UCC, Pension Boards launch $3 million campaign to support financially struggling ministers
The Pension Boards and the National Setting of the United Church of Christ have launched a capital campaign to raise $3 million over the next two years to expand a program to help financially struggling ministers reduce their debts and plan for a secure retirement.
The campaign, “Securing the Future: Financial Justice for Ministers,” was unveiled July 11 in a short video shown during the opening plenary session of General Synod 33.
The Ministers Financial Vitality Initiative was launched by the Pension Boards in 2017 with the help of a $1 million grant from the Lilly Endowment. Its goal was to promote greater financial wellness among UCC ministers by encouraging “debt reduction, financial education and personal empowerment around short- and long-term issues of financial management,” Brian R. Bodager, the Pension Boards’ president and CEO, told the Synod.
Since the program was launched, it has provided 120 UCC ministers with $10,000 each to help them pay down their debt, including $1,000 to help seed a retirement account. The ministers also received the support of both financial advisers and cohort of peers who were facing the same economic concerns.
“Seminary and consumer debt, often on limited income, especially for those serving small congregations, and lack of resources to plan a secure financial future, are deepening a crisis for those called to serve,” Bodager said. “And the crisis is affecting our servant leaders of all ages.”
In announcing the initiative, the Rev. John Dorhauer, general minister and president, said its UCC sponsors “want to expand participation in the program at levels that can be maintained until that fine day when all our authorized ministers are free from financial worry.” Dorhauer said the campaign has already received leadership gifts, and in the coming months, UCC members will be encouraged to make an “immediate, concrete and loving difference” in the lives of the denomination’s ministers.
The short video shown during the plenary featured four UCC ministers describing how they had been helped by the program during its first years:
- The Rev. Louis Mitchell, pastor of Alki UCC in Seattle, said that with help from the initiative, he had been able to pay off his car and improve his credit score.
- The Rev.Adam Wirrig, pastor of St. John’s UCC in Dayton, Ohio, said the program had helped him identify “a lot of things that a lot of us leave under the rug, so to speak, when it comes to our financial realities.” The initiative, he added, had helped him set “goals for financial wellness.” He expressed his gratitude for the program, which “has helped me stay above board and above water.”
- The Rev. Vanessa Brown, pastor of Rivers of Living Water UCC in New York and New Jersey, stressed that “the ability to have financial security is a justice issue.” Brown added that the increased student loan debt associated with obtaining a seminary education and “the ginormous cost of medical insurance” can “leave one staggering.”
- The Rev. Chris Davies, team leader for FaithINFO with the UCC’s National Setting, said the program “was deeply impactful for me in terms of financial education for retirement planning and for the clarity with which I believe I can do it.”
Bodager said the initiative was just the beginning of an effort to address “this complex set of issues and causes of this debt crisis. The initiative is making a noticeable difference.”
Dorhauer said that, in setting the goal of the new campaign, the UCC was committing itself to “securing the future, one faithful servant at a time.”
More information about the initiative is at this page at the Pension Boards’ website.
Sara Fitzgerald, a General Synod Newsroom volunteer, is a member of Rock Spring Congregational UCC, Arlington, Va.
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