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New worshiping community pastor receives seminary debt assistance

A thankful Dana Vaughn encourages others to apply for PC(USA) loan forgiveness

by Emily Enders Odom | Presbyterian News Service

Dana Vaughn. Photo provided

Dana Vaughn. Photo provided

LOUISVILLE – As the Rev. Dana Vaughn was completing her studies at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) was innovating several new initiatives designed to allow Vaughn—and a new generation of risk-taking pastors like her—to change and transform the world through their ministries, all while freed from the burden of educational debt.

The PMA’s office of Financial Aid for Service—anticipating the churchwide movement known as 1001 New Worshiping Communities, which was approved by the 220th General Assembly (2012)—renamed and repurposed its existing debt assistance program to more clearly express its mission to both relieve pastoral debt and support church growth.

“Our intention was to utilize the resources entrusted to us to support entrepreneurial pastors of small, growing communities of faith to further the mission of Christ,” said Laura Bryan, coordinator of Financial Aid for Service in the Theology, Formation, and Evangelism ministry area.

The newly-named initiative, Transformational Leadership Debt Assistance (TLDA), was designed to forgive loans to seminary graduates who are serving in temporary and/or part-time pastoral positions in Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations of 150 members or less or in new, emerging worshiping communities. TLDA’s goal is to help reduce educational debt acquired by seminary graduates called to minister to communities without means to install a full-time pastor.

Vaughn, who was ordained as a teaching elder in February 2014 by the Presbytery of the Peaks to serve as pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Westfield, New York, is also the part-time minister for Celtic Vespers Fellowship, a new worshiping community of the Presbytery of Western New York.

“Celtic Vespers Fellowship began in 2015 when we realized there was such a strong interest in Celtic Christianity throughout the surrounding towns,” said Vaughn. “It has been an honor and a joy to serve both First Presbyterian and this new worshiping community over the past couple of years.”

At first, Vaughn didn’t realize she was eligible to apply for debt assistance through TLDA as she undertook her part-time ministry with the new worshiping community. News of the program was music to her ears.

“This has been such a blessing and has alleviated a lot of stress for me,” Vaughn said. “And it was so simple! All I had to do was fill out one form and provide the office of Financial Aid with my student loan balance. There were no questions asked. They were just simply there to help.”

As the coordinator for 1001 New Worshiping Communities, Vera White knows that starting a new worshiping community (NWC) involves risk for leaders and their families. “The road to sustainability is often long and rocky,” White said. “What a blessing that NWC leaders can access the resources of TLDA to help with the burden of educational debt!”

Bryan added that because many pastors “don’t see themselves in our program eligibility requirements,” she especially wants to emphasize the scope and the simplicity of TLDA in being responsive to the mission priorities of the church as well as the needs of pastors.

“If you are a teaching elder taking a risk or starting a new worshiping community,” said Bryan, “we are here for you.”

And Vaughn—along with the Celtic Vespers Fellowship—is one such teaching elder who is not only grateful for support from the PC(USA), but also eager to spread the word about TLDA.

“I am in the process of resubmitting my materials for my next financial aid award, and just wanted to make other people aware of how easy this process is,” she said. “Our denomination really does want to help reduce our financial debt so we are better able to serve our communities. I am so thankful for this resource and I hope that others will look into it as well.”


Those interested in receiving loan forgiveness from TLDA can submit a one-page application, available here for download, and a current student loan billing statement to apply.

The office of Financial Aid for Service is now scheduling private consultations with any Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) teaching elders seeking educational debt management counseling and loan repayment assistance who will be at the General Assembly in Portland, Oregon, in June. Staff from the Financial Aid office will be available in the Theology, Formation, and Evangelism ministry area’s Hospitality Suite, Room 2223 in the main building of the Hilton Portland, from June 19 to June 23 for individual consultations on student loan repayment and assistance programs offered through the PC(USA). Contact the Financial Aid for Service office by email to schedule an appointment.

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