Seminary Anxiety and Hope

27 05 2008

Lately I’ve been very concerned about financing seminary, even though it will be September of 2010 or 2011 before I start. One of the projects the Diocese has given to me is to pay off or at least pay down considerably the student loans I have from my undergraduate studies. There is *some* financial aid out there but most of our seminarians come out with a great deal of student loan debt. In fact, the ratio of financial aid out there other than loans to the amount of need can be summed up as that of diddly / squat.

While I am dutifully paying more than the minimum payment in the hopes to get what is considered manageable, the thought keeps coming back to me … what is the point of getting out of debt with the intention of back in, and possibly the end result being even deeper in debt once seminary is finished?

This is the point where I tend to get the most frustrated. Not only do I need to pay off / down the existing loans, but I will also need to find a way to keep my apartment in the city, regardless of where I go to school AND just the general expense of daily living (like food, clothing, etc). I mean, it’s not like I will have a husband that I live with that will be able to take on a larger share of the expenses …

As it turns out, my struggle is not altogether unique to me. In case anyone doesn’t know, the Episcopal Church is the one mainline protestant denomination in the US that does not offer support to her seminarians on a national level. Seminary debt for Episcopalian seminarians and priests is a HUGE problem all over the church.

On the House of Bishops and Deputies listserv, where I watch the back and forth among the delegates to our General Convention as a kibitzer, some members are trying to call the attention to the seriousness of this
and are proposing that a resolution be submitted to our various diocesan convention in the hopes of moving The Episcopal Church as an institution to action. Special thanks to That Kaeton Woman and the Very Reverend Kevin Martin in Dallas for letting me post their proposed resolution here.

Support for those Studying for Ordained Ministry

Resolved, that the Episcopal Diocese of _______________at its Convention
meeting on ___________________________ requests that the 2009 General
Convention urge that the Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance
provide funding to the Society for the Increase of the Ministry for the next
triennium which matches the current work of SIM in the amount of $100,000 in
year one, $150,000 in year two, and $200,000 in year three..

Resolved, that the General Convention request SIM to report annual to the
Executive Council this work and its effectiveness in meeting these demands.

Resolved, that Executive Council provide a full report to General
Convention 2012.

Supporting Information

The mounting costs of theological education are placing an ever increasing
financial burden upon those offering themselves for ordination.

SIM (Society for the Increase of the Ministry) reported in the autumn issue
of their newsletter, The Call, that of the 42% of the class of 2008
reporting having debt, they estimate that they will graduate with an average
MINIMUM indebtedness of $62,000.

By their own figures reported to SIM, their debt payments and debt service
will come to about $12,000 per year against a medium income of $45,500
(26%).

SIM also reports that enrollments at our official seminaries continue to
decrease. They report that the number of students in Master of Divinity
Degree programs at Episcopal Seminaries has decreased 25% over the last
three academic years.


The Episcopal Church has never provided, on a national level, for such
preparation. SIM does provide such support and has developed systems of
accountability for providing such support to those in need.

For myself, I’ve started to explore ways on whether or not it may be more cost-effective to save up money from overtime pay and bonuses and perhaps invest them for a time and use THOSE funds to pay for school and continue to pay down the existing loans which have a very nice interest rate.

Speaking of my current profession …. it would be so easy to devote my career into finance, for I am at a very pleasant place to work …. and in 5 years or so i could easily be making double what I am now, have enough money to (gasp!) buy an apartment here in the city, be debt free except for the mortgage and have a comfortable lifestyle. I could still do some very concrete good in this world through giving money and taking on a project or two.

But nooooooo …… I have to follow this thing known as a “calling.”

Sometimes I think I really must be out of my mind.

Still … I am hopeful that things just have a way of working out. As I was telling a friend earlier today, sometimes the hardest thing to do is to just keep putting one foot in front of the other and just trusting there’s going to be solid ground there. I give thanks to those on the listserv and elsewhere who are trying to call attention to this problem. In the meantime, please consider a donation to SIM. I certainly am making it a point to give!

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8 responses

27 05 2008
RFSJ

RB,

Have you though about PT study, since you already live in NYC? That’s assuming you go to General, of course.

BTW, we need people like in the ordained orders! I know it’s hideously expensive and right now there isn’t a lot of help available. I myself have over $50K in seminary debt. I know full well what you’re going thorugh. If you can pay off all your debt before you start seminary, that’s really the way to do it. It will be very difficult on clergy salary to pay pn both sets of debt. I myself had to dip into my 401K funds from my prior career to pay off my extensive debts so I could afford to live and pay on my seminary debt. That was a mistake on my part in not working hard to pay it off when I could have.

Keep up the good work you’re doing!

27 05 2008
Reverend boy

Thanks, RFSJ!

I have thought about going part-time in the hopes of extending my time in seminary to 4 or 5 years, but from what I understand this diocese is very adverse to doing that. Trust me, though, that will not stop me from asking the question!

I had thought about dipping into the 401k myself but decided against it. It is all to easy to do so.

And yes, the plan as of right now is to go to General. I understand they have a reputation for turning out very competent priests.

And another thing, why wouldn’t I wouldn’t I be able to consolidate the undergraduate and the seminary loans into one?

27 05 2008
FranIAm

Oh wow- a world unknown to me. I really don’t know what to say other than I do think that you have a gift and that gift is part of your calling, so off you must go.

I have no practical help for you, but know that I am praying for you very much around all of this.

28 05 2008
Doorman-Priest

I have the merest inkling of what this means. My funding situation is improving but the potential nightmare I faced when it all seemed to go pear-shaped was deeply disturbing.

I continue to be amazed that the Episcopal Church does not fully fund its ordinands when the cash strapped Church of England does.

28 05 2008
Reverend boy

DP, i have my own theories why this is the case, but no real evidence. I would be interested in knowing how long this has been a problem and how did seminarians finance their education before, however.

28 05 2008
Tobias Haller

Not a financial advisor, but it does seem logical to pay down low interest loans as they go and invest current excess income in better performing instruments.

I’ve long felt, as with DP, it a scandal that the church doesn’t support its candidates for ministry more effectively. It’s not like one is going into a field in which high salaries might compensate for the cost of education!

I think we are in need of a wholesale reexamination of the idea of seminary — itself a recent comer in clergy training and formation. The shape of the church was different for Hobart — and for us.

28 05 2008
Grandmère Mimi

RB, I must agree that the Episcopal Church falls short when it comes to educating its clergy. It is scandalous, as Tobias says, that there’s not more help for seminarians, and that most of them begin their ministry in the church carrying a load of debt. I don’t have any answers, either, except prayer, not even financial advice, because I know very little about that.

May God bless you and keep you, love.

30 05 2008
scott

rb, i don’t know what to say except that you’re already on my prayer list and i’ll spend extra time on my prayers for you. For what it’s worth, i believe you do have a calling, and a way will open. Probably a totally unexpected opening to follow your call. A way that possibly will be more amazing than any plan you can foresee now.

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