During the Laity Session on June 25, the Rev. Michelle Cobb, new director of the Rejuvenate program, explained how the program will help pastors in financial crisis. The project has been funded $3.9 millions by the Lilly Endowment.

She said the purpose of the program is to strengthen the quality of pastoral leadership and enhance the vitality of Indiana United Methodist congregations.

She said research informs us that UM clergy in Indiana are experiencing debt at a level that is negatively impacting their sense of well-being and their ability to provide for their families. There is little correlation between the age of the pastor and the amount of debt – older pastors are as likely to carry high debt loads as are younger pastors. This suggests that it is very hard for pastors to retire their debt, especially educational debt.

The research also informs us that few clergy understand financial issues and therefore cannot model personal financial competence nor practice sound financial management skills in leading their congregations.

Cobb said the Lilly Endowment grant will permit the conference to address not only the debt issue (that will include a grant/match component), but several other issues that the survey brought to our attention. The survey revealed a significant number of clergy do not make personal contributions to their pension fund. In response, the conference will offer:

Retirement Fund Incentives – these incentives will encourage clergy to personally contribute to their UM Pension Plan; develop a retirement savings plan and assist clergy to prepare for a retirement fund.

Funding for Emergencies – there is an alarming number of clergy who reported no provisions for financial emergencies. Through the grant, clergy and pastoral families will be encouraged to develop within a financial plan the means to establish and maintain funds for an emergency. Also, the fund will provide immediate resources to the Bishop and the Cabinet to assist pastoral families who may experience a significant family crisis that could force the family into a major financial crisis.

The Called Anew Fund will assist pastors who need to exit pastoral/appointive ministry. This is a Conference Board of Ordained Ministry and cabinet procedure. Transitional support for a limited period of time will be offered to the clergy person.

Cobb said, for the laity, the success of this project will mean they will grow in the practice of faithful stewardship; renew financial support for effective clergy leadership; experience a renewed sense of pastoral excellence among Judicatory clergy and the congregation’s clergy.