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Lilly Endowment Awards Significant Grant to North Park Theological Seminary

Nyvall Hall North Park Theological Seminary

Seminary to use grant to address economic challenges for ministers

CHICAGO (January 7, 2013) – North Park Theological Seminary recently was awarded a three-year, $250,000 grant by Lilly Endowment Inc., Indianapolis, to address ways to reduce burdens of student educational debt, to develop financial education programs, and to explore creative ideas to finance theological education.

The Seminary was one of 16 seminaries nationwide awarded grants in Lilly Endowment's pilot program, the Theological School Initiative to Address Economic Challenges Facing Future Ministers. The aim of the initiative is to help theological schools to examine and strengthen their financial and educational strategies and practices to improve the economic well-being of future pastoral leaders.

North Park Theological Seminary, the graduate theological school of North Park University and the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC), was invited by Lilly Endowment to apply for the grant, said Rev. David Kersten, seminary dean. "An emphasis on holistic health already exists in the Seminary curriculum, but we sincerely believe that it must include a financial literacy component," he wrote in the Seminary's application. In addition, offering financial literacy skills training seeks to give prospective students confidence to move forward with their educations, Kersten said. Initial work with the grant funds will start early this year.

The Seminary plans to begin by learning more about students and graduates, and how finances affect their lives, Kersten said. With that information, the Seminary will use the Lilly Endowment grant for three purposes:

  • To develop a proactive approach to reduce the burden of student educational debt, and explore curricular possibilities in particular
  • To educate and better prepare ministers to be leaders and managers of personal, family, and congregational finances throughout their pastoral careers. This will include courses and coaching opportunities provided through the Seminary in partnership with the University, the ECC, Covenant Trust Co., Covenant Ministries of Benevolence, and other partners
  • To engage key partners to share ideas and re-think ways in which theological education should be financed. This could include the possibility of clergy compensation models that include loan repayment or development of loan programs through ECC partners.

High educational debt is a serious problem for seminary students across many denominations, Kersten said. Professional church leaders often don't have the earning capacity of other professions, limiting their ability to pay educational loans. Personal debt and lack of financial knowledge also affects their ability to serve effectively in congregations, church-related organizations or nonprofits, he said. "The integrity and credibility of the pastoral leadership office is a real issue when these skills are not present," Kersten said. "It hampers many pastors from being effective." In some cases, experienced and respected pastors facing personal economic crises leave the vocation, Kersten added.

The grant could "reset the future not only for clergy but for the local church," said Rev. Mark Novak, executive minister, ECC Department for Ordered Ministry. "By increasing the financial acuity of pastors, they gain credibility with lay (members) in the church, and by having their finances in order, they will be set free to address issues of generosity in the church more freely," he said. "It helps to remove one of the main stress points in a pastor's life that sometimes leads to poor ministry decisions."

Ann Wiesbrock, president, Covenant Trust Co., said the organization is excited about the Lilly Endowment grant, and believes it will have a significant impact on seminarians and the wider church. "From managing debt and being an informed consumer, to becoming a saver and a prudent investor, our students need to have a foundational understanding of finance," she said. "Each individual is called to be a wise steward. Prudent money management, the use of sound business principles—when these are employed, I find generosity is empowered. That is why Covenant Trust Co. is so excited about this." Wiesbrock said she strongly favors the idea of building a financial literacy curriculum for leadership in congregations.

ECC financial leaders were pleased to help the Seminary prepare its grant application, Kersten said. "They were all thrilled to be part of this, and there was great enthusiasm," Kersten said. "It's also important that this be sustainable over time."

Lilly Endowment Inc. is a private philanthropic foundation created in 1937. It supports the causes of religion, education and community development. The Endowment affords special emphasis to projects that benefit young people, and promote leadership education and financial self-sufficiency in the nonprofit, charitable sector.




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