Grace is a word the Rev. Natalya Cherry uses frequently. This 2001 Master of Divinity graduate believes it was a "prevenient grace" that led her to an abiding connection with Wesley.
At the Methodist boarding high school she attended, the Rev. Dr. Bill Summerhill, the chaplain and a Wesley Theological Seminary alumnus from 1976, helped shape her faith. Her schooling earned her a spot at Georgetown University, the oldest Catholic university in the nation. Protestant chaplain and Wesley adjunct, the Rev. Dr. Bruce Epperly, nurtured her faith and offered her opportunities within the worshiping community.
When on break, her home church pastor asked, Have you ever thought about being a pastor? An English and theater major, Cherry said she laughed. After a dramatic night of wrestling with it in her senior year, she says, "God just put people in my path, to answer any objections that had arisen in me."
After someone told her that Wesley was a Methodist seminary, she looked it up. The Luce Center for the Arts and Religion leapt off the page. "I said 'There's someone doing arts and religion at the same time?' It made me feel safe. There was something for me there," Cherry says. She visited the campus, "And just felt like I was at home."
Despite graduate school offers from around the world, she accepted Wesley's scholarship offer and blossomed under faculty mentoring. "It's the Wesley culture," she explains. "There's such a sense of camaraderie and collegiality from day one. Wherever you are in the world you're considered a colleague by pretty much all of the professors."
After graduating summa cum laude, Cherry pastored fulltime in the Susquehanna Conference. She was ordained an Elder in 2005.
In 2013 Cherry entered a doctoral program at Southern Methodist University's Program in Religious Studies with a focus in systematic theology. She hopes to finish in 2018, since she has already fulfilled her teaching requirement.
To support her work, Cherry has been awarded a John Wesley Fellowship by A Foundation for Theological Education, was named a GBHEM Dempster Scholar for two years running and holds an SMU graduate fellowship. "It's just a ripple of grace abounding how I am both a graduate fellow and a John Wesley fellow and a Dempster scholar," she says.
Despite being on a fast track, "I feel very well-rounded," Cherry says. "I've had the opportunity to maintain my active life in connection with the local church while juggling it with being a wife, a mother and a daughter [to her mother who died suddenly in January]."
With her particular passion for training pastors to lead the church, she counts on continuing prevenient grace. "It's followed me all of my life," she says. "I'm really hoping to be part of shifting more toward the kind of organic formation that I enjoyed at Wesley—preferably among the 13 beautiful theological schools of Methodism or wherever God has planned for my next step."
Adapted, Wesley Theological Seminary website
One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the Ministerial Education Fund is at the heart of preparing people for making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The 13 United Methodist seminaries help students to discover their calling through the challenging curriculum. The fund enables the church to increase financial support for recruiting and educating ordained and diaconal ministers and to equip annual conferences to meet increased demands. Please encourage your leaders and congregations to support the Ministerial Education Fund apportionment at 100 percent.