Plenary presenters, October 14, 2021.

Plenary presenters, October 14, 2021.

A Thursday afternoon presentation about “Benefit Strategies for the Changing Church” was shared with attendees at the Polity, Benefits, and Mission Conference.

Board of Pensions leaders and the General Presbyter of Northeast Georgia Presbytery focused on special Board programming that supports pastors, congregations, and mid councils throughout the PC(USA). Two-hundred and thirty people attended the plenary via Zoom.

Following a Bible study led by the Rev. Dr. Eugene Eung-Chun Park and breakout sessions where mid council attendees were able to “Meet Your [BOP] Church Consultant,” the Rev. Frank Clark Spencer, Board of Pensions President, praised the innovative ministry work mid councils and congregations are engaging in throughout the denomination.

“Our role at the Board of Pensions … is to support innovation,” Spencer said before encouraging attendees to connect with BOP headquarters in Philadelphia or its church consultants.

“If we don’t know what you’re working on we can’t be your supportive partner.”

One of the Board’s own innovative programs is Pathways to Renewal, which the Rev. Kristin Leucht introduced and showed a short video about. Pathways “brings young ministers into the Benefits Plan with the full benefits of Pastor's Participation [a comprehensive package for ministers and their families] at substantially reduced dues.”

Spencer said that Pathways is designed to address “a growing crisis of pastoral leadership in the church,” specifically a shortage of pastors.

One of the main obstacles to that leadership is educational debt. According to a recent Board social media post, a Research Services survey “showed that 48 percent of ministers report some level of concern regarding educational debt.

Leucht shared a slide showing that 58 pastors are currently enrolled in Pathways to Renewal.

Presbytery leader from “Pathways to Renewal” video, October 14, 2021.

Presbytery leader from “Pathways to Renewal” video, October 14, 2021.

Leucht, Clark Simmons, and Andy Browne discussed how community conversations with smaller congregations and BIPOC worshiping communities are helping the Board tailor its programming to specific needs. Browne shared a slide showing some of the worshiping communities another special Board program, 301 Grants, has recently assisted.

301 Grants “support the evangelism efforts of presbyteries planting churches and cultivating new ministries by funding the enrollment of organizing pastors and evangelists in Pastor’s Participation.”

One of the communities shown on the spreadsheet, The Backyard Ministry in Cornelia, Georgia, an affiliate of First Presbyterian Church in Cornelia, received a 301 Grant.

Rev. Hilary Shuford of Northeast Georgia Presbytery shared the story of The Backyard Ministry and its recently ordained pastor, the Rev. Souvanh Touralack. With the grant, Touralack now receives full benefits as he ministers to the Laotian community of Cornelia.

Before the conference concluded for the day, the Rev. Edward Thompson moved plenary attendees into more breakout discussions, with mid council staff selecting one of three workshops for themselves: “Path to Retirement,” “Shared Ministries and Split Service Options and Optional Benefits,” or “Assistance Program.”

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