Written by Anthony Moujaes
To help address the economic challenges that seminarians face upon graduation, two United Church of Christ-related seminaries have been awarded grants from Lilly Endowment Inc. totaling almost $425,000. Andover-Newton Theological School and United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities were two of the 51 theological schools around the country in 2013 that will benefit from $12.3 million in funds to help prepare graduates when they accept their first calls to ministry.
Andover-Newton Theological School (ANTS), in Newton, Mass., was awarded $239,050, and United Theological Seminary, located in New Brighton, Minn., received $184,355 from the Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment Inc. The Endowment created the Theological School Initiative to Address Economic Issues Facing Future Ministers, particularly the personal financial pressures from the cost of a seminary education can limit the ability of graduates to accept a call to ministry, and undermine the effectiveness and leadership of pastors. The initiative is aimed at encouraging seminaries to strengthen their financial and educational practices for the economic benefit of future pastors.
United Theological Seminary plans to use the grant to develop innovative programs and practices that provide financial wellness training for students and alumni.
"United's efforts to stem the amount of debt that students take on have seen encouraging success in the past year," said Barbara A. Holmes, president of United Theological Seminary. "The Lilly Grant allows us to create financial training, advising and mentoring programs that address the typical debt load of theological education. The resulting financial well-being gives graduates flexibility in the types of congregations they can serve."
ANTS announced it will use the grant in the development of two programs. The first is a "cooperative" Master of Divinity program, in which students commit to five years of a paid part-time internship at a local church, allowing them to avoid incurring debt and allowing the church to benefit from their labor and the continuity of a five-year commitment. The second will expand courses on financial literacy for seminarians and clergy in the areas of personal finance, church finances and fundraising.
"Ministry requires the greatest level of preparation for the least prospect of financial reward of any [profession].That's why it isn't surprising that student debt is one of the leading causes of ministerial drop-outs," said the Rev. Nick Carter, outgoing president of ANTS. "We have an ethical obligation to our students and the church to address this urgent matter. We are enormously grateful to the Lilly Endowment for their investment in our pilot project to discover new ways of financing seminary education."
As the cost of a seminary education has steadily increased — a General Synod 2013 resolution estimated it was about $24,000 per year, which includes housing — students are borrowing an average of $30,000 to $50,000 to pay those expenses. When seminary graduates begin repaying those loans, their starting salaries at a local church may not cover cost of living expenses along with payments to seminary debt, and there are sometimes other debts from undergraduate student loans as well.
"Theological schools play a critical role in preparing pastors, and are uniquely positioned to address some of the economic challenges they face," said Christopher Coble, vice president for religion at the Lilly Endowment. "The Endowment hopes that these grants will support broad efforts to improve the financial circumstances facing pastoral leaders so pastors can serve their congregations more joyfully and effectively."
Lilly Endowment Inc., founded in 1937, is a private, philanthropic organization that supports causes of religion, education, and community development. Through its grants, the endowment seeks to sustain the quality of ministry in American congregations and parishes to enrich the lives of Christians.