Delegates to the United Church of Christ’s General Synod 2013 will consider creating a special all-church offering to help seminarians pay for their education, a step Nebraska Conference Minister the Rev. Roddy Dunkerson believes is vital in developing great leadership to ensure the future and the vitality of the denomination.
A resolution from the Ohio and Nebraska Conferences of the UCC calling for development of that new church-wide offering goes before General Synod 2013 at the gathering June 28 through July 2 in Long Beach, Calif. The resolution calls on the Officers of the Church to develop a plan and timeline to introduce "an all-church offering to provide tuition assistance for theological education for members in discernment with associations to the United Church of Christ." If passed, the national officers would present that plan at General Synod 2015.
"This grows from the reality that we have new ministers who come out of seminary and have more debt than they will be able to repay. The issue of seminary debt is an important one that we need to deal with," Dunkerson said.
"The cost of that kind of education — post-secondary education — is really high. Especially in ministry we have second-career people, and they are not only incurring debt, they are not paying into a pension program," he added. "It’s a case where they have too few years left to work to establish a significant pension and a debt that has to be paid."
General Synod 3, in 1961, phased out national support to seminaries and called upon conferences and congregations to assume the responsibility, the resolution said, but few have done so.
According to the resolution, the cost of ministerial education is about $24,000 per year, including housing, for seminary students who are bearing more of the expenses each year. In many cases, seminary students must borrow tens of thousands of dollars – the resolution estimates $30,000 to $50,000 – for educational costs. That issue is compounded when seminary graduates must begin repaying those loans, and their starting salaries at a local church may not afford cost of living expenses along with payments to seminary debt – and is some cases debt from undergraduate studies as well.
There are currently five all-church offerings annually in the UCC; Our Church’s Wider Mission, Neighbors in Need, One Great Hour of Sharing, Strengthen the Church, and the Christmas Fund.
"That’s a piece I suspect will be discussed in how we deal with that," Dunkerson said. "Most of the information on giving indicates that givers give to those things they like. At this point multiple asks seem more appropriate than suggesting to where people should give.
"In some ways this resolution pushes for more movement on the pattern of giving. But we’re all on one team and we want to support those efforts."