Leap of Faith

Pursuing one's vocation while practicing fiscal self-stewardship

Perhaps one common experience of those called to ministry is learning to trust more fully in God to guide and to provide. My saying, “Yes, here I am, send me,” to God’s call to ordained ministry as an Episcopal priest began with leaving the stable professional life of a nearly twenty-year career as a teacher and secondary school leader. While I had been responsible with the money I earned, I knew embarking on this new vocational path was going to be significantly demanding and financially risky. When I read of Jesus’ calling of the first disciples beside the Sea of Galilee, I empathize with the risk they took in putting down their nets, their familiar way of life and livelihood. As I packed up my teaching materials that last time, I sensed I was setting out on a journey to see if I could, in fact, put my heart and my intellect – the two most important tools I had utilized all those years to love and serve my students and colleagues well – to new uses. “What kind of fisher of people could I become?” I wondered.

Concerned about the financial risk of accepting admission to Yale Divinity School, the seminary program to which I felt truly called, I met with their Administrative Assistant to Financial Aid. I knew I had the potential to accumulate the same amount of student loans I would need for my first year for each of the next two years of a Masters of Divinity degree, which produced a daunting final figure. She wisely shared that how I provided for my educational costs my first year may not be how I needed to finance the costs for the next two years. She said that in time I would be eligible for other financial support and that the Episcopal Church often has other opportunities for those entering ordained ministry. With a newfound hope in my ability to strategize for the costs ahead and a prayer of oblation in my heart for where this all might lead, I accepted the offer of admission as a full-time student to Berkeley Divinity School at Yale. Then, I was proactive in reducing my total seminary educational debt by applying for every grant and scholarship for which I was eligible for the next two years and by working a few part-time, on campus jobs each term. In my final year of seminary, I also served twice a month in a church. As a result of these efforts and God’s good grace, I needed to take out significantly fewer loans for the remainder of my time at Yale Divinity School and graduated with federal student loans that seemed possible to payoff within ten years of graduation.

During the fall of my senior year at YDS, I attended a “Success After Seminary” workshop offered by the Church Pension Group / Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF) as a part of my goal to be informed and able to plan for my financial future. The summer after my graduation and my ordination to the transitional diaconate, I learned that attending this seminar had made me eligible for a seminary debt reduction grant from the Episcopal Church Foundation / Ministerial Excellence Fund (MEF). In a similar spirit of applying for all of the grants and scholarships for which I was eligible as a seminarian, I decided to submit an application. I approached the rector of the church in which I serve and my bishop about creative ways to meet the matching portion of the grant. We arrived at the idea of inviting a collection of monetary gifts at my ordination to the priesthood for this portion of the grant. To my surprise and delight, the amount collected surpassed the amount of the grant I was awarded, resulting in an even greater reduction to my overall seminary debt than I had hoped.

The ECF/MEF seminary debt reduction grant, like the other grants and scholarships I was awarded while pursuing my call to ministry, has been profoundly affirming of God’s guidance and provision in my life. Each has been an affirmation of the approach I have become more confident in taking: Prayerfully listening and discerning God’s call, and then with greater trust following God’s lead. Specifically and most importantly, the ECF/MEF grant has enhanced my ability to pursue my true vocation while practicing sound, fiscal self-stewardship.

As I have shared, each step in my preparation for ministry demanded a leap of faith. Accepting the ministerial positions I have following seminary has been no exception. Other people may have said I should have sought a higher-paying, full-time position following seminary, but I chose to follow where I felt God was calling me and accepted the then half-time position of Assistant Rector at St. Alban’s, Cape Elizabeth, Maine, a parish in my home diocese near my family and where I had served as a summer seminarian and to which I commuted twice a month during my senior year at YDS. Others may have advised me to seek a higher-paying, half-time position to round out my employment, but I chose to follow where I felt God was calling me and accepted the position of Executive Director of the St. Elizabeth’s Jubilee Center, whose Pantry provides non-food, essential items each Tuesday morning to nearly 200 people who are living in poverty in the city of Portland. In February 2019 I was made the Associate Rector of St. Alban’s and my time in the parish was increased to 70%, making me fully employed by the Episcopal Diocese of Maine between my parish and Jubilee Center work.

Both of these vocational choices were leaps of faith that somehow it “all works out” if I follow where God is truly leading me in my life. Receiving this grant from the ECF / MEF has shown this to be true and has helped me to have greater trust in God and confidence in my call. Being awarded this grant has significantly eased the financial burden of my seminary educational loans in my daily life and as I plan for the future. It enables me to continue to focus on discerning where and how I am called to serve God’s people.

Takeaway tips:

  1. Listen and discern that to which you are truly called, then trust and follow God’s lead
  2. Seek accurate information about potential financial support
  3. Boldly apply for every scholarship and grant for which you are eligible
  4. Approach others within your seminary context and diocese as invested in and engaged with helping you follow your call and strategize for the costs of seminary; invite others to help and participate
  5. Practice sound fiscal self-stewardship by being a good steward of your resources, living within or below your means, and meeting your financial obligations well now so as to be free and able to respond to where and how God is truly calling you to serve.

For more information on the MEF and ECF Lilly Endowment National Initiative, please click here.

The Rev. Holly C. Hoffmann
Associate Rector of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Cape Elizabeth, Maine
Executive Director of St. Elizabeth’s Jubilee Center, Diocese of Maine

After a career in secondary education, Holly graduated with a Master of Divinity degree from Yale Divinity School and a Diploma in Anglican Studies from Berkeley Divinity School at Yale in May of 2018. She serves as the Associate Rector of St. Alban’s, Cape Elizabeth and the Executive Director of the St. Elizabeth’s Jubilee Center, located at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke in downtown Portland. Ministry embraces, utilizes, and draws upon her skills and interests in ways that nothing she has done before in her life has. Holly lives with her husband in the MidCoast area of Maine.