group. She wrote in her application essay, “The youth program at my church has always had a strong emphasis on evangelizing.” 

Pritchard thinks this emphasis on evangelism, which included volunteering at a local food pantry, sharing the mission of the church with neighbors and helping out at the fall festival at a local elementary school, contributed to her sense of engagement in the church today. 

“It made me more open to being able to lead people in my denomination,” said Pritchard. “When I got in touch with the Presbytery Youth Council, I was able to reach out to different youth. And it really showed me exactly how to lead other youth.”

The Presbytery of Greater Atlanta Youth Advisory Council afforded more of those opportunities and played a significant role in helping Pritchard discover her voice and live into her gifts of leadership.

“When I first joined the Presbytery Youth Council, I was very shy and didn’t really speak much,” said Pritchard. 

In spite of her initial shyness, Pritchard stayed active in the council for four years.  “Eventually I became much more open and was able to talk during meetings, to say the prayer and to lead when we went to churches,” she said. “It really just helped me open up.”

In applying for the scholarship, Pritchard was asked to reflect on what Christian vocation is and to write about someone whom she admires because of how that person is faithful to God’s call. Pritchard did not have to look far.

A primary aspect in Pritchard’s growth has been her ability to look to mentors for guidance and support. She found this in older members of the Presbytery Youth Council who, in her words, “showed me the ropes,” and in Neema Cyrus Franklin, communications director for the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta.

“The Greater Atlanta Presbytery Youth Council's main goal is to represent the churches within our district by serving and providing a safe bridge between each church and its youth,” wrote Pritchard. “Our leader, Ms. Neema Cyrus Franklin, supported us in this goal. Our events would not have been as successful without guidance from Ms. Neema. Her patience, love for devotion and overall kindness only added to her Christian vocation as an example to all of us.”

Another important mentor in Pritchard’s life has been Shelvis Smith-Mathers, Prichard’s former youth mister, who introduced many of these formative opportunities for service.

“What stood out about Minister Shelvis' leadership was his being a part of the journey as well,” wrote Pritchard. “He taught us that Christian vocation wasn't an idea that could be taught, but one that had to be experienced.”

Smith-Mathers became an important male figure for Pritchard: “My mom is a single parent and I didn’t really have a male figure in the house,” she said. “We were really encouraged when we saw Shelvis. He would just help us if we needed anything and would just teach us. He kind of became a father figure for me.”

Students selected for the award have an opportunity to renew the scholarship provided that they maintain a 2.5 GPA, participate in campus ministry or regularly attend church during college, and participate in discernment of vocation through a series of essay questions that ask the students to consider who God is calling them to be.

Pritchard intends to reapply. The sophomore essay asks students to define “common good,” inspired by 1 Corinthians 12:4–7, and to reflect on how their own gifts are used in serving the common good.

“I think one of my best gifts now is being able to write. I love writing and I’m trying to write a couple of novels,” said Pritchard, who enjoys writing young adult fiction and science fiction. “I want to be able to reach out to people with my writing and share the things I have inside of me.”

Pritchard has expressed gratitude to the PC(USA) for the many opportunities it has provided her family.

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Drew Stockstill is a freelance writer in Decatur, Ga., where he is currently a student at Columbia Theological Seminary

Applications for the 2012-2013 academic year are due March 1, 2012. Visit the NPCS website for further information or to download an application.

Editor’s note: Campus Crusade for Christ will officially begin to operate under the name Cru in early 2012.