Ambassador Grant Recipients Paying it Forward
Former grant recipients and Texas Annual Conference attendees have the privilege of helping to fund future Ambassador Grants for new clergy faced with the burden of seminary debt.
“I started receiving my Ambassador’s Grant checks about three years ago. Last year, though, was when it was especially meaningful for me. My wife was in and out of the hospital seven times and even though our insurance is great, there were still a lot of medical bills waiting for us when we got home. It was a blessing to know that this assistance was there for us when we needed it the most. I know that there are a lot of young clergy coming forward who will have similar situations to deal with, and I hope that “paying it forward” will help at least one young clergyperson find some relief when they are in need.” – Rev. Michael Peschke, Lexington UMC/ Blue UMC
2015 Conference Theme: Training Leaders
Under Bishop Janice Huie’s leadership, the Texas Annual Conference has modeled several innovative “firsts,” with regard to church revitalization and the need to nurture and train the next generation of clergy and lay leaders. As grant recipient Rev. Michael Peschke shared, one of the most rewarding TAC “firsts” has been the Ambassador Grants given to over 50 clergy in recent years. The Ambassador Grants, and other methods of critical leadership reinforcement will be among the central areas of focus of Bishop Huie’s Episcopal Address at this month’s Annual Conference.
“These grants provide strong incentives for seminary graduates to return to, or move to our Conference,” explains Jim Henderson, Chairman of the Board of Trustees overseeing the Conference’s Emerging Leaders Endowment Fund. “Grants are given over a period of five years to promising young clergy serving in the TAC. The Ambassador Grant program is part of our overall work to raise up future generations of clergy leaders.”
Paying it Forward
To help fund future Ambassador Grants to new clergy, dozens of recipients are taking part this year in a targeted fundraising effort. “They have gone from being participants and beneficiaries to being the stewards of the program,” shares fundraising consultant Andy Nixon. “We’re asking Ambassador Grant recipients to each raise $3,000 to give back to the program. Adds Andy, “Bishop Huie wants to encourage the attendees and delegates at annual conference this year to boost this effort and make the program self sustaining.”
This exercise in fundraising has been a leadership development opportunity and faith builder for Michael. “I began in March by writing an article in our monthly newsletter which talked about the Ambassador’s Grant and my goal of raising $3,000 by mid-May. Immediately I received $300 from a couple of donors. After mentioning it from the pulpit in both of my churches, I received three more checks totaling $250. And then, after the service at Lexington UMC I had one of our regular guests come up to me to ask me more about the grant and the fundraising. She then wrote me a check, but I didn’t look at it right away. About 30 minutes later I finally had time to sit down, and when I opened the check I realized that she had written it for the full $3,000! God never ceases to amaze me.”
Recipients such as Rev. Seann and Rev. Elizabeth Duffin, Lakewood UMC, are quick to express how meaningful this grant has been. Shares Elizabeth, “We both were so fortunate to receive Ambassadors’ Grants from the conference. Especially in our first years of ministry, when we didn’t know what to expect, the grants were a huge help to us.” Seann adds, “The spirit of this program resonated particularly among young professionals at Lakewood UMC who either still know or very clearly remember how school debt can impact one’s life.”
Adds Elizabeth, “As we ask people to consider helping us pay it forward, so many have told us that they were honored that we had asked them to be a part of this.”
As a part of the conference’s clergy recruitment team for the past several years, Elizabeth can speak to the impact this grant makes on recruiting gifted, young, diverse clergy. She explains, “It’s a way of relieving some of the stress that can be brought on by finances, and allows energy to be spent in different ways. It’s also a bold statement on the part of our conference that we want clergy who can lead our church into the future – unencumbered by financial stress, and able to commit themselves fully to the ministry of Jesus in the church.”
Rev. Brian Brooks, Williams Memorial UMC, raised over $16,000 for this initiative between January and May. “If you tell the story of how this has changed your life, people are inclined to give. Donors realize this is one very direct way to ensure quality pastors will continue to fill their pulpits in years to come.”
Impacting the future
Michael adds, “It’s no secret that going through the process to become a clergyperson in The United Methodist Church is not easy. The amount of time spent, along with the costs of seminary, can become extremely burdensome for anyone, but especially for a younger person who has not had the time to build up a lot of personal finances. I can only imagine how many potential clergy have fallen through the cracks because of all the costs. A continuously funded Ambassador’s Grant program would potentially save some of those people from falling away, while also giving others the courage to enter into the process knowing that help was just around the corner. The future of the Texas Annual Conference, and The United Methodist Church, rests upon getting such clergy into our churches.”
“We have an incredible wealth of knowledge and experience in the clergy who are currently serving the conference,” shares Bishop Huie. “It is our obligation to be sure that we are bringing up the next generation behind them so the legacy they are building stays strong and becomes the foundation for the future of the UMC.”
For those who would like to support this initiative, you can donate online.