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Debt-Reduction Grants enable clergy to move forward in leadership

By: Doreen Gosmire, director of communications, Dakotas UMC

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Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash.

In his first years of ministry, Jordan Buchholz is being challenged to live out his call, but student debt is not one of those challenges. Bucholz attended Dakota Wesleyan University and is now a seminary student at Kairos University. 

"Debt can be something that is a pressure," says Pastor Jordon. 

Thanks to financial support from the Investing in Leaders Resource Grants and the Dakotas Conference Board of Ordained Ministry, he's able to pay down his educational debt.

Buchholz, who serves Unite Church in Salem, South Dakota, is among the 46 clergy who recently received a $5,000 grant. Dakotas-Minnesota Area clergy who have educational debt and completed a financial education class are eligible for the grants made possible through a $1 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. that was awarded to the Area in late 2016. The Lilly Grant aims to help pastors develop stronger financial literacy skills, reduce or eliminate educational debt, and become equipped to foster a theology of generosity within their congregations.

The average student debt of this year's grant recipients was $70,562, with some owing just a few thousand dollars and others carrying debt well exceeding $100,000. After receiving grants for multiple years, two of the grant recipients could ultimately pay off their loans. 

In the Dakotas Conference, 18 clergy were awarded grants to help reduce the debt load averaging $65,866 per person. Awards are made possible through collaborative resourcing of funds. The educational debt reduction grants through the Dakotas Conference Board of Ordained Ministry are combined with the Investing in Leaders Grant. The Board of Ordained Ministry contributes $40,000 a year toward the grant award pool. 

"This pooling of resources provides a larger funding pool over a longer period," said Diane Owen, Lilly Grant program director for the Dakotas-Minnesota Area. "Most importantly, pastors now have one application process to obtain debt reduction relief. Additionally, we schedule goal-setting conversations with each recipient."

Coupling financial support and Kairos program 

After spending several years as a layperson in ministry, Teresa Person is taking the leap to become an ordained elder in the Dakotas Conference. However, as a parent of college-age students, the potential debt associated with a seminary degree and lack of flexibility in the schedule were roadblocks to answering her call. So instead, Pearson combined two resources, debt reduction grants and the Kairos program to lean into her call.

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Pastor Teresa Person. Dakotas Conference file photo.

"For me coupling the grant resources and the Kairos programs has allowed me to step forward with my call," says Person, who serves Riverview UMC in Huron and Virgil UMC in South Dakota.

Pastor Jordan is also participating in the Kairos program. He feels that without the two, Kairos and the financial support, he would not be where he is with his ministry journey. 

"I thought that I would be a math teacher. Math Education was my major. Here I am, serving a church and trying to live out God's call on my heart. I am blessed with the financial support and Kairos program to make that happen," said Buchholz.

The Kairos philosophy provides students with flexible learning opportunities facilitated through contextually integrated educational moments and adaptable assignments. Kairos students learn and grow under the supervision of a mentor team, by the direction of faculty, and through participation in a cohort-based community of learning. Watch this video to learn more about the program

Part of the Karios community is connecting with other students with diverse backgrounds. Pastor Teresa shares that many of the other students are surprised by the financial support available to clergy in our region.

"One of the great things about the Kairos program is that you connect with students from different parts of the country and world, as well as students from different religious backgrounds," said Person. "When I share how clergy from the Dakotas are supported financially, they are surprised. I am thankful and feel blessed!"

The burden of debt can influence how and when you get your seminary degree. Buchholz said. "Debt can hold you back. It can be something that gets in the way of what you need to do. The burden for me is lessened because of the grants. I can focus on my ministry and the Kairos program." 

Financial education and well-being

Pastor Jordan Buchholz

Pastor Jordan Buchholz. Dakotas Conference file photo.

Completing a financial education course is one of the application requirements for the student debt-reduction grants. Each applicant can select the training program that best meets their needs and aligns with their values. 

Buchholz completed Financial Peace University online with his spouse. "It helped us set financial goals. We have a plan for paying down our debt," he said.

Person chose Saving Grace: A Guide to Financial Well-Being. "I appreciated the Wesleyan perspective about money," she said. It can feel like debt is pulling you down. It was nice to walk through the lessons and get my own financial house in order." 

Both Buchholz and Person are grateful for the opportunity to learn more about financial well-being. They hope to offer opportunities for financial education for the congregations they lead. 

 They both boldly share their gratitude.  Person sums it up this way, "It is such a blessing to me and so many others!"

For more information about clergy financial well-being and Investing in Leaders Grant visit this webpage or contact Diane Owen by e-mail


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