By Marnie McAllister, Record Editor
Priests and lay ecclesial ministers are the church’s local experts on pastoral ministry, Scripture and spiritual formation. But when it comes to finance and administration, we turn elsewhere for help.
These church workers haven’t typically been trained in these areas, yet more and more their positions in parishes require finance and administrative expertise.
A $1 million grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc. aims to change that.
The Archdiocese of Louisville is one of 35 religious organizations awarded grants as part of Lilly’s National Initiative to Address Economic Challenges Facing Pastoral Leaders.
Ministers “are being formed around Scripture, theology, the sacraments, pastoral care,” noted Dr. Brian B. Reynolds, chancellor and chief administrative officer of the archdiocese. “Many priests need instruction on the governance side. It’s similar for lay ecclesial ministers.”
Lay ecclesial ministers include pastoral associates, directors of religious education, youth ministers, directors of worship and other professional parish and diocesan ministers.
The Archdiocese of Louisville, which will administer the grant, has developed 11 initiatives to foster financial literacy and leadership skills in priests and lay ministers.
These initiatives are the fruit of another, smaller grant — a $40,000 award granted by Lilly in 2016 that enabled the archdiocese to study the needs and challenges facing local ministers.
Surveys and focus groups of active and retired priests, seminarians and lay ministers, revealed several things last year.
“We heard story after story from pastoral leaders who, when faced with an administrative challenge, found it all-encompassing,” said Reynolds.
Research also showed that, for some pastoral ministers, a lack of financial expertise has wrought challenges in their personal lives. And that can have far-reaching effects.
“What we found out is, if you
are having difficulty in your personal life, it affects your ministry. You’re hurting your ability to do ministry and that affects your congregation,” Reynolds said. “The grant is designed to invest in our pastoral leaders, with resources, skills and assistance.”
Specifically, the local surveys showed that only 54 percent of priests in the archdiocese who responded feel comfortable with their knowledge of financial issues. Lay ecclesial ministers reported even less satisfaction with their finance-related skills.
Both priests and lay ministers reported having debt, stemming from car loans, credit cards and, for lay ministers, housing.
While 83 percent of the priests who responded are over age 50, only half of them have more than $100,000 in retirement savings.
Of the lay ministers who responded, 74 percent are above age 50 and 48 percent have less than $100,000 in retirement savings. Twenty-three percent have less than $25,000 saved for retirement.
While no one is in ministry for the money, church ministers and their congregations are healthier when they are financially stable, Reynolds said.
The 11 initiatives developed by the archdiocese aim to address some of these challenges.
Among them is a plan to offer several different types of leadership and administrative skill-building opportunities.
New pastors will receive training in financial literacy and leadership. And all of the archdiocese’s staff will receive training in financial literacy. There is also a plan to “improve and enhance” the archdiocese’s retirement plan to encourage retirement savings.
A Ministry Excellence Fund is planned to provide financial support to pastoral leaders in certain areas, including debt relief, a time of crisis, continuing education and retirement support. The archdiocese hopes to raise $200,000 from donors to establish the fund.
Some of these initiatives are already underway and some will be implemented in 2018 and 2019, Reynolds said.
“This is an exciting opportunity for the Archdiocese of Louisville,” he said. “Some part of this initiative will impact all of our parishes.
“One of the things I hope is that these things can survive beyond the life of the grant,” he added. “These challenges are not unique to the church. Financial literacy is a problem in our country. I’m glad we have the chance to address it.”