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PMA’s student loan forgiveness aids widowed pastor serving small Florida church


The Rev. Denise McLeod says the support she’s received ‘feels like a miracle’

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Denise McLeod, who serves Trinity Presbyterian Church in Key West, Fla., says she’s grateful for loan forgiveness support from the Presbyterian Mission Agency. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — Without the support of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Rev. Denise McLeod isn’t sure she would have survived.

A widowed minister serving a small church, Trinity Presbyterian, in Key West, Florida — and raising a son who is now a senior in college — she applied for the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Loan Forgiveness for Pastors.

The recently-expanded program provides assistance to pastors serving in qualified roles in small congregations or worshiping communities in the form a $5,000 loan payable to one’s student loan service provider.  After a year of service, the loan is forgiven. And it’s renewable for up to five years.

So far, McLeod has received $15,000 in debt assistance.

“It feels like a miracle,” she says. “Praise be to God. It helped us live.”

McLeod was taking a few seminary classes at Union Presbyterian Seminary’s Charlotte campus when her husband died suddenly of a massive heart attack. After receiving encouragement from her pastor in Laurinburg, North Carolina, to attend full-time, she enrolled at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga., in 2013.

Because McLeod applied for student loan forgiveness through PMA’s Financial Aid for Service, she was also eligible for Presbyterian Engagement awards — which helped her attend last year’s Evangelism Conference on Sabbath Rest.  This year she’s going to Perspectives: The Church, Then…Now…Beyond, a national gathering for 1001 New Worshiping Communities and Vital Congregations.

McLeod said she’s grateful for all the support she’s received from the PC(USA) — and for its concern for small church pastors who often don’t have a lot of funds for continuing education.

“I’m thankful they care about us, mentally, spiritually and financially,” she says. “It makes it possible for me to continue to serve Trinity with energy, intelligence, imagination and love.”

McLeod started a 1001 ministry at Trinity called Ringing for God, which brings artists from Miami to Key West for gospel concerts. Now in its third year, Ringing for God is branching out into a dance praise ministry for young people, currently drawing in about 75 young people.

Theology, Formation & Evangelism ministry has three upcoming conferences. Scholarships are still available to students, seminarians, small church pastors and new worshiping community leaders.

Events and scholarship links are listed below:

Just Worship at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Sept. 30-Oct. 2.

  • Experience stirring preaching, exceptional music and fascinating workshops — and explore how worship is connected to how the church works for justice. To apply for a scholarship, click here.

1001 NWC and Vital Congregations national gathering, in Kansas City, Mo., Oct. 14-16. Click here to apply for a scholarship to attend this national gathering. Keynote speakers are:

  • Becca Stevens of Thistle Farms, a community for trauma survivors
  • Dr. Gregory Ellison of Fearless Dialogues, which help people from different backgrounds not only see the presence of God but also recognize humanity.

Presbyterian Older Adult Ministry Network Conference on “Intergenerational Engagement” at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Oct. 15-18.

  • PMA Christian formation leaders will hold a pre-event on Oct.15 on small church ministry. Small church leaders can click here to apply for a scholarship.

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