The problem is real and it is urgent!
ELCA pastors in the Northeastern Iowa Synod are retiring at an alarming rate. In fact, only 27 of our current pastors are under the age of 50. This means that while our congregations are already feeling the effects of the clergy shortage this problem will accelerate to a crisis very quickly. The shortage of clergy is almost universal in the ELCA and among Christians, most notably with the Roman Catholics.
Who will this impact?
The clergy shortage will impact the whole church but will affect rural Iowa congregations first and hardest. There will always be a portion of clergy who do not want to serve small rural congregations, receive the smaller compensation these congregations offer or live in small communities. So, while congregations in Chicago, New York, or San Francisco may not feel the shortage acutely our Synod certainly will.
What is the solution?
The Northeastern Iowa Synod is taking a multi-stage approach to addressing the clergy shortage. First, we are working with our pastors and congregations to identify young people who might be called to become pastors. We are also doubling our efforts to support and encourage those young people. However, with all these efforts we are frustrated by the cost of seminary education.
In years gone by, the seminary education of our clergy was free, or almost free, to the students. In these days, seminary is very expensive. This means that new clergy start with $50,000 to $100,000 of education debt. So students do not become pastors, or delay entering seminary by several years or they simply cannot afford to accept calls with the compensation packages offered by smaller rural congregations.
To address this, the Northeastern Iowa Synod has created the H. George Anderson Fund for Leaders.
This is an endowed fund that will create interest income which will be used to give scholarships to seminary students who are members of a congregation of this Synod and attend a seminary of the ELCA. This will allow students to attend seminary and graduate with lower education debt and, therefore, consider a call to smaller congregations.
In the last year, gifts to the Fund for Leaders has increased by almost $100,000 all given by a few families. Now, it is time for congregations, endowments, and families to do their part to guarantee we will have pastors in the Northeastern Iowa Synod now and for generations to come.
Pastor Mark Anderson, Assistant to the Bishop
To learn more see H. George Anderson Fund for Leaders Endowment