By Candice Hill Buchbinder
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has received a $1 million grant as part of Lilly Endowment Inc.’s National Initiative to Address Economic Challenges Facing Pastoral Leaders. The endowment is giving a total of $28 million through this initiative, which supports religious organizations across the country as they address the financial and economic struggles that often impair the ability of pastors to lead congregations effectively.
“Concern for the financial well-being of rostered leaders was increased by the concerns about the growing debt load of Master of Divinity graduates who were about to begin their ministry in the ELCA,” said the Rev. Wyvetta Bullock, ELCA assistant to the bishop and executive for administration. “Subsequently, it became clear that all ELCA rostered leaders, the congregations which call them and the members who are served, could benefit from renewed attention to financial literacy and stewardship.”
The churchwide organization will use the grant to create a variety of initiatives called “Resourceful Servants: Renewing the Economy of Pastoral Leadership.”
According to Bullock, the initiatives will focus on several areas:
- improving the financial literacy and subsequent financial practices of rostered leaders and congregations.
- addressing the two primary financial concerns raised by ELCA pastors – increased emergency savings and retirement savings.
- strengthening fundraising capacity for future rostered leaders through the ELCA’s Fund for Leaders. The ELCA Fund for Leaders is an ELCA initiative to build an endowed scholarship resource to provide tuition assistance for qualified candidates studying at ELCA seminaries.
The ELCA initiatives are a partnership between the churchwide organization, ELCA Mission Investment Fund, Portico Benefits Services and Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota. ELCA Mission Investment Fund is the church’s lending ministry, and Portico provides benefits and services to enhance the well-being of ELCA rostered leaders and lay employees.
The ELCA is one of 27 organizations taking part in the Lilly initiative representing a variety of Christian traditions. The denominations include Baptist, Catholic, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Church of God (Anderson), Episcopal, Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, Presbyterian, Reformed and Wesleyan churches, as well as non-denominational, and historic African American Christian communities.
The grants are part of the Lilly Endowment’s commitment to supporting the pastoral leadership development of clergy serving in congregations across the United States. Each program is customized to the needs of pastoral leaders in each religious tradition.
“Pastors, especially those just beginning in ministry, accept low salaries as part of their commitment to God and to church. Many enter ministry with significant debt from their undergraduate and seminary years and often have little financial resiliency when financial emergencies arise,” said Dr. Christopher L. Coble, vice president for religion at the endowment. “These organizations understand the importance of the financial wellbeing of pastors and the implications for the congregations they serve.”
An additional grant to the Indianapolis Center for Congregations will establish a coordination program for the initiative that will help the endowment track success. It will bring together leaders of the diverse programs to foster mutual learning and support and help build a network of organizations committed to supporting the financial wellbeing of pastors and their congregations.