Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Churches partnering with Duke Divinity School to limit clergy debt have raised more than $65,000 for student scholarships.

The 60 churches, which are spread across the U.S., are part of the school’s “Celebrating God’s Call” program to expand student scholarships. The program asks all Master of Divinity students to encourage their home congregations to support them with prayers and financial assistance. Additional grants that match the first $1,000 raised by the first 30 partner churches brought the total raised to almost $100,000, the highest amount in the program’s history. [See a list of partner churches (pdf).]

The program is part of a larger initiative funded by a Lilly Endowment Inc. grant to address economic issues facing future ministers. According to the initiative, personal financial pressures are limiting the ability of seminary graduates to accept calls to Christian ministry and undermining the effectiveness of many clergy members. The initiative encourages theological schools to work to improve the financial well-being of future pastors.

“There are few topics in higher education today that are more pressing than educational debt,” said Susan Pendleton Jones, associate dean for United Methodist initiatives and ministerial formation at Duke Divinity School. “By raising new funds for scholarships through the Duke Forward campaign, by enhancing the ‘Celebrating God’s Call’ program, and by holding regular, on-going strategy conversations, students, administrators, and the faculty of Duke Divinity are committed to addressing the financial burden that students and their families face.”

This year, the Divinity School created a task force for faculty, staff, and students to study clergy and student indebtedness; the Divinity Student Council held events on educational debt; and the Mentoring 4 Ministry program offered student financial literacy workshops. In addition, the “No Debt Challenge” program offered two May 2014 graduates $2,000 transition-to-ministry awards for their efforts to finish school debt-free. The program will continue for current students through 2017.