Transformation Through the Ministerial Excellence Fund

July 17, 2018

“Without financial anxieties, I am able to really attend to task and be truly present. I did not realize … how preoccupied and anxious I was about whether I could make a ‘go of it.’ While working two jobs, I did not have time for a Sabbath, time for meditation or even quality time for prayer. It is like a burden has been lifted from me and I can be totally submerged in spiritual life. Words cannot express or convey the difference this grant makes. – The Rev. Timothy Brooks, Episcopal Church of New Hampshire

The Ministerial Excellence Fund (MEF) is one of the five components of the Episcopal Church Foundation’s Lilly Endowment National Initiative entitled “From Economic Challenges to Transformational Opportunities.”

The MEF program provides grants to entrepreneurial clergy with the ability to help transform congregations but for whom personal financial challenges provide significant impediments. Grants are administered at the local, diocesan level with ECF serving in a coordinating role and ultimately approving the grants. With the grant, priests can use the additional financial support for situations such as supplementing the compensation of clergy who are working full time but receiving part-time salaries, housing assistance for clergy serving communities beyond their financial means, and funds for under-deployed clergy to enable them to engage in significant, transformational ministries. In 2016 and 2017, ECF approved and distributed matching grants to clergy from four geographically diverse Episcopal dioceses in the range of $5,000 - $15,000 each year.

Several grantees shared their stories about the impact of the MEF grant on their ministries and in their personal lives. For instance, the Rev. Jennifer McNally in the Episcopal Church in Minnesota leads a weekly community building dinner church called “Table 229.” Her MEF grant allows her to “provide more effective pastoral leadership”. Jennifer notes, “Because my time is not stretched quite as thinly as it would have been without the MEF grant, I am able to be more present – spiritually, emotionally, and physically – with the new Table 229 community. This has made all the difference in engaging and empowering others.” Jennifer’s grant has changed the way she is able to engage with her community because the MEF grant covers ¼ of Jennifer’s salary - all money now given to the Table 229 community can go directly towards stewardship and community. In Jennifer’s words, the MEF grant allows “continued growth” rather than “scarcity” to be the root from which these conversations of growth and sustainability emerge.

In the Episcopal Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast, the Rev. Mary Alice Mathison used her MEF grant to reduce her seminary debt, create a savings plan, and, in her words, “assist in working towards a healthier lifestyle.” Because of these lifestyle changes, Mary Alice has been freed to pursue great things in her ministry as Missioner for College and Young Adults. Mary Alice now holds monthly youth events which enable her to connect once dispersed communities of younger adults. Although still in the early stages of development, Mary Alice has been able to establish a roadmap for her diocese to re-engage young adults and rebuild this once vital community.

With her MEF grant, the Rev. Laurie Lewis of the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas was able to reduce both her seminary debt and, in turn, relieve the high-pressure situation that existed in her home as a result. Laurie says “receiving these funds brought so much relief to our financial stress that it highlighted the fact that my salary was not sufficient to meet our family's financial obligations.” Laurie was so encouraged by her MEF grant that she felt able to ask for a raise that brought her salary up to the diocesan recommended minimum and shed light on gender disparities between her salary and those of her male colleagues.

In 2018, ECF will continue to give out MEF grants to selected dioceses and recipients. In addition, ECF plans to distribute a limited number of grants to assist seminarians with seminary debt reduction through the MEF program.