New fund helps retired pastors in time of need
By Kara Witherow, Editor
Unexpected help from a new fund that helps retired pastors in their time of need has made Rev. Guy Mathis’ life a little easier these days.
Suffering from coronary artery disease, Rev. Mathis has had open-heart surgery and retired from full-time pastoral duties in 2015. Serving Desoto United Methodist Church part time in retirement, upon his wife’s sudden death in October 2016 he became the primary caregiver for their three adopted grandchildren.
So when he was told that The Shepherd’s Fund was offering financial assistance to retired pastors with medical needs, he somewhat reluctantly applied. Having always been independent, it was difficult to ask for help, but Rev. Mathis realized his need and the need to continue providing for his grandchildren. The funds they gave helped provide for the care of his grandchildren, two of whom have special needs, and for his stay in the independent living section of Magnolia Manor.
“It was a relief,” Rev. Mathis said of receiving the assistance. “I was really struggling and they took a lot of the anxiety and worry away. Just knowing that I could see that the children could live like they were living (was a relief).”
The Shepherd’s Fund, a medical assistance fund for retired pastors, deacons, and others serving under appointment by the bishop, is passionate about helping those who have served in full-time pastoral ministry. What began in the South Georgia Conference has expanded to include the Alabama-West Florida, Mississippi, and Kentucky Conferences. Plans are in place to soon cover the entire Southeastern Jurisdiction.
“Pastors are called to be shepherds of a flock, and this is a fund for them,” said Philip Tisdale with The Shepherd’s Fund. “Most pastors really sacrifice a lot to lead and serve a church, and it’s really important to us that we help them whenever and however we can.”
Established in March 2017 and supported by an outside funding source, The Shepherd’s Fund has paid out more than $107,000 to help retired clergy and their families with medical expenses. In addition to doctor’s or hospital bills, The Shepherd’s Fund has assisted with pharmacy bills, travel expenses associated with medical treatment, funeral costs, medical equipment, and more.
While most needs The Shepherd’s Fund approves are medical needs for a retiree or the retiree’s spouse, they recently expanded the program to include disabled pastors who aren’t retired and children or grandchildren under the care or guardianship of retired pastors.
The application process is simple. Those who are eligible – retired clergy, retired clergy spouses, disabled pastors, and retired pastors who have children or guardianship of children with medical needs – should contact their District Superintendent and request an application. The application is easy to fill out, Tisdale said, and only requires basic information and the need. From there the application will be returned to the District Superintendent who will send it to The Shepherd’s Fund. The Shepherd’s Fund will review it and work with their partner, Helping Hands Ministries, to evaluate it and best serve the clergy families.
“We’re not looking for a reason to say no to someone, we’re looking for a reason to say yes,” Tisdale said. “We really have a passion to serve pastors.”
More than anything, The Shepherds Fund wants to honor and bless those who have served and sacrificed for the Kingdom of God, Tisdale said.
“I was astounded when I first learned about this fund that helps meet the needs of retired pastors and their families,” said Bishop R. Lawson Bryan, episcopal leader of the South Georgia Conference. “This is such an extravagantly generous blessing that one year later I am even more in awe of The Shepherd’s Fund. This demonstrates what it means to be Alive Together in Christ. The pilot project was in South Georgia and now is expanding to include the entire Southeastern Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church. Glory to God!”
Rev. Mathis is thankful for The Shepherd’s Fund and the help it's given him and his family.
“I wasn’t looking for help even though I knew I needed help,” he said. “I thank God every day that there is somebody who cares that much. That humbles me. I’m blessed because they’ve done this, and it humbles me to know that there are Christian people out there who have this kind of compassion and love for other Christians.”