From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Task force begins addressing seminary student debt burdens

Date 02 Feb 2001 14:58:44

Feb. 2, 2001 News media contact: Linda Green·(615)742-5470·Nashville, Tenn.

By Kathy Gilbert*

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) -- A United Methodist task force is beginning to
tackle the problems that many seminary students face with overwhelming
school-related debts.

Reports indicate that many seminarians incur debt between $20,000 and
$30,000 while in school, and that significantly affects their ability to
provide effective leadership in local congregations after they graduate. The
15-member task force, which met Jan. 26, was formed in response to a 2000
General Conference resolution to help seminary students deal with their
financial burdens.

"There are several unique features to this task force. One is the broad
representation and cooperation of several United Methodist agencies," said
the Rev. Roger W. Ireson, top executive at the Nashville-based United
Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry and chairman of the task

"In addition, we plan to work with seminarians to help them become better
financial managers, as well as work with students facing huge debts to find
ways to reduce their financial burdens," he said. "It presents a wide
opportunity to educate students and to provide educational resources for
seminaries and annual conferences working with students in debt."

Robert Fishel, a representative from the churchwide Council on Finance and
Administration, believes the financial dilemma is a larger stewardship
issue. "The context in which we address this growing and critical issue is
how money and resources are used in our culture." 

Other agencies participating in the task force are the churchwide Board of
Pension and Health Benefits, the Association of United Methodist Theological
Seminaries and the United Methodist Higher Education Foundation.

The task force will address seminary student indebtedness from several
perspectives. Its goals include:
·	Assisting annual conferences to address the seminary indebtedness of
probationary members in their conference.
·	Challenging local churches to support candidates for ordination with
scholarship assistance during seminary.
·	Working with United Methodist seminaries to minimize student
borrowing and the potential for indebtedness.
·	Raising $200 million in endowment funds over 25 years to provide
tuition scholarship and debt relief for United Methodist candidates for
ordination attending United Methodist seminaries.

Three subcommittees were established to address the debt issue.

The research subcommittee will seek to understand the nature and extent of
student indebtedness; explore indebtedness issues related to gender and
race; and research policies and programs in general agencies, seminaries and
annual conferences that are helping students with financial aid, said the
Rev. Lovett Weems, chairman of the subcommittee and president of Saint
Paul's School of Theology in Kansas City, Mo.
"It is important to remember that endowment funds will be raised from
individual, specified donors and not through local congregation budgets,"
said George Miller, United Methodist Higher Education Foundation chief
executive and chairman of the endowment subcommittee.
The education subcommittee, led by chairwoman Maxine Beach, vice president
and dean of Drew Theological School in Madison, N.J., will develop a variety
of educational approaches to help students before they enter seminary,
provide a prerequisite experience for seminary students seeking loans,
provide financial management for probationers who are not in United
Methodist seminaries, and provide educational resources for district
committees on ordained ministry. 

The subcommittees will begin working on detailed plans immediately and
report back to the full task force in September.

# # #

*Gilbert is a staff member in the Office of Interpretation at the United
Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

United Methodist News Service
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