After graduating Princeton Theological Seminary and working for about a year on staff at a large church in New York City, the Reverend David Black was ready to seek his first call as a pastor. He felt called to serve an urban area, but — with a higher cost of living in those areas and the burden of debt he had accumulated from his undergraduate and seminary education — his options felt limited.
"There were only certain churches that I could seriously apply for because I knew that they could pay above the minimum," Rev. Black said. "Instead of serving a small local congregation, I would have to exclusively look at jobs at bigger, wealthier churches, which are very competitive — and there's a good chance I wouldn't even get one. Unfortunately, a lot of young pastors, I think, are in that position."
Then Rev. Black learned about Minister Educational Debt Assistance through The Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). This assistance, part of the Board's Assistance Program, helps eligible ministers repay educational debt through student loan debt coaching and grants totaling up to $25,000 over five years, making it easier for them to accept a wide range of positions and wholly commit their best gifts to ministry.
Because of Minister Educational Debt Assistance, Rev. Black's opportunities expanded, and he found a home at The First Presbyterian Church of Chicago, a small congregation on the South Side of the city. He began serving as pastor of the congregation in September 2020. And while nothing could have prepared him for serving a church during a global pandemic, Rev. Black describes his call at First Presbyterian as "an incredible fit."
"It felt like everything that I had done in my life had prepared me for this role," Rev. Black said.
"And, honestly, it wouldn't have been possible financially except that the Board of Pensions is taking off the stress of paying those student loans. I'm just so grateful that I can do this ministry. I can serve this church in this community without that stress."
Rev. Black pointed to statistics that many pastors burn out and leave ministry within their first five years. "There's so much learning on the job that has to happen, and when you compound that with having to worry about being taken care of financially and all the normal considerations and stresses of being alive, it's understandable that people burn out," he said. "In my experience, the Board of Pensions really goes out of their way to lift that burden so that pastors can be pastors and … really serve the Church. I feel like I'm in a great position. I'm only a year in, but I do feel like I'll get past that five-year mark because I'm being given the tools that I need to get past that point."
Rev. Black continues to work to pay down his student loan debt, but, with a very low monthly payment and a clear end in sight with the help of Minister Educational Debt Assistance, he said he can see a long and sustainable future for himself in ministry.
He shared a powerful recollection of when he moved from inquirer to candidate in the ordination process. "My pastor said a blessing over me, and he said, 'There will be a time in your life when you may have to choose between a job that will pay you well and your calling. I pray that you will always be able to follow your calling.' And in coming to this church, I truly feel like I was following my calling. … It's amazing to be able to just follow that sense of genuine call — that God has made me for this moment, for this church," he said.
In addition to the Board of Pensions and the PC(USA), Rev. Black expressed appreciation for donors to the Assistance Program. "Generations of pastors that those donors will never see can continue to do ministry that builds on their legacy," he expressed. "I'm grateful for that heritage and just grateful that people have planted seeds that make my ministry possible in the middle of a pandemic, in the middle of Chicago. I'm sure a lot of those donors never saw this coming, but this is a period that the Church has to get through, and the less stress and pressure that's on the pastors who are doing that ministry on the very local, very small level, the better so that we can more faithfully serve these churches and the communities that they're a part of. Thank you so much."