This month I would like to highlight a ministry of our Southwestern Minnesota Synod. In recent years applications for 4 types of grants have been made available to pastors and rostered leaders. One of these grants helps to retire student debt. The last two years (2018 & 2019) I have received grants from this program. I was very fortunate to graduate with my bachelor’s degree with no student debt, but I did have to take out loans in order to complete my four years of seminary studies. Increasingly, student debt is negatively affecting our pastors and our congregations. High levels of student debt limits following God’s call and creates much stress. I am very grateful to this grant program for helping me pay down my seminary debt at a more rapid pace than I would be able to accomplish on my own. It helps me feel more confident in my decision making regarding my personal finances, allows me to be more generous with my giving, and helps me remember that I am not alone in this ministry. I also want to thank Trinity for generously contributing monthly toward paying down my student loans. This was part of my financial package you offered. It shows that this congregation cares about its leaders, sustainable ministry, and partnership.
Here is more information about the synod’s grant program which has been re-named Gifts of Grace.
“The grant we received from the Lilly Endowment was to help us develop ways to improve the financial stress of our rostered leaders. The Ministerial Excellence Fund through Gifts of Grace is a key part of this, but so also are education resources for financial literacy, stewardship, and generosity. We believe that less strained pastors will make them better able to serve their congregations well. So this is not just about pastors, but about the congregations they serve. We are hearing that pastors who receive help for education loans not only feel blessed, but feel cared for by their synod. All of this may help us retain pastors in rural areas.
One of the key questions we need to ask as a church is this … Whose issue is it that pastors who seek to serve the church are coming out of seminary with the burden of $40,000 or $50,000 in educational debt (plus the other usual loans we face)? If we think each individual is responsible for their own education, then pastors will remain silent about the strain they are bearing. But what if this is a systemic problem that the whole church needs to address? We see congregations who are understanding that the cost of education has shifted too much away from a denomination responsibility to the individual. We can share in this together.
In January 2019 we distributed the MEF’s Grant for Educational Loan Reduction. Fifty pastors received help to reduce their educational debt. We have begun a new three-year period of work with the Lilly Endowment Inc. Our first three-year term was 2016-2018. We applied for a second three-year term, and will now be working with them through 2021. With this new term comes a new infusion of money for our work with the requirement that we match the money they give us. Lilly will provide $250,000 and we will be raising another $250,000 from individual and congregational donations. Given the generosity shown 2016-2018 in raising matching funds, we know we can do this.”
If you would like to support the work of Gifts of Grace and have your gift matched by the Lilly Endowment Inc., here is how you can give:
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Pastor Megan finds that she rarely has all the right answers, but tries to help her community ask better questions.