ISSUE 1  l  May 2021

Welcome to the first monthly newsletter from the Coordination Program for the National Initiative to Address Economic Challenges Facing Pastoral Leaders (ECFPL), an initiative of Lilly Endowment Inc., hosted by the Center for Congregations.

You are receiving this inaugural edition because you’ve been part of this important work at some point. Perhaps you attended a gathering as part of a grantee team; maybe you are working with a grant or program in your organization; or perhaps you are connected in some other way to the movement to address the persistent economic challenges that face our pastoral leaders and their organizations across the country. In any case, we are glad to have you as part of this conversation, and hope you’ll feel encouraged to share this newsletter with others who might be interested.

In each issue, you’ll find a grantee “sign of hope” highlighted, so we can be inspired and become ever more aware of the traction these projects are gaining. You’ll find a “horizon scan,” in which we will highlight additional potential partners and networks where collaboration and mutual learning could be helpful. And we’ll offer some “reflections for the work,” along with information about upcoming events or other grantee announcements.

Thanks for being part of this learning community. We look forward to all that God has in store.

Foundation convenes Episcopal seminaries for transformative collaboration

“We will be able to use these practical/friendly handouts in our courses to demystify the wall of anxiety and to frame curriculum to maximize motivation and engagement – with the ‘Why’ and the theological reflection on money” – Episcopal Seminary Faculty Member. Pursuant to its Lilly Endowment National Initiative, ECF implements a holistic approach that targets formative moments in the arc of ministry as critical opportunities for transformation. ECF’s first goal is to develop an enhanced theological focus on the role of money in religion and society in the curricular and co-curricular activities of seminaries, as evidenced in the above quote. Seminaries face increasing fiscal constraints as they prepare the next generation of pastoral leaders, who themselves are overburdened with seminary debt. Over the past six years, ECF’s role as an independent convener has helped encourage collaboration on these topics, create awareness and change attitudes and behaviors.

Initial discussions started with the faculty of Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) to increase awareness of finance issues. Subsequently, the Seminary of the Southwest (SSW) was invited to share curriculum and resources with others. In 2018, a Seminary Summit with seminary deans and key faculty was held at Washington National Cathedral during which the group agreed to support this work.

Dr. Steven Tomlinson, SSW Professor of Leadership and Administration with a doctorate in economics, led an inter-faculty seminary team that worked to develop curriculum modules on the theology of money, finance, and economy to address the need for pastoral leaders who are capable of fiscal leadership. Several modules include - negotiating terms of a call as mutual discernment, introduction to financial statements, crafting narrative budgets, and a multi-cultural case study. These modules will be disseminated to Episcopal seminaries at a second Seminary Summit in January 2022 and to the wider ecumenical community. ECF is grateful to the Lilly Endowment for making this ministry possible and for the steadfast encouragement of Elise Erikson Barrett and Bishop Rick Foss. For further information please contact Kate Adams [email protected] or Adriane Bilous [email protected].

Our friends

@ Episcopal Church Foundation

From our friends at the Association of Theological Schools

This article is excerpted from the new newsletter “Strengthening the Ecology: A newsletter on mission and money,” from our friends at the Association of Theological Schools. The ATS hosted another Lilly Endowment economic challenges initiative, called the Theological School Initiative to Address Economic Challenges Facing Future Ministers, and continues to be a crucial partner in this systemic work. If you are interested in being added to this mailing list, please email Carola Molinares at [email protected].

From ATS

In recent months, ATS has been expanding its resources to help theological schools make data-informed decisions that are financially sustainable and educationally effective.

  • Mission & Money in These Unique Times: First offered in May/June 2020, Chris Meinzer, COO at ATS is once again offering a CANVAS course that explores how broader economic crises have impacted theological education.
  • The ATS website now features interactive charts and graphs with data from the Annual Data Tables related to school revenues and expenditures including endowments, giving, tuition, scholarships, and expenses per student.

You may also want to read a recent article in Colloquy Online by Chris Meinzer titled, “ATS schools’ spending amid pandemic sheds light on tough decisions made by leaders.”


Research and data

Looking for the latest data on educational debt in theological schools? Among 2019-2020 graduates completing the ATS Graduating Student Questionnaire, 42% reported incurring educational debt. The average amount borrowed was $33,500. For more data on educational debt, look for the set of data slides entitled “How much do today’s graduates owe?” found on the ATS website.

Our friends

@ the Association of Theological Schools

Bridges and lines of mutual responsibility

It seems that church bodies and seminaries haven’t always managed to keep good lines of communication open, or maintain healthy collaborative relationships. As institutions become financially stressed, they tend to hunker down and attend primarily to their own internal needs, which is understandable but stresses the entire system. Over the past decades, many theological schools become both more expensive and more cash-strapped, alongside church denominational bodies that are receiving less money (and sending less money to their theological schools) every year. Under these circumstances, the traditional funding sources for theological education evaporated, leaving many pastoral leaders to pay for the education required to say “yes” to a vocation, largely through larger student loans. This is why we have emphasized the importance of the seminary/church (or equipping-body/ordaining-body) partnership in this work around the economics of ministry.

Bridges and lines of mutual responsibility are being built, nurtured, and expanded in remarkable ways through this work. You can see the collaborative triumph described in the Episcopal Church Foundation’s seminary convening, and imagine the impact it will have. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America has incorporated financial literacy equipping into both its seminary and undergraduate courses at Hellenic College-Holy Cross. The ELCA initiative has been convening seminary representatives and denominational leaders to foster cooperative work. Wespath, an agency of the United Methodist Church, is helping fund seminary education, refinance student debt, and provide financial training to seminarians and young clergy through its grant, and Garrett-Evangelical Theological School, North Park University, and Villanova University, among others, are working to fill the need for financial training for both seminarians and active pastoral leaders. These are examples of the early stages of deeply significant work, and we look forward to highlighting more and more partnerships that will have long-term impact for healthy, effective ministry throughout the church.

Elise Barrett 
Coordination Program Director

Co-authored by Rick Foss 
Coordination Program Co-Director

We are pleased to share stories of hope from the grantees in this initiative. These were originally produced for our 2020 Team Leadership Gathering. This month, we welcome Ania Norori, grant program director for the Ministers and Missionaries Benefits Board (MMBB).


2021 Team Leadership Gathering

October 6-8, 2021

Lilly Endowment has made the decision to host all 2021 events virtually. We will not be meeting virtually for three straight days. However, please hold these days as we work to determine our format and timing. We will let you know as soon as we can. The invitation will be sent to the director, as is typical, with the option of bringing up to four team members. 

Peer Connections Opportunities

For Directors

These are completely optional, one hour, conversation opportunities for directors to connect with one another. Topics depend on those who participate and what’s on your mind. All begin at 1 PM Eastern. An invite will be sent to directors the week before each offering. 

   -May 19th          -June 24th          -Aug 2nd             -Sept 14th          -Nov 17th 

2022 Team Leadership Gathering & Celebration

November 7-9, 2022

We are so excited to meet in person once again! This event will include both cohorts, even if you conclude in 2021. Directors will be welcome to invite up to 4 team members to attend with him/her.


Available resources

from Gathering First Fruits

Some of you may remember Gathering First Fruits: National Summit on the Economics of Ministry, which convened both theological school and church partners in January 2019. The resources from that event are rich, and include video and reflection pieces.

View resources