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March 18, 2022 Impact story

Financial Literacy for the Church of the Future

“The most helpful thing I learned was how to think theologically about fundraising and stewardship.”

“I have been given a strong foundation to help me feel effective in leading discussions about church finances.”

Quotes from seminarians who participated in programs funded by the ECF grant from the Lilly Endowment’s National Initiative to Address the Economic Challenges Facing Pastoral Leaders.

Over the past six years, ECF’s Lilly Endowment grant has enabled us to develop a multi-layered set of programs that provide clergy and lay leaders with practical, innovative, and contextual resources to address the financial and leadership challenges of congregational ministry in the 21st century. To accomplish this, ECF designed programs to help reduce key financial pressures that inhibit effective pastoral leadership and improve the financial literacy and management skills for clergy and lay leaders. Utilizing a holistic approach in the offerings, ECF targeted times of transition and formative moments in the arc of ministry as critical opportunities for transformation and growth. Once identified, these important moments led to the creation of programs and opportunities including During Seminary, Leaving Seminary, Diocesan and Congregational Leadership Initiatives, Ministerial Excellence Grants, and Resources for the Wider Church.

One of the foundational components of the program targeted seminarians during their formative years. The goal was to address identified needs for financially literate seminarians and develop an enhanced theological focus on the role of money in religion and society in the curriculum of seminaries and formation institutions. The initial work of this component started at Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) with Seminary of the Southwest and the Bishop Kemper School for Ministry to develop curriculum guidelines and tools for seminary faculty to help future pastoral leaders preach, teach, and talk about money. In 2018, ECF facilitated a Seminary Summit of deans/presidents of all ten Episcopal seminaries and their senior faculty to reinforce support for this project and to explore collaborative and systemic approaches to addressing the underlying issues and stresses facing newly ordained clergy. The general theme of the Summit focused on looking at the current model of Episcopal theological education and whether or not it either helps or hinders the personal and organizational financial literacy of future pastoral leaders. Indeed, this first Summit set the stage for developing curricular guidelines and co-curricular activities and tools to help future pastoral leaders think more deeply about the role of money, finance, the economy, and stewardship in relation to their own lives, their congregations, and the wider society.

This Summit resulted in a commitment to collaboratively develop curricular and co-curricular resources around the issues of money in society and the church, and a practical understanding of financial literacy. Subsequently, an inter-seminary faculty team created the following modules: Negotiation as Mutual Discernment, Introduction to Financial Statements, and Case Study: A Multi-cultural Congregation. These modules were reviewed and critiqued by the deans in 2020, a process which provided theological reflections and suggestions. ECF organized a second Seminary Summit, and, in January 2022, Episcopal deans/presidents and senior staff gathered virtually to complete their review and enthusiastically received the Summary Report outlining the process and design of the various curriculum modules around money and financial literacy. Dr. Steven Tomlinson, from Seminary of the Southwest and Lead Consultant for this project, had piloted the modules in his own coursework with initial positive feedback from his students. Seminary Summit participants agreed to continue exploring and sharing how these resources could be incorporated in the curricular and co-curricular activities at their respective institutions.

The During Seminary modules are available on a shared Google drive. In addition, ECF will be sharing the modules with other Lilly Endowment Initiative grantees for further collaboration with other denominations. For clergy and lay leaders alike -- “ How easy understanding finance can be when you take it slow and understand the process.” For further information contact Kate Adams.

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