For the last twenty years, the Committee on Theological Education (COTE), the General Assembly, and PCUSA seminaries sought to energize giving to theological education in the PCUSA. Each of these entities has consistently called on the Church to prioritize fundraising as a lever to launch new leaders into ministry and strengthen congregations in general and the PCUSA in particular. Actions of the 220th and 221st General Assemblies (2012 & 2014) resulted in the shift of the Theological Education Fund (TEF) to another PC(USA) national agency. As of January 1, 2015 the fiduciary administration and funds raising responsibilities of the TEF was relocated from the Presbyterian Mission Agency to the Presbyterian Foundation. The Committee on Theological Education (COTE) remains as the governing guide to the funds and the project. 2012 recommendations constituted a call to action and by 2014 a plan was put in place for a new direction, agency home, and renew focus on this critical effort. In doing so, an answer to the 219th General Assembly’s (2010) review of the Committee on Theological Education (COTE) “to explore opportunities to develop additional funding, particularly in support of students and reducing the indebtedness of beginning clergy” was answered.
In October 2014, the COTE search committee extended an offer to me to serve as the founding Senior Director of Theological Education Funds Development. Frankly, the summer and fall of 2014 turned into a season of discernment for me. I was forced to pay attention to trusted friends and colleagues that were inviting me to consider where they believed God may be calling me next. Some of the invitations, and ultimately the most convincing, were for me to consider what I now fully believe is where God has called me. My passion for theological education in the PCUSA and PCUSA Seminaries has never wavered and being able to do this is a dream come true. I came to believe and see my talents, skills, knowledge, experiences, relationships, and commitments seamlessly match the needs of a new leader in theological education and funds development in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A). Others and I have come to understand my vocation, my call, and the joy I find in life is in bringing together persons and organizations that care about the same thing, especially theological education. I came to realize that investing in theological education starts with people who care, including me. If it matters, then I need to invest my time and energy too. I am pleased that the highly talented and deeply committed Nancy Benson-Nicol, Associate Director, is a full partner in this effort with me. Alongside COTE, the committed and cool members of the Seminary Support Network, the Presbyterian Foundation, and congregations and individuals that care, I am convinced we can succeed. Theological education in the PC(USA) will reach more, the effectiveness of congregations will touch more, and the leaders of those congregations and those they serve to God’s glory will expand deep and wide !
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Foundation is an ideal home for the TEF as it seeks “to raise, steward, and distribute funds for the mission.” Founded in 1799, the Foundation offers clients a variety of tools for giving and investing and a full complement of client services to meet the multifaceted needs of donors in the 21st century including but not limited to: Online giving tools for congregations and donors; endowment funds; donor-advised funds; charitable Remainder Trust; direct gifts; pooled income funds; and bequests. Options are available to donate cash, securities, and non-traditional assets including property through the Foundation. Also, the Foundation’s nine regionally deployed Ministry Relations Officers, are focused on developing new and stewarding long-time relationships with donors and congregations across the country.
Over the last 25 years and as of today, Presbyterians have donated $53,688,685.24 to our Presbyterian Seminaries through the Theological Education Fund (TEF). Our largely volunteer and presbytery and synod based TEF Seminary Support Network, one of the first networks in the reunited PC(USA), is deeply committed congregations. They have said to COTE, the PC(USA), and our Presbyterian congregations again and again that an investment in theological education pays large dividends for decades to come in Christ’s Church.
I wonder if your congregation gives? If you do or your don’t, would you be able to give more? I wonder how we can help you tell this story of giving that pays multiplied dividends in pastoral and other church leaders who serve and will serve congregations for a generation or more?
I’m often asked lately, “Lee, what is it you are doing now?” My answer is this, “I am digging wells deeper with other believers and investors in theological education.” Why? “So more of those thirsty for the good news can have strong educators and pastors to serve them well into the future. In other words, I’m collaborating on the next chapter of the same book and it is even more expansive.