CAMBRIDGE, MA (December 2, 2013)—The Lilly Endowment has awarded Episcopal Divinity School a $250,000 grant to support the school’s efforts to improve the economic well-being of future ministers.
Funds from the grant will be used to examine and strengthen financial and educational practices at EDS with the goal of improving the economic well-being of future church leaders, and with a particular focus on reducing student loan debt.
Recent research indicates that student educational debt in excess of $30,000 is not uncommon for seminary graduates, and some students are graduating from seminary with loans of more than $100,000. The financial pressures caused by these debt levels severely limit the ability of seminary graduates to accept calls to Christian ministry and undermine the effectiveness of too many pastoral leaders.
“The Endowment believes that pastors are indispensable spiritual leaders and guides, and the quality of pastoral leadership is critical to the health and vitality of congregations,” said Christopher L. Coble, the Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion. “Financial hardships can make it difficult for pastors to lead their congregations effectively.”
“Theological schools are uniquely positioned to address the educational debt issue and to lead broad efforts to improve the financial circumstances facing pastoral leaders,” Coble said. “Our hope is that these grants will help them build relationships with church organizations and others to lessen the debt burden and increase support for future ministers.”
Other grant recipients include Andover Newton Theological School, Boston University School of Theology, Duke University Divinity School, Seminary of the Southwest, and Yale University Divinity School.
Theological schools will pursue a range of activities that include: examining new models for financing theological education, exploring ways to reduce the number of hours it takes to complete degree programs, advising students on how to lower the amount of money they borrow, broadening sources of scholarships and financial aid, and creating distance learning programs. Many schools will create programs to improve their students’ personal financial literacy and ability to help manage congregational funds. Efforts also will be made to raise awareness of this issue among pastors, congregations and other constituents.
To coordinate the efforts of the theological schools participating in this initiative, the Endowment also awarded a grant to ATS. ATS will monitor the progress of each program, convene project leaders and stakeholders to share insights with one another, and organize working groups to explore specific challenges faced by the theological schools in implementing their programs.