Methodist Theological School in Ohio has presented Eugene Folden, TaNikka Sheppard and Ellen Sims with the John and Ruth Mount Alumni Awards for Distinguished Service, the school’s highest honor for graduates. MTSO President Jay Rundell presented the awards at an Oct. 7 luncheon during Alumni Day.
Folden, who earned a Master of Divinity degree from MTSO in 1984, is associate pastor of congregational care at Linworth United Methodist Church in Columbus, where he has served since 1986. He also is a clinical associate professor and director of curriculum in the Department of Human Sciences, part of the College of Education and Human Ecology, which has named him Outstanding Teacher of the Year six times.
“I’m grateful for your example as a bivocational pastor,” Rundell told Folden, “someone who has found a way to be in effective ministry both within the church and in an entirely other field.”
“I can’t imagine doing anything other than what I’m doing. I love every day, every moment in ministry,” Folden said in accepting his award, adding, “I’m so grateful for the education I received here at MTSO.”
Sheppard, who earned an MTSO Master of Divinity degree in 2010, leads the communications and media department at New Salem Baptist Church in Columbus, where she served as director of life development from 2008 to 2019.
In addition, she is president of Baptist Women of North America, which represents more than 4 million Baptist women in the U.S. and Canada.
“Your presence in this community was always warm and wonderful,” Rundell said to Sheppard. He added, “You have pastored well and ministered with authenticity.”
“In this room are the three institutions that have been most impactful upon my leadership and ministry: my loved ones, my church family and this seminary,” Sheppard said.
Sims, who earned a Master of Divinity degree from MTSO in 2006, is the founding pastor of Open Table United Church of Christ in Mobile, the first UCC congregation in southern Alabama.
She serves the community in a variety of roles. She is past president of a Mobile organization called The Quest for Social Justice and a board member of Prism United, an LGBTQ support group for teens that her congregation founded five years ago.
“Your pastoring in this area and your work have made an impact,” Rundell told Sims. “And it’s continued, here and all the way to Alabama.”
“I’m just overwhelmed with memories of my experiences and relationships here,” Sims said. “The theological education I started here has shaped and sustained me in my ministry ever since.”
The Mount Alumni Awards were created in 1990 to recognize graduates of MTSO who have achieved vocational distinction. The award program was created by the late John Mount, a founding MTSO Board of Trustees member, and his late wife, Ruth.
Methodist Theological School in Ohio provides theological education and leadership in pursuit of a just, sustainable and generative world. In addition to the Master of Divinity degree, the school offers master’s degrees in counseling, social justice, theological studies and practical theology, along with a Doctor of Ministry degree.
Danny Russell, communications director