Many of our newer ministers accumulate significent student loans while preparing for the ministry.
This is a not personal problem for them; it is a systemic problem in the way that ministers are formed in our present system.
- Seminary education is expensive and getting more so all the time. We don't provide a lot of scholarships.
- UU's require an internship as part of the preparation, and yet churches pay very little to interns. Often seminaries require internships as well, and charge tuition for the intern supervision.
- UU's require Clinical Pastoral Education which pays nothing and costs money.
Not only are large student loan debts the predictable consequence of the formation process, those debts have systemic effects.
New ministers spend the first parts of their careers trying to get out of debt, so they can start saving for retirement. As the age of incoming ministers get older, there is less time for retirement accumulation, assuming that it slowed or stopped during the formation period. Ministers who are debt-ridden have to shape their ministries around their paychecks. It means that more ministers become parish ministers in established churches. Church planting, startups, mission and evangelical ministries are out of the question. Community ministers gravitate toward the better funded institutions and agencies. Again, the bold, untried, experimental ministries and projects which are not well-funded are out of the question.
If you wonder why Unitarian Universalism is more "out there" -- creating ministries in poor and marginalized communities, among the young adults, away from the major metropolitan centers and university towns, in communities at risk, and with less safe and more controversial messages, part of the reason is the our system of formation burdens our newest and most fired up ministers with big student loans, and then pretends that they are the result of their own personal failures in financial planning.