“I feel as though I’m called to be an evangelist for Healthy Pastors, Healthy Congregations,” said the Reverend Elizabeth “Libby” Moses, pastor of Stone Presbyterian Church, a “very loving” congregation of about 70 members in Watertown, New York. “It is a great gift!” she said.
Rev. Moses learned about the program last fall while attending Presbyterian CREDO, a weeklong conference for Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) pastors sponsored by the Board of Pensions to cultivate shalom in all areas of their lives, including finances.
She was especially grateful for the CREDO session on retirement planning. With the help of CREDO faculty, she confronted the need to prioritize finances more and save for retirement.
Finances had been an ongoing source of stress for the 55-year-old pastor, a certified Christian educator for 20 years before going through the ordination process and becoming ordained in 2013. Rev. Moses, who has a 19-year-old daughter with Asperger’s, felt called to small-church ministry, despite the modest pay. Although her daughter receives state services and attends community college part time, “there are a lot of extra costs associated with her condition.” Consequently, mother and daughter had been living without a clear path out of debt and into retirement.
Rev. Moses sees the timing of her CREDO experience as serendipitous. “I was carrying too much debt — from life happens! — and didn’t know how to get on top of it,” she said.
When she returned home from the conference, Rev. Moses shared with the session of Stone Presbyterian Church what she had learned about Healthy Pastors, Healthy Congregations. They readily signed the covenant that lies at the heart of the program, agreed for three elders to participate in the in-person training session, and decided the amount they would contribute to the program.
The training session was a pleasant surprise for participants. Jon Hall, Personnel Committee Chair for Stone Presbyterian Church, said the presenter for the Board of Pensions “filled some holes” in his understanding of how to prepare terms of call. He found the scriptural basis for caring for pastors especially meaningful.
“Church finances can be touchy,” Mr. Hall said. “The educational session reinforced that we are doing the right thing, not only in contributing to Libby’s grant, but also in deciding to pay two church staff” while they were out sick for extended periods of time.
Healthy Pastors, Healthy Congregations provides grants through the Ministerial Excellence Fund of the Assistance Program. Primary support for the fund comes from the Board of Pensions, with additional support from Lilly Endowment and participating churches.
Rev. Moses feels fortunate that, by engaging in Healthy Pastors, Healthy Congregations, she received financial counseling from Ernst & Young Employee Financial Services, culminating in a personal financial plan. She found her counselor comfortable to work with. “I appreciated that she didn’t judge me,” Rev. Moses said. “I’m also very thankful that she is making herself available for consultation in the future.”
The $10,000 grant she received upon completion of Healthy Pastors, Healthy Congregations has gone toward erasing her personal debt. She is on track to contribute more to her 403(b)(9) Retirement Savings Plan account and feels a “real sense of relief,” she said.
“What a blessing this program is,” added Mr. Hall. “I am so glad the Board of Pensions and Stone Presbyterian Church could alleviate this pressure on our pastor. Now we can concentrate on getting our message out into the community and doing what we are called to do as a church.”
Healthy Pastors, Healthy Congregations is enabling Reverend Jeff Smith to get out of debt and start saving for his children's college educations.