No one goes into pastoral ministry to make their fortune. Well, at least in Lutheran world. In our ELCA congregational budgets personnel costs eat up the biggest slice of the offering pie, and congregations believe it is good and fair to compensate their pastors for all of the Gospel and community work they do. Of course not every congregation is able to fully provide for a full time pastor, so congregations often find themselves working together, sharing a pastor, applying for grants or asking other churches for support.
Those of us in companion relationships with the Salvadoran Lutheran Church have been long aware of the precarious situations in which pastors of the church live. As a poor church dedicated to serving in poor communities often where no other denominations are present, the Salvadoran Lutheran Church struggles with sustainability. Pastors work in multi-point parishes and are extremely dedicated to the work they do. Most of their work is done without pay. Some survive because they do additional work for the national church. Most pool together the wages of various family members to pay rent, buy food, and pay for the bus fare to get to their churches.
In the time of the 1980-1992 civil war, the Salvadoran Lutheran Church cared for refugees, organized agricultural communities and advocated for justice. It was a persecuted church. Now, a generation later, the church continues its commitment to work for justice for those who suffer due to poverty just as it begins to reach out to people of means and the emerging middle class. This is not easy. The church is working to rely less on international support. This is not easy. The church is figuring out how pastors can be "tent-makers" - that is, working second jobs while continuing to be dedicated to ministry. This is not easy. As all of this struggle toward sustainability is taking place, the sister churches and companions from the US and other countries accompany their brother and sister pastors in the Salvadoran Lutheran Church.
We recently received word that pastors are in need of emergency food aid. We can imagine how difficult it is for pastors to admit that they need this help and to ask for it. How would you or your congregation feel if your pastor told you that she could not feed her family? that he was losing weight because he had no food? that her debt from purchasing food and shelter over the last year was overwhelming and she was about to lose her home?
25 pounds of beans. 20 pounds of rice. 20 pounds of sugar. 5 pounds of coffee. 5 bottles of oil. 5 packages of pasta. 5 tins of sardines. 5 pounds of protein supplement. 2 packages of cookies. 2 boxes of matches. 4 pounds of corn flour. 1/2 carton of eggs.
This is the request for a 2 month kit for a pastor and his or her family of 5.
The Greater Milwaukee Synod is responding to this request, and will gather funds at our synod assembly in 2 weeks. As we walk with the Salvadoran Lutheran Church in all of its struggles and they walk with us in all of ours, we cannot refuse a humble request for food.
At the same time, we accompany the Salvadoran Lutheran Church in its journey toward sustainability through good financial practice, through sustainable agricultural, education and employment projects, and through the support of the Salvadoran Lutheran Church Pastors Endowment Fund. This fund has been growing for about 9 years at a slow pace through congregational gifts, individual gifts and more than $4000 in dimes and quarters from Salvadoran Lutheran Church members. The fund has about $500,000 invested. With $2,000,000 invested, the fund would generate enough interest to pay each pastor a basic salary so that pastors would not be hungry and would not fear becoming homeless.
This is not the usual type of story I write about in my blog, but I know that those who read this blog may have the spirit of compassion which could move them to help out - either with gifts in support of the emergency food project or the endowment fund, and with powerful gifts of prayer for the Salvadoran Lutheran Church in its walk toward sustainability. Information about the endowment fund is available on Facebook and on the Partners with El Salvador web site.