Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Indiana districts receive Lilly Endowment grant to aid pastors.

The Church of the Brethren’s Northern Indiana District and South Central Indiana District have jointly received a grant of $335,000 from the Lilly Endowment’s new Initiative to Address Economic Challenges Facing Indiana Pastors. The two districts are among 16 regional bodies from a variety of Christian denominations to receive awards that total more than $11 million.

In Dec. 2007, the endowment awarded planning grants to Protestant regional judicatories in Indiana to study financial challenges faced by their pastors and ways to address them, according to a press release from the endowment. The groups conducted extensive surveys and engaged in in-depth interviews with pastors and congregational leaders about their current economic situations.

The groups then submitted proposals for new programs designed to address the most challenging economic issues their pastors face. In late 2008, the endowment gave grants to those groups that submitted compelling program plans. The amounts of the grants were based on the number of congregations served.

"The planning process during the past year identified a number of economic challenges impacting our pastors," said Northern Indiana District executive Herman Kauffman. "These were very similar to those impacting pastors of other denominations in Indiana. The financial concern listed most often as a serious stressor was the cost of health care. Second was inadequate retirement funds. Third was salary and benefits. Financial management was also a significant issue."

Kauffman reported that providing education to clergy and congregations related to specific ways to help alleviate stress on pastors and to improve congregational life will be a key component of the districts’ program. The two districts are considering such things as financial management seminars for clergy, stewardship education and financial management at the congregational level, and perhaps individual counseling with clergy where needed.

The two district boards have appointed a Ministerial Excellence Board consisting of six people--two appointed by each district board plus the two district executives--to oversee the hiring of a quarter-time director and to give oversight to the program and the grant funds. The Ministerial Excellence Board also will work at recruiting consultants in the areas of insurance, financial planning, fundraising, and legal matters.

"In addition to the grant received from Lilly Endowment, the Ministerial Excellence Board will work at generating matching funds to allow the program to grow and continue beyond the initial four-year period," Kauffman added. He said the districts anticipate that grants will be provided in areas that would include health care costs, retirement funds, educational debt, and higher education costs for children of clergy, with encouragement to congregations to match these grants.

"Even before the recent economic turmoil...we noticed and were increasingly troubled by ways that financial hardships facing some pastors can weigh them down and create barriers that make it very difficult for them to lead their congregations effectively," said Craig Dykstra, senior vice president for religion at the Lilly Endowment, in the press release.

The Indiana pastors included in the study admitted that personal financial pressures make it hard for them to contribute much financially to their own churches, the release reported, adding that as a result pastors are reluctant to talk openly about financial matters, to take active roles in managing congregational finances, or to encourage members to give to church ministries. "Church leaders also noted that these personal financial pressures are a major motivating factor for clergy leaving the ministry," the release said.

Source: 3/11/2009 Newsline

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