The Wesleyan Church has received a grant of $1,000,000 as part of Lilly Endowment Inc.’s National Initiative to Address Economic Challenges Facing Pastoral Leaders. The initiative supports a variety of religious organizations across the nation as they address the financial and economic struggles that can impair the ability of pastors to lead congregations effectively.

The Endowment is giving $28 million in grants through this initiative. The grants are part of the Endowment’s commitment to supporting the pastoral leadership development of clergy serving in congregations across the United States.

The Wesleyan Church and the Division of Education and Clergy Development (ECD) are exceedingly grateful to be a recipient of this $1,000,000 implementation grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc.through their National Initiative to Address Economic Challenges Facing Pastoral Leaders. Russ Gunsalus, Executive Director of ECD and Mark Rennaker, the director and key architect of this grant initiative are deeply grateful to the Wesleyan pastors, pastoral spouses, and laity throughout the denomination who completed surveys to help us understand the financial difficulties faced by our pastors and congregations. The results from those surveys were an integral part of our grant proposal to Lilly Endowment, leading to the $1,000,000 implementation funds.

The Wesleyan Church’s implementation project, partly funded by the Lilly grant, will operate within the larger Healthy, Fit, and Effective Clergy Initiative (HFECI) already underway in ECD. The Lilly funds will help us make important financial education opportunities available to pastors and local congregations. The funds will also help us make matching financial fund grants available to reduce some of our pastors’ economic concerns. Beginning in January 2016, ECD will be working with our North American districts to develop a team of district coordinators. District coordinators will help inform the local churches in their districts about the project and, subsequently, manage the project in each district. We will have our formal launch of the project at General Conference in June 2016.

“We are deeply grateful to the Lilly Endowment and honored by their transformative investment in the well-being of our clergy. This grant will help us support Wesleyan clergy as they work to transform lives, churches and communities through the hope and holiness of Jesus Christ.” –Dr. Jo Anne Lyon, General Superintendent of The Wesleyan Church.

The Wesleyan Church is one of 27 organizations taking part in the initiative, which represents a variety of Christian traditions, including Baptist, Catholic, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Church of God (Anderson), Episcopal, Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, Presbyterian, Reformed and Wesleyan churches, as well as non-denominational, and historic African-American Christian communities. They include denominational pension and benefits boards; local and regional denomination judicatories, such as synods and dioceses; and denominational foundations.

Each program is customized to the needs of pastoral leaders in each religious tradition, but the programs have much in common as they:

  • provide incentives for clergy to take part in personal finance education
  • offer low-or no-cost financial planning and counseling
  • match contributions for pastors and congregations that enroll in pension savings programs
  • help pastors create emergency funds
  • develop strategies that help young pastors pay down or eliminate educational debt
  • create new scholarships so that seminarians borrow less while in school

“Pastors, especially those just beginning in ministry, accept low salaries as part of their commitment to God and to church. Many enter ministry with significant debt from their undergraduate and seminary years and often have little financial resiliency when financial emergencies arise,” said Dr. Christopher L. Coble, vice president for religion at the Endowment. “These organizations understand the importance of the financial wellbeing of pastors and the implications for the congregations they serve.”

An additional grant to the Indianapolis Center for Congregations will establish a coordination program for the initiative that will help the Endowment track success. It will bring together leaders of the diverse programs to foster mutual learning and support and help build a network of organizations committed to supporting the financial wellbeing of pastors and their congregations.

Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by three members of the Lilly family – J.K. Lilly Sr. and sons J.K. Jr. and Eli – through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly & Company. The Endowment exists to support the causes of religion, education and community development. Lilly Endowment’s religion grantmaking is designed to deepen and enrich the religious lives of American Christians. It does this largely through initiatives to enhance and sustain the quality of ministry in American congregations and parishes.