Erin Moore entered seminary with her heart, spirit―and both eyes―wide open.
Upon leaving her job of three years to enroll at Princeton Theological Seminary in the fall of 2011, the aspiring, second-career pastor had more than God’s call on her mind.
Although she had managed to save some money during the years she worked after college, she nevertheless had serious concerns about her ability to finance her graduate education.
“I was very conscious about student loans when I entered seminary,” says Moore. “Going into small church ministry seemed rather scary and risky financially, but it was where I felt God was calling me.”
After calculating what she could afford to spend from her savings, Moore figured out how much she would need to take out in loans. With a viable financial plan in place, she was able to complete her M.Div. at Princeton Seminary in the usual three years.
The program―designed to renew and grow small churches in rural, small-town, and urban settings by pairing them with recent seminary graduates for a two-year pastoral residency―also offers its pastors a small salary support grant.
“We were thrilled to welcome Erin as a member of the Small Church Residency Program,” says Cindy Cushman, the program’s coordinator, “but because I was aware that she needed additional financial support beyond what the program offers, I commended her to my colleague, Laura Bryan, in the office of Financial Aid for Service.”
Bryan heard about Moore’s need and suggested she apply to the Transformational Leadership Debt Assistance Program (TLDA). TLDA was designed to assist seminary graduates who serve in temporary or part-time pastoral positions in churches of 150 members or less or in emerging worshiping communities. The program provides forgivable loans that can be applied to their education debt. After completion of an 18-month period of service, the loan is forgiven and the borrower may apply again.
“Erin is exactly the kind of pastor for whom TLDA was created,” Bryan says.
With many of her financial burdens relieved, Moore is now free to serve―and to grow―her congregation. “After growing up in a small church, I have a passion for them and a passion to help them continue,” she says. “I love that this program supports small churches and allows them the help and the space they need to try new things.”
Moore’s colleagues in Hudson River Presbytery are in complete agreement.
“Erin is a courageous pastor and minister of the gospel,” says Peter T. Johnson, pastor of Denton Presbyterian Church in New Hampton, N.Y., who was assigned as Moore’s mentor through the Small Church Residency Program. “She is both tenacious and gentle as she performs her role as teaching elder in a situation where pastoral care has been a primary focus. She is willing to learn the complexities of humans who exhibit the best and worst of what it is to be a disciple of Jesus. Willing to enter the often ambiguous space of ministry, Erin is discovering ways to shepherd her new congregation.”
As part of the Small Church Residency Program, Moore and Johnson meet together once a month. They also attend monthly cluster group meetings.
“Erin’s role as leader and shepherd has been a stabilizing factor for the church,” says David Kingsley, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Goshen, N.Y., and the presbytery representative to the Small Church Residency Program. “Everyone who is acquainted with Erin knows that she was the right person at the right time to guide this congregation.”
Following her first Easter at First Church, Moore is ready to embrace not only the joy of the season, but also the new way of life that it signifies.
“I look forward to working with the congregation to try new things for both of us and to see where God leads the church,” she says. “And knowing that in two years my federal student loans will be paid off even if I don’t remain in this call is a huge blessing. I am extremely thankful for the loan forgiveness program through the PC(USA) and hope others can benefit from it as well.”