Just Released: 2023 Annual Report // Read Now

Just Released: 2023 Annual Report // Read Now

Understanding the PCA’s Relief Fund and How to Support Ministry Families in Need.

We sat down with our Director of Ministerial Wellbeing, Rev. Paul Joiner, and Director of Philanthropic Giving, Chris Zurbach, to better understand the PCA Ministerial Relief Fund.

What are the origins of the Relief Fund?

Chris: At the PCA’s first General Assembly in 1973, pastors and their spouses were facing many difficult decisions. By leaving the PCUS to form the PCA, they would forfeit their pension and the spousal benefits of the existing denomination. The General Assembly established an annual offering to be received during the Christmas season for ministerial relief, which was a continuation of the offering known as the Joy Gift.

As the retirement and benefits agency of the PCA, Geneva was tasked with administering the fund and ensuring our pastors and spouses were well cared for through every season of ministry. Over the past 50 years, we have distributed more than $12M in financial assistance to ministry families in need. Thankfully, hundreds of churches continue to collect a special Christmas offering to support the Relief Fund, although the number of churches participating has been declining in recent years.

Paul: I have been a pastor in the PCA for 25 years. I was completely unaware of the Relief Fund until a few years ago. The church that I pastored had once supported the Relief Fund, but after I came on as pastor, the person who had championed it did not keep that momentum going. Now that I know the stories, I am saddened that we did not help more. The reality is that the average person in the church can have a tremendous impact on the care of pastors by simply being an advocate.

Who does the Relief Fund help?

Paul: We primarily help pastors and their widows. However, in some cases, we can help long-term PCA employees. If a person is in financial need often it is because a crisis has left them in financial need. Sometimes that crisis may be short-term, like a husband who has died suddenly, leaving a widow who is navigating grief, getting back into the workforce, and parenting her grief-stricken children. Sometimes that crisis is long-term, like a pastor whose church inadequately contributed to their retirement account. Now that they are late in life and have depleted all their resources, they depend on the denomination to help keep them out of destitution.

Additionally, we help pastors who are in between calls maintain health insurance for up to six months. Being without medical insurance can cause expenses to snowball in a short period of time. That can leave a family under a mountain of debt that they would never find relief from on a pastor’s salary.

Chris: Just like Paul, I have the chance to talk with and even meet some of our Relief recipients, and the stories are unique. This past summer, I was able to have lunch with Rev. Fred and Shirley Guthrie. A delightful ministry couple, living near Athens, Georgia. When Fred left the PCUS in the 1980’s to follow his gospel convictions and join the PCA, he forfeited 28 years of pension. Now, into their early 80’s, they have outlived much of their retirement savings and the Relief Fund helps pay for their basic living expenses. They are so incredibly grateful!

I think of others like Rev. Mike Fennema who was in a tragic bike accident that left him with a life-changing spinal injury and how the Relief Fund came alongside him and his family for a handful of years to help pay their mortgage so Mike could focus on his rehab and stay in their home.

I’m in frequent communication with Anna, the wife of a PCA pastor who found herself unexpectedly widowed with two teen boys. This was decades ago. The Relief Fund helped step in during those first few years as she was navigating grief and getting on her feet. She is forever grateful and now financially supports the Relief Fund. I could go on and on!

How are Relief awards granted?

Paul: Generally, either a church or the individual will reach out to us. We will listen carefully to their story, figure out how best we can serve them, and then walk them through a short application. Often, we will review their financial needs and coordinate a meeting with one of Geneva’s financial planning advisors. A person who needs financial relief is usually in crisis. They may not have had a chance to evaluate their resources and put a plan in place for the new season that they are in. Geneva has trained and qualified financial planning advisors, who are also pastors and they meet with them at no charge. The financial planning advisors then make a recommendation to the Relief Committee.

What if I know a particular person with specific needs. How can the Relief Fund support them?

Chris: We  are asked this quite frequently.  We speak with many church staff and leaders who are completely unaware of the Relief Fund and the assistance it provides. We want to help raise awareness of this important ministry both on the fundraising side but also on the grant side.

Paul: The best thing to do is for the church member to have the pastor, widow, or ministry staff fill out a form on our website. Our Relief Assistant will then reach out with an application. This gets them into our application process and ensures that a member of our team will reach out to them directly. We will do a full assessment of their situation, including finances, to see how we can work with their church, family, and presbytery to help.

How can our church or individual support a specific retired pastor or widow who needs help?

Chris: The best way for a church or individual to help someone with a specific need is to give generously to the Relief Fund. As a qualified charitable 501c3 organization (EIN 74- 3069926), donations to the Relief Fund are tax deductible. IRS guidelines prohibit tax deductions for donations designated for an individual.  This includes making a gift to clergy for their personal use or expenses. When you donate to Geneva, Geneva has full control over donated funds and sole discretion over their use.

This can lead to some confusion as we operate functionally differently than some of our peer committees like MTW or RUF who practice deputized fundraising. In deputized fundraising, staff members are responsible for raising a specific amount and funds are often recorded in a support account for each worker. As with deputized fundraising, the organization, not the individual, has sole discretion and control over the funds. The gift is to the organization, not the individual. If a staff member terminates employment or raises excess funds, those funds remain with the organization.

All to say, we recommend that churches or individuals who are looking to support a specific retired pastor or widow, refer those individuals to apply to the Relief Fund AND give generously to Relief.

Geneva Benefits Group serves those who serve others, providing practical support for the financial, physical, and mental wellbeing of people who work in full-time ministry.

Geneva offers preparedness and peace of mind with solutions tailored to the needs of ministry leaders and staff.