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New Lilly Endowment Funding Aids Pastors

March 23, 2022

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, a ripple effect spread across several economic sectors, including the church. As churches stopped meeting in person and closed their buildings, and as church members lost jobs, many congregations began to struggle financially. Those hardest hit by the pandemic were small congregations with few members, churches in communities of color, and new church plants. Many younger clergy and bivocational pastors also expressed great need.

In response, Financial Shalom started the COVID-19 Church Engagement Fund in April 2020 and, together with Resonate Global Mission and ReFrame Media, distributed $833,377 to 158 different churches in 29 states and four provinces via 246 grants. The average grant was $3,388. In most cases, these grants helped stabilize overall church budgets so that churches could remain viable until the pandemic situation slowly improved.

As 2021 wore on, however, it became clear that even though many churches regained their footing, many pastors were still struggling with the pandemic’s effects. Many pastors faced financial setbacks, and the emotional toll of the previous 18 months of ministry put many at risk of burnout.

In response to these challenges, the Christian Reformed Church in 2021 applied to Lilly Endowment Inc. for additional funding for the CRC’s Financial Shalom program. The program had initially launched with help from a 2016 grant made by Lilly Endowment through its National Initiative to Address Economic Challenges Facing Pastoral Leaders. Financial Shalom supports the immediate financial needs and long-term financial well-being of pastors.

The latest Lilly Endowment funding comes in two phases: an immediate gift of $250,000 and an offer of an additional $250,000 if matching funds can be raised.

“We are so grateful for this generous support from Lilly Endowment that will allow us to support pastors through an extraordinarily challenging season,” said Nathan Rauh-Bieri, director of Financial Shalom.

The most recent gift is the third allotment of funding that Financial Shalom has received from Lilly Endowment Inc. The first ran from 2017-2019, and the second began in 2020 and is ongoing until the end of 2022. This third and latest round of funding is specifically designated to help pastors who have been most harshly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even before this additional funding was announced, the CRCNA had been responding to pastor needs. Pastor Church Resources, for example, identified the trend toward burnout among many pastors. Together with Financial Shalom, they designed and implemented the Pastor Restoration Grant program to help pastors take paid time away from their congregations during the pandemic and to seek renewal and professional help.

John Sideco, a pastor at Filipino-American CRC in Jersey City, N.J., received one of these Pastor Restoration grants and will use it to commune with fellow SEAPI (Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander) pastors, aiming to come back refreshed and better equipped to serve his congregation.

“I give thanks to God and to you for this grant. This will truly be a blessing not only to me but to our church as well,” he said.

Another recipient was Tim De Jonge, a chaplain at Kingston General Hospital and a member of Westside Fellowship CRC in Kingston, Ont. The pandemic has been especially trying for chaplains and others who have been serving on the front lines in health care. The restoration grant helped De Jonge plan a retreat and meet with a spiritual director.

“This is wonderful news!” De Jonge responded upon receiving the grant. “I’m excited to be able to take a break from ministry here at the hospital and to get professional help with support and encouragement from PCR and my local congregation.”

While connecting with pastors and distributing these grants, Financial Shalom also noticed that many pastors in the CRCNA’s emerging congregations, church plants, and especially congregations of color were hit hard economically by the pandemic. In conversation with leaders from the CRCNA’s Ethnic Diversity Affinity groups, Financial Shalom realized that many needed cash to meet budget shortfalls and to respond to the grind of inflation and rising rent.

The latest round of Lilly Endowment funding, therefore, will help provide one-time grants to pastors themselves. Recipients will be men and women who have been economically set back by challenges associated with or revealed by the pandemic.

“Pastors are still reeling from the many challenges they’ve faced over the past two years,” said Rauh-Bieri. “The pandemic has exacerbated existing troubles and added new ones. Our grants can’t address all of these hardships, but they can provide some economic reprieve.”

Grants of $2,000 will be  available, and congregations will have the opportunity to provide matching funding of up to an additional $1,000. Applications for Pandemic Relief grants will soon be released in English, Korean, and Spanish and shared via a variety of channels.

This latest round of funding is in addition to Financial Shalom’s current programming, which includes student loan and critical financial needs grants, financial education, and bivocational ministry support.

To deliver the full impact of this program that aims to bless pastors who have been most harshly affected by the pandemic, Financial Shalom hopes to raise $250,000 so it can receive the remaining $250,000 Lilly match. Individual and church donations are needed. Please give today.