The Jubilee Fund

Too often money is sidelined in our discussions of ministry.  We forget that money is a pivotal part of our daily lives.  Unfortunately, because money is seen as such a private affair, not only is money spoken of rarely in the church with respect to our collective financial lives; but also many ministers are hesitant, even reluctant, to speak up about their own money issues.

The truth is that theological education can be a debt-saturated affair, with little hope of an earning potential that will alleviate the struggles produced by large amounts of debt.  In addition, people of all stripes–ministers and lay persons alike–are susceptible to the gravity of poor financial decisions and habits plunging them further into the cycle of debt.

Thankfully, I was supported richly by the Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ) in my theological education, and so I do not know what it is like to be struggling to find a call under the weight of immense personal education debt (and little hope of a high paying career).  However, I do know what it is like to be under tremendous financial pressure.  My wife is a professional student whose debt load is almost unfathomable.  Her earning potential makes that debt seem less daunting.  Still, we are discovering just how crippling the reality of debt can be.  But we are also aware of how we can respond faithfully and responsibly to that reality with our financial decisions and habits.  Budgeting is a must.  Sacrificing certain goods is called for.  Organizing our lives around certain priorities requires setting limitations for other aspects of life we might also enjoy but cannot stretch ourselves to experience at this point in time.

It seems we need to lift these issues to the surface, struggling against some pervasive taboos about money and begin seeing the intimate connection between our financial lives and our ministries.  Ministers anxious about debt are not ministering to their fullest.  Maybe equally pressing, we need to see the way that we can imagine and live into financial ministries.  Not only are resources, almost always including money, needed for ministry, but also ministry is needed for money.   We need to turn theological attention and resources toward our personal and collective money predicaments and practices.

Thankfully, for ministers in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), there is a new ministry aimed at those who are burdened and maybe drowning in debt.  In response to a recent call for debt-free living from the general assembly, the Jubilee Fund was established to help ministers who feel they have no way out.  I can only imagine how debt-free living* might transform the way ministers can truly minister.

The truth is that we all need to be more intentional about the spiritual and theological implications of our financial habits and situations.  What might it mean for us if we pursued lives that responsibly reduced our debt?  What might it mean if we worked with others so that they could free themselves from the crushing weight of the debt cycle?  Can we recapture and reimagine the spirit of Jubilee, that ancient spirit of joy that rejoiced in newly found freedom (see Exodus 21: 2-6 and Deuteronomy 15:1-6) ?

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*by “debt-free living” I mean more than being debt-free.  I mean enacting intentional, purposeful financial practices that avoid the entrapments of disastrous debt and channel funds into what matters most for our well-being.  This is why the Jubilee fund not only offers financial assistance with respect to funds, but also builds financial counseling and advising into its ministry in an attempt to enhance and transform lives (not just bank accounts)

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6 thoughts on “The Jubilee Fund

  1. Nice post, Michael. I interviewed Rick Hamilton last month and wanted to clarify how the Fund is developing and who it’s for. It’s for “unsecured debt” — so student loans with their fixed interest rates aren’t the main target; it’s the $10K+ in credit card spiral that they’re wanting to attack.

    I did a writeup on our regional website for our next newsletter: http://www.uppermidwestcc.org/2011/03/01/announcing-the-jubilee-fund-clergy-debt-relief/

    • Adam, thanks for clarifying this. I am sure one could find connections between the need to take on “unsecured debt” and the weight of educational debt–though that correlation would surely not be necessary. I loved your write-up and hope that more ministries like this can target the financial lives of lay and ordained peoples. I’m sure there are already some out there.

      Also, to clarify, is this jubilee fund for all CC(DOC) ministers, or just those ministers in the regions who have partnered to establish this ministry/fund? I got the impression that it was across all regions.

      • I believe it’s clergy from any region. But I’ll let Rick clarify that once it’s further in development. (I know the need is there!)

        I’m excited to hear stories about congregations and small groups using the “$20 is plenty” to help their local charities. 🙂

  2. I’ll echo Jeff’s thanks, Michael. There’s a piece of me that does wonder about whether the church should address the spending needs of its ministers, specifically, or if it should envision something even larger.

    One thought I do have is that the CARD act (a less-visible piece of legislation passed early in Obama’s first months) places some pretty helpful provisions out for those suffering from credit card debt.

    I can tell a story of a family credit card that had over $25,000 of debt on it, at 28% interest, and the bank had an exit plan offer that allowed it to be paid off in five years at 4.6% interest with payments half the monthly size. It was a godsend for my family member. I hope the Jubilee Fund’s mission includes connecting people with resources like that. While I certainly understand that credit card systems can entangle people pretty easily, I think that a piece of a Christian response is to take what responsibility we can.

    My own Episcopal church runs a credit check as part of their assessment of people’s “fitness for ministry.” It’s interesting to think over whether this is privacy-invading or theologically-sound, but I would venture to say that at the very least, those offering up their lives to the service of the church should be able to articulate how they live as an economic self before God and one another.

    • Thanks Ben and Jeff for your comments.

      Ben, would bad credit exclude a candidate from ordination in the Episcopal process–or is there a way to address and sensitively respond to bad credit built into the system (acting as a flag rather than a barrier in the process)?

      Here is how the Jubilee Fund is proposed to work (according to Adam’s description which can be found in its context through his link above in the comments):

      “Once they’ve agreed to a partnership, Rick Hamilton (or others from the Jubilee Fund) will fly to the minister and his or her family and do financial training. At the end of that meeting, they will have a budget plan along with a strong covenant agreement which serves as an accountability plan for the next 5-7 years. Once everything is agreed to, the Jubilee Fund will write checks to all creditors and pay the minister’s debts in full. Ministers will have 5-7 years to pay back what they owe at 0% interest. Throughout the process, ministers will be able to live manageably, while still tithing, and get out debt free.”

      I wonder if your suggestion has been considered before simply “paying off the debts in full” is executed. I’m not sure. Maybe it doesn’t matter with this structure. Thoughts?

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