Lilly Endowment Inc. grant of $500,000 has helped get needed technology into more hands
October 3, 2023
When Pastor Erika Irizarry Rodriguez received a technology grant from the Presbyterian Foundation, she breathed both a sigh of relief and exclaimed a shout of joy.
The $5,000 grant is part of a program which allows the Presbyterian Foundation to provide technology and training grants to pastors who serve small congregations and congregations of color in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Rodriguez was able to use the money to buy a new computer for the church, two screens to be used in the worship space, as well as a new copier, toner, paper, and a mouse and PowerPoint programs for the computer.
“Our computer was more than 10 years old,” Rodriguez said. “We could go get coffee while we were waiting for it to do something. The copier — we never knew if it would eat the paper, or if it would just take forever to make the copies.”
Both were, in her words, beyond obsolete.
“The new technology has given us new life, new motivation, new inspiration for doing new things and for continuing on in the ministry,” she said.
The grant program was born out of necessity, says the Rev. Dr. Dave Loleng, director of Church Financial Literacy and Leadership at the Presbyterian Foundation. As churches switched to online services and meetings thanks to the Covid pandemic, many pastors were struggling to make outdated technology work — or were forced to dig into their own pockets to pay for new equipment or software.
This was especially true for pastors of color, particularly those serving smaller congregations. With fewer resources and more demands, the need for new technology was stronger than ever.
Loleng applied to the Lilly Endowment Inc. to create a grant program for pastors of color and received $500,000 to support such a program; $250,000 has already been awarded to pastors who applied for grants in 2022. The other $250,000 requires matching funds; the Presbyterian Foundation is working with other organizations to create the match and another round of grants. No date has been set at this time for the next grant cycle.
“The pandemic was a time when people truly needed online connections to their congregations and their pastoral leaders,” Loleng said. “What I heard time and again from pastors was that they simply couldn’t function well without better technology, whether that was hardware or software. It goes beyond cameras for livestream worship. They sometimes needed better quality cellphones, or a paid Zoom subscription so they could hold longer meetings.”
Sixty-three grants were awarded to pastors for technology needs in 2022; most were about $5,000, depending on needs.
The Foundation is also working on videos to help pastors learn how to more effectively use technology. Those videos will be released later this year.
Rodriguez’ church is benefiting greatly from the new technology.
The church, Primera Iglesia Presbiteriana en Lajas, sits in the center of the coastal town of Lajas, on the west side of the island of Puerto Rico. Services are held on Sundays and Tuesdays, with monthly women’s meetings on Saturday. The majority of the church’s membership are 60 years old and over, but there is a small youth group that meets as well.
Rodriguez has been the church’s pastor for the past 18 years, since being ordained in 2005. Her husband helps out with the praise team and is beginning to grow in confidence in sharing the word during the Tuesday prayer meetings. Their son runs the sound system for the church, and their daughter plays piano and sings for the praise team.
“I have a wonderful team of people who help with the ministry here,” she said. “Even my parents, who are elderly, help out where they can.” The two screens the church purchased have helped in the Tuesday and Saturday meetings, allowing those presenting to use video teaching elements.
Erin Dunigan, an ordained evangelist and teaching elder in the PC(USA), is a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, photographer, writer and communications consultant living near the border in Baja California, Mexico.
Today’s Focus: Primera Iglesia Presbiteriana en Lajas in Puerto Rico receives Technology Grant from the Presbyterian Foundation
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Eliane Menezes, Mission co-worker serving in Guatemala, World Mission, Presbyterian Mission Agency
John Merten, Data Entry Representative, Relationship & Development Operations, Administrative Services Group (A Corp)
Let us pray
Gracious God, help those who are engaged with the work of providing for our communities. May they be strengthened to move forward and pass on the glories of the goodness they received. Amen.