The Christmas Joy Offering — support our leaders: past, present and future.

Give me Liberty or give me debt

The Board of Pensions’ Dick Liberty oversees grants for people dealing with medical emergencies, disasters and other challenges

by Lea Sitton Stanley, Board of Pensions | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Forty years ago, Dick Liberty came to work for the Board of Pensions to cover tuition costs for his college coursework in vocal performance. The part-time singer still works for the Board, administering grants for people dealing with medical emergencies, natural disasters and other life challenges. (Photo courtesy of the Board of Pensions)

PHILADELPHIA — Dick Liberty wanted to teach voice at the college level. He was working on a master’s degree in vocal performance at Temple University, but he needed a job to pay tuition. An employment agency tested him, found he had an aptitude for math, and sent him to accounts receivable at the Board of Pensions.

That was 40 years ago, and Dick is not a voice teacher. After 20 years in Member Services accounts at the Board, he moved to the Assistance Program, where he’s been ever since. His title is Assistance Programs Manager, but he’s truly the heart of the program, which provides nine types of grants to participants in the Benefits Plan of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). All but one of them are need-based.

“The Board, the whole Church, can really be proud of itself that it offers a program like this,” said Liberty, who reviews each grant application to determine eligibility, balancing need with resources. “It’s a wonderful program. I’m really glad that in my tenure here, I got to work in it.”

Grants are awarded in the wake of medical emergencies and natural disasters, and in other special situations. Presbyterians in Puerto Rico received much support after Hurricane Maria struck the island in 2017. There is assistance with seminary debt, ministers’ sabbaticals, adoption costs, and incidentals for college-bound children. Retirees and surviving spouses receive significant income and housing support, and help paying for dental care and hearing aids.

Last year, Liberty oversaw the awarding of 1,157 grants, totaling $5.5 million. The Board does annual fundraising for the program, which is supported by annual gifts of all sizes, legacies, and endowments as well as one-half of the Christmas Joy Offering. It receives no dues.

Finite resources make stewardship of the program critical. While determining eligibility is largely document-driven for grants such as Adoption Assistance, Transition-to-College, and Retiree Medical, others require discretion.

“One of the things I’ve learned to do is look at their circumstances,” he said. For example, two applicants seek a $5,000 grant. Both are married and each has $100,000 in assets. But one is 75 years old, with an income of $45,000 and concerns that a medical emergency might wipe them out. The other is 40 years old with a salary of $45,000 and a spouse who works full time. “That’s a different picture,” Liberty said.

“There’s a certain amount of stewardship that I’m always trying to exercise,” Liberty said. He recalled Galatians 6:10: “ … whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith. “We’re really trying to make this happen with this program,” he said.

Through the years, Liberty has pursued music in off hours. He has sung in the chorus with the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia and The Savoy Company, both elite performing groups in the region. For years he sang in church choirs, before deciding “to experience music as an element of worship. Now that I sit in the pew, I find the music really edifies me, uplifts me, speaks to me,” he said.

Raised Methodist, Liberty participated in Campus Crusade for Christ and dorm Bible study. As a young adult, he worshiped with a conservative Presbyterian congregation but grew increasingly uncomfortable with some of its beliefs.

He drifted for a time until he met the Rev. Dr. Nancy E. Muth while waiting for a shuttle to the airport after a Board event in Texas. She suggested he visit her congregation, First Presbyterian Church of Germantown, in Philadelphia. Today, he’s a 10-year member of First Pres, a welcoming worshiping community, rich in diversity and committed to outreach, now pastored by the Rev. Rebecca Segers.

The essence of both Liberty’s spiritual journey and his Assistance Program service can be found in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”

“Even though we as imperfect humans don’t necessarily feel it like that, that’s what God is telling us, what the commitment to the community should be, the community God has created,” Liberty said. It is a commitment to “work for the good of all.”

Lea Sitton Stanley is agency writer at the Board of Pensions, which supports wholeness in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) community and care for Benefits Plan members. For information, contact info@pensions.org.


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