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Voices of giving: A Schola Prophetarum perspective

Nov. 18, 2013, 9:02 AM

Keith Caldwell came to study at the Vanderbilt Divinity School because he wants to help reimagine a better version of this world.

“People here are not just doing God talk,” Keith says. “They are pulling it down and putting it in action.”

As a community organizer in Nashville for the past fifteen years, Keith’s world often intersected with the world of Reverend Jim Lawson, Divinity School alumnus and civil rights movement icon.

“About five years ago, Reverend Lawson pulled me aside and told me that the work I was doing as a community organizer was the work of a pastor, but I couldn’t see it then. Now I do. I am helping bring the prophetic voice into the public square.”

But as the father of three, Keith’s theological education would never have been possible without scholarship support.

Keith Caldwell

“I remember being so nervous about funding my education,” says Keith. “I used to check in with the admissions office almost every day to see if there’d been a decision about my acceptance. Then one day, I went to the mailbox and there was my acceptance letter, and I had gotten a scholarship.”

“My family’s life changed from that time on.”

For decades, members of the school’s leadership giving society, Schola Prophetarum, have been making a theological education possible for hundreds of students like Keith. Schola Prophetarum was established in 1982 by Dean Jack Forstman and a group of friends of the Divinity School who were passionate about alleviating student debt. Together with the help of the Mills-Buttrick Society, founded in 2004 to encourage congregational giving, these two donor societies continue to change the lives of Vanderbilt Divinity students as well as the lives of those in the communities they will serve. 

Emily Baird

“No one goes into the Divinity School because we think we can make a lot of money,” says Emily Baird, who has been able to combine her two passions, music and religion, through the Divinity School’s Religion in the Arts and Contemporary Culture program.

“When I think about what I want to do with my life, I never wanted to take a job because I have to pay off loans. I want to serve with and amongst people. My scholarship allows me to put into practice my Divinity School education.”

Providing students with this kind of opportunity is what motivates Carol and Bedford Transou to give and be members of Schola Prophetarum.

“It is so important that we train the clergy,” says Carol. “We had a very trained clergy in the early days of this country. Now lots of people in the ministry seem to be more show people who don’t really share many of the values that the Divinity School stands for – working with the poor, working to make changes that are needed in society.”

Bedford and Carol Transou

“For me, the single most significant event during my time as a student at the Divinity School was the civil rights movement,” says Bedford. “Love, justice, sin and salvation – all that we had studied – became very concrete. This time changed my life and the life of many others.”

“Today we give to the school because it continues to help students think about how to make things better for people.”

To find out more about Schola Prophetarum and the Mills-Buttrick Society, please contact Meagan Burton-Krieger, assistant director of development for the Divinity School, at (615) 322-6749 or

You may join Schola Prophetarum with a gift of $2,500 or more to Vanderbilt Divinity School. Recent Vanderbilt Divinity graduates (of the last 10 years) may join with a gift of $1,000 or more. Congregations are eligible for membership in the Mills-Buttrick Society with a congregational gift of any amount. To make a secure gift online, please visit

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