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LAKELAND – Florida Conference leaders were notified last week that a $50,000 grant from The United Methodist Church’s new Young Clergy Initiative program will be headed this way to help develop training in personal finances and stewardship for aspiring clergy members.
The grant application was a joint project of the Florida Conference Office of Clergy Excellence and the Florida United Methodist Foundation. It will help kick-start a stewardship ministry that targets clergy candidates in the discernment stage of following their calling.
“We’re extremely thrilled,” said Rev. Dr. Wayne Wiatt, Clergy Excellence director, noting that the staggering seminary debt of many young pastors and deacons starting their ministries is a top concern of the church.
“We’re trying to help them be in a place where they have no debt going into their first year, or a good plan to eliminate debt in five to 10 years.”
|Rev. Dr. Wayne Wiatt||Rev. Wee-Li Tan|
Rev. Wee-Li Tan, foundation president, said he is excited to have a key role in promoting Christian stewardship among the church’s fledgling leaders. He and Rev. John Peterson, the foundation’s vice president who is a certified financial planner, will develop and teach the courses.
“This has been a passion of mine for over 20 years,” said Tan, who is an ordained elder, a former church pastor and a certified Chartered Financial Consultant. He also recently obtained his enrolled agent’s license from the Internal Revenue Service.
Often, seminary courses focus on spiritual discernment, theology and pastoral care but devote little attention to practical matters like finances, Tan said.
“We believe it is a critical part of our training,” he said. “It’s not just finances we’re talking about. It’s Christian stewardship, that concept that everything we have comes from God and how can we live that out in faithfulness and stewardship.”
Devoting attention to that aspect of God’s call is not only important for a pastor’s peace of mind but for the flock she or he leads, Tan added.
“When clergy don’t have their own financial house in order … they are not able to provide effective financial leadership to the congregation.”
The two-year training program will start with a three-hour component on the financial implications of ministry included in the clergy candidacy retreat scheduled for July 2014. A two-day retreat titled “Clergy Financial Stewardship Learning Module 101” will be offered to young clergy and seminary students in October 2014.
The program will continue into 2015 with modules on clergy taxation and modeling stewardship for the congregation.
Participants also will meet with mentors at least four times a year and will receive three hours of consultation with a certified financial planner.
The grant application calls for the modules to be developed into models that can be used by other annual conferences, as well as a commitment to continue the Florida Conference program beyond the grant funding.
Tan said young clergy who don’t get stewardship training at the discernment phase of ministry often don’t have a realistic picture of how their compensation package will be able to offset their student loan payments.
“When they come to the Board of Ordained Ministry, it’s already too late,” Tan said.
The clergy candidacy retreat will include factors that aspiring ordinands may not have considered, such as the implications of itinerancy on spousal income, he said. Often, a pastor’s husband or wife draws a higher salary than someone in ministry. If the couple is moved to a congregation away from the spouse’s job, how will that affect the spouse’s re-employment prospects and ultimately the family finances?
Wiatt said conference leaders will continue to work with seminaries and other sources to expand scholarship opportunities and look for ways to reduce the cost of obtaining a Master of Divinity degree, which is required in most cases for ordination in The United Methodist Church.
The grant is among 29 awarded by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM), which is administering the Young Clergy Initiative approved by the 2012 General Conference. Up to $7 million was appropriated for the initiative, which is intended to fuel efforts to increase the number of young elders and deacons in The United Methodist Church.
The first round of grant awards totals $1.36 million. The grant amounts ranged from $5,800 to $100,000, and all approved projects involve partnerships among churches, annual conferences, institutions or individuals, according to Rev. Trip Lowery, GBHEM’s director of Young Adult Ministry Discernment and Enlistment.
The deadline for the next round of grant applications is July 2, 2014. For information, visit www.explorecalling.org/yci.
-- Susan Green is the managing editor of Florida Conference Connection. Information from a report by Vicki Brown, GBHEM associate editor and writer, was used in this article.