Frugality and Freedom
My parents were the first in their families to go to college, and they had to work while completing their degrees. My father worked at UPS when he was full-time in seminary, which means we often didn’t see him. As my mother has often said, “Having money is only good because of the freedom it gives you.” My parents further sacrificed that freedom when they became missionaries to Japan in the Evangelical Free Church, a role that required depending on the church for all finances.
We returned to the US when I was in second grade, and for a long time money was tight. But my parents wanted all three of us kids to be able to focus on our studies in a way they couldn’t, and so we didn’t have to get jobs in high school. Then they shouldered the college debt that our scholarships didn’t cover (and we all worked part-time in college). All this, compounded by caring for their parents and covering family illnesses, means that today my parents are still in debt.
Perhaps you’re a person whose family has, for generations, owned houses and gone to college. We had no safety net, no margin of error. We did not have grandparents, friends, cousins, or aunts who could chip in. We always knew we were close to the edge.
So when I felt called to the priesthood after I became Episcopalian, my parents expressed concern – not over theology but because they worried that the church would not take care of me, that I, too, would have to live without financial stability. My parents wanted me to have the freedom and security they had not found until much later.
The Episcopal Church has provided more institutional and financial support than my parents ever got. And because my parents had taken on my college debt, I was able to take a low-paid teaching job right after college (instead of something lucrative and unrelated to ministry), and later on my first unpaid church internship (but keeping two part-time jobs). At Yale I’ve lived frugally, working as many as three part-time jobs while taking classes full-time. I’ve spent time and energy each year applying for outside merit scholarships and interest-free loans – time spent at the expense of my homework. But the lessened debt was absolutely worth a slightly lower grade.
I’m convinced that this light(er) debt load makes it easier for me to serve God in the church. Some suggest it is unseemly for clergy to care about stable finances. But prudence is a virtue, right alongside generosity and courage. The prudence I learned from Ann and Ron Garcia, and from my priestly mentor, Steve White, will allow me to go about my work in the church with greater freedom from debt, which means more space in my mind and heart for what matters: serving others and going where God asks.
My first goal with my new job out of seminary is to help my parents pay off their own debt, so that they can feel free, too.