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Healthy Pastors, Healthy Congregations draws enthusiastic response

Ahead of the program’s national roll-out, leaders from more than 100 churches have been trained

by Holly Baker, Board of Pensions | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Andy Browne

PHILADELPHIA —  “If the new Healthy Pastors, Healthy Congregations program were a breakfast food, you could say it’s selling like hotcakes,” said Andy Browne, Vice President of Church Relations for the Board of Pensions.

Through the first quarter of 2019, 268 Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) pastors enrolled in online learning modules provided by Healthy Pastors, Healthy Congregations, and Board staff conducted training sessions with leaders from 104 congregations. The program, introduced in North Carolina in 2016 and available nationwide this year, gives pastors a grounding in financial literacy and management, and congregational leaders a better understanding of the financial realities of pastors.

In addition, qualifying pastors receive individual financial counseling through Ernst & Young Employee Financial Services and a grant of up to $10,000 for debt reduction or retirement savings.

“The Board developed this program because a growing number of ministers carry significant debt or have insufficient savings for retirement,” Browne said. Healthy Pastors, Healthy Congregations helps support the promises made by congregations to care for their pastors, offering a way to faithfully address pastors’ financial challenges so they can grow and sustain their ministries.

Pastors find value in financial education and counseling

Pastors say they appreciate learning about personal finance in the online modules and having the opportunity to develop a personalized financial plan under the guidance of a professional.

Rev. Esta Jarrett

“The online modules were the most valuable part for me personally, especially the budgeting one — the 30-Day Challenge,” said the Rev. Esta Jarrett, pastor of Canton Presbyterian Church in Canton, N.C. This learning module requires participants to record every penny they spend for a month. Jarrett found the exercise “revelatory.”

The Rev. Lorenzo Small Sr., pastor of First United Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, N.C., is enthusiastic about his experience with the Ernst & Young financial counselor. “Because it’s personalized, the financial planning piece is truly valuable,” he said.

Rev. Lorenzo Small Sr.

Congregational leaders gain from in-person training session

Betsy Payne, chair of the Finance and Stewardship Committee for First Presbyterian Church in Boone, N.C., gave high marks to the in-person training session for congregational leaders and the pastor. “It’s important for a pastor to have the support of his congregation,” Payne said, “and this session teaches you to love your pastor and his family even more.”

“We definitely benefited from the training session,” said Jerome Walker, a member of the Financial Oversight Committee and moderator of Personnel for First United Presbyterian Church in Charlotte. “Healthy Pastors, Healthy Congregations is an outstanding and quite comprehensive program.”

Church Consultant Elizabeth Little, who covers North Carolina and South Carolina for the Board of Pensions, is largely responsible for the successful launch of Healthy Pastors, Healthy Congregations in North Carolina. Over the past two years, she has met with the staff leadership and committees on ministry of all five presbyteries in the state and delivered over 50 training sessions to more than 400 congregational leaders, readying the program for its nationwide roll-out.

“Leading the workshops is my absolute favorite part of my job, because I get to interact with congregational leaders who want their pastor and church to thrive,” said Little. “I receive great joy from working with them, building a hopeful future.”

Grant funding and awards

The program is funded largely by the Board of Pensions. It also receives support from Lilly Endowment and participating churches.

To participate in Healthy Pastors, Healthy Congregations, qualifying pastors and congregations must covenant with the Board to take certain actions, including, for the congregation, making a contribution to the program.

The grant has allowed Small, of First United Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, to better devote his whole self to ministry, without concerns about his finances. “It was a blessing to my family and my ministry. A weight has been lifted,” he said.

For the Rev. Jeff Smith, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Boone, the $10,000 grant was a huge blessing in light of setbacks to his and his wife’s plan to get out of debt and save for their sons’ college educations. “The fact that it comes this year — all I can say is, I’ve found that God shows up — this just dropped in my lap. I didn’t seek it, but the timing is perfect,” Smith said. “It’s God’s timing.”

Holly Baker 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

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