“Healthy Pastors, Healthy Congregations destigmatized any struggle I was having with finances,” said the Reverend Esta Jarrett.
The 43-year-old pastor, who runs a single-person household, was an archaeology and English major in college, so “dealing with finances has not come easily,” she said. “Now, it’s a ‘growing edge’ — one I feel really good about.”
Rev. Jarrett brings an infectious laugh and love of the Spirit to her call at Canton Presbyterian Church, a 55-member congregation in Canton, North Carolina, 20 miles west of Asheville. “We just love her!” said Elder Sally Morgan, Chair of the Finance Committee for Canton Presbyterian Church. “She’s a great person — and great at keeping us on task.”
The feeling is mutual. Asked to describe the congregation, Rev. Jarrett, who has been installed at Canton Presbyterian for five years, said, “This is a healthy group! We laugh a lot, pray a lot, and do a lot in the community.”
Spiritual vibrancy is one of the qualities the Board of Pensions is seeking to nurture through Healthy Pastors, Healthy Congregations. When Rev. Jarrett heard about Healthy Pastors, Healthy Congregations, the pastor realized that she and her congregation were among those the program was trying to reach. Rev. Jarrett knew that she and Canton Presbyterian Church were healthy — but she also knew they could use a boost. She welcomed the chance to learn about managing her debt and planning for the future.
The online learning module on budgeting — the 30-Day Challenge — “was revelatory.”
— Rev. Esta Jarrett
Healthy Pastors, Healthy Congregations provides pastors with a grounding in financial literacy and management skills through an online financial learning series. Qualifying pastors also attend a training session with their congregational leaders, and receive financial counseling through Ernst & Young Employee Financial Services at no cost to them. The program culminates in a $10,000 grant to the pastor, to pay down personal debt or put toward retirement in the Retirement Savings Plan of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), a 403(b)(9) plan.
The program calls for the pastor, the congregation, and the Board of Pensions each to covenant to take specific actions that, together, could build a brighter financial future for the pastor and, in turn, further enliven the church’s ministries. That meant Rev. Jarrett needed to ask session if they would be willing to participate. “I hesitated at first, but they have been completely supportive of my care, and were glad to participate,” she said.
Elder Morgan found the congregational leader training to be worthwhile. “It was good for session to learn about the scriptural basis of paying our pastor,” she said, “especially when we needed to raise salaries.”
Healthy Pastors, Healthy Congregations has given Rev. Jarrett not only financial knowledge and practical experience but also greater confidence in managing her finances. She said the online learning modules, in particular, were key to her growth.
“The online modules were the most valuable part for me personally,” she said, “especially the budgeting one — the 30-Day Challenge.” This learning module requires participants to record every penny they spend for a month. Rev. Jarrett found the exercise “revelatory.”
Now that she has completed Healthy Pastors, Healthy Congregations, Rev. Jarrett is handling her finances “much differently than in the past — and for the better.” She has gotten online budgeting software, which shows where her money goes and influences her spending decisions.
The $10,000 grant, funded largely by the Board of Pensions with help from Lilly Endowment and participating churches, went to pay down Rev. Jarrett’s student debt. Now she is saving for the future. “I am super grateful for all aspects of the Board’s help in preparing me for a secure retirement,” she said.
Elder Morgan likes the effect Healthy Pastors, Healthy Congregations has had on Rev. Jarrett, who is “even more joyful” than before. “It’s as if a weight has been lifted off her shoulders.”