Student Wins National Award

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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Duke University’s first recipient of the nation’s most prestigious preaching award for Protestant seminarians is also the first Methodist woman to receive the honor.

Senior Bonnie Scott has won the David H.C. Read Preacher/Scholar Award. The award, given annually by Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, recognizes and encourages excellence among graduating seminarians who are committed to entering parish ministry.

Scott will use part of the $20,000 award for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. In addition, she has been invited to preach morning services on Sept. 25, 2011, at Madison Avenue Presbyterian and for the Day1 radio broadcast, formerly The Protestant Hour.Quilting at a field placement in South Africa

“There was never a question in my mind that I could be a female preacher,” said Scott, who was inspired by the women preachers she heard at Bethany United Methodist Church in Ellicott City, Md., and began preaching there at the age of 15.

Following graduation in May, Scott will serve as associate pastor at Wesley Freedom United Methodist Church in Eldersburg, Md. After her first year of commissioned ministry, she hopes to make her pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Professor of Homiletics Charles L. Campbell, who nominated Scott for the preacher/scholar award, described her as an excellent exegete and interpreter of Scripture, a solid theologian, and a gifted writer who “already preaches without a manuscript and is freer and more engaging in the pulpit” than most preachers he hears.

A Passion for Preaching

Scott’s most recent honor is her selection for the Jameson Jones Preaching Award, presented annually by the Divinity School.

“I have never taught another student with a greater passion for preaching in the church,” said Campbell.

Scott credits Campbell, with whom she has taken three preaching courses, with her development as a preacher.

“He has set me free—free to play, delight, and dance in Scripture, to preach like a jazz musician plays, with love for tradition and risky creativity,” said Scott.

She also credits her passion for preaching to a group of female classmates, many of whom plan to pursue parish ministry in the United Methodist Church.From left, Bonnie Scott with classmates Laura Beach, Jennifer Fletcher, Gillian Lisenby, Christina Tremill, and Jane Underwood

“Without them, I would not have achieved these awards,” said Scott. “They are all excellent preachers who have inspired me to preach with both honesty and playfulness. I hope our continued friendships will further challenge me in years to come.”

Scott is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Dickinson College, where she majored in history and religion. She began learning to sew and to do woodworking from her parents as a young child, and expresses her commitment to living simply by making her own clothes and building furniture. She considers these types of crafts formational to her creative work in preaching.

In one of three essays written for the David H.C. Reade award, Scott described the early gifts—baptism, speech, and craft—that  shaped her vocation as a pastor-preacher. Baptized at the age of 4 months, she began to talk before her first birthday. As a 4-year-old, she received a child-sized toolbox for Christmas, and her father introduced her to woodworking.

“I may have been the only little girl in town who could change the blade on a coping saw,” she writes. Her mother, a librarian and gifted storyteller, taught her to quilt.

“I am grateful that my parents taught me the patience and beauty of craft, and that I grew up in a home where someone was always about the work of creation.

“To this day, my seminary roommates enjoy the frequent hum of my sewing machine, though they’re less taken with my jigsaw running in the living room.

“Baptism. Speech. Craft. These are God’s gracious gifts to me. And at the intersection of these gifts, I find my identity and life’s vocation as pastor-preacher.”

“Tongues, As of Fire”

Her textile appliqué “Tongues, As of Fire” on the theme of Pentecost received an award in the Divinity School’s 2010 juried art exhibit, and was purchased by the school. It now hangs in a classroom.Detail of "Tongues, As of Fire"

As a student, Scott has been a regular participant in morning prayer in Goodson Chapel, has been active in local congregations, and has served four, rather than the required two, parish-based field placements. Last fall, her classmates selected her to preach the opening sermon at orientation (video below). 

“After hearing her preach that morning,” said Campbell, “I told her that her sermon was one of those moments that remind me why I keep doing what I do.”

Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

Scott said another of her professors, Associate Professor of Historical Theology Warren Smith, often reminds young preachers that they have 2,000 years of Christian tradition behind them. Her pilgrimage to the Holy Land will provide her an opportunity to explore that tradition in a completely new way.

“Christian history and doctrine … are integrally tied to place,” said Scott. “I believe that firsthand experience of the places where the desert fathers and mothers lived will deepen my understanding of the story I tell and the way it relates to my own context.”

She’s also eager to expand her understanding of the religious and political diversity and conflict in the Middle East.

“I would like to visit the sacred spaces of Jews and Muslims, witness the difference between Israel and the Palestinian territories, and hear stories of the people in these lands."

Scott Preaches at the 2010 Divinity School Orientation

Photos of Scott and classmates in Goodson Chapel by David Johnston D'11; Photo of quilting by Sarah Vermeer.