Active ministers studying for doctorate degrees at the New Brunswick Theological Seminary are learning how the Community Redevelopment Act (CRA) can help them meet financial challenges as they develop faith-based social action, housing and community support programs.
The ministers, all studying in a post-graduate program at the seminary which leads to a Doctor of Ministry degree, are taking a unique course in community development and investment developed by Magyar Bank.
Founded in 1784, the New Brunswick Theological Seminary is the oldest seminary in North America. Its mission, the school says, is “to participate in the ministry of Jesus in our time and place by discovering and teaching old and new truths of God, church and society that empower people to translate their calling and gifts into faithful Christian ministry.”
A teaching institution (whose present student body totals 250) of the Reformed Church in America, the seminary’s students represent denominational, ethnic and gender diversity and will minister in a similarly diverse world. It offers Master of Divinity, Master of Arts in Theological Studies and Doctor of Ministry degrees.
Magyar Bank, a subsidiary of Magyar Bancorp (NASDAQ: MGYR), has been serving families and businesses in Central New Jersey for over 80 years with a complete line of financial products and services, and today Magyar operates branch locations in Branchburg, New Brunswick, North Brunswick and South Brunswick.
Magyar Bank President Elizabeth J. Hance is a member of the school’s board of trustees. She said the chairman of the school’s doctoral program, Dr. Warren Dennis, who specializes in preparing students for urban ministries, asked her if she could teach them about CRA. She thought he just wanted a one hour presentation about the act, but he wanted more.
“Can you teach them about faith based organizations that are working with banks?” she recalled Dennis asking. That conversation was the beginning of Hance’s development of a 12-week survey course to give them the “breadth, if not the depth,” of the CRA, she said.
The program provides seminary students with an overview of how to tap into financial resources that will help them launch community initiatives, as well as insights into public-private (including faith-based) community development initiatives, and the history of the CRA and its impact on financial institutions and communities.
“I constantly remind them that the CRA doesn’t mean a banker is sitting there with a pot of money to give out to everyone with their hand outstretched,” Hance said in a telephone interview.
The bank arranged for speakers from other sources beyond its own staff, such as the Somerset County United Way, Federal Home Loan Bank of New York, Somerset County Coalition on Affordable Housing, Thrift Institutions Community Investment Corp., Vogue Housing America, Antioch Community Development Corp., First Baptist Community Development Corp., Faith Bricks & Mortar and Emanuel Community Development Corp.
According to Hance, the bank also brought in members of a New Brunswick accounting firm to show the ministers how to prepare business plans for social action programs. The presentations opened up the ministers’ eyes to what could be achieved. “You could practically hear the sparks flying,” she said.
Ministers taking the class had to write a paper proposing a strategic plan and business proposal for some kind of project or program that could be funded through CRA avenues. “Where we started – and where we wrapped up – was to make sure that there was some clarity about what a bank would consider as a CRA financing or funding opportunity,” Hance said.
Most of the ministers in the course are from urban areas and had “quite a diversity” of ideas about faith-based organizations they might create, she noted.
Projects could be developing a job training center or attracting a supermarket back to a low income neighborhood. Teaching financial literacy in a low income area could also be a fundable project easily suitable to a smaller congregation, Hance explained.
“Based on this [course] information, they now had a much better sense of what the opportunities are and where those sources of funding might be,” she said. “We wanted to point out to them that faith-based initiatives often require them to look into public, as well as private, partnerships.”
Hance believes Magyar Bank’s “outstanding” 2006 CRA evaluation was probably due in part to the bank’s unique CRA outreach. The FDIC thought the bank’s involvement with the seminary class was “innovative and creative,” she said.
Hance teaches the class with Jay Castillo, the bank’s senior vice president of community relations, who is responsible for the CRA initiatives at the bank.
Dennis said “If we’re going to be able to do urban ministry effectively, I think one of the things that pastors ought to be able to do is talk with financial people, understand that language at a respectable level. Most pastors don’t have that training.”
Ministers studying for their doctorates in the program also said the course helped them look at the financial issues of social action in a new light.
“Where Magyar made a significant impact on students was in showing themselves to be a teaching institution,” said Joanne Noel, an associate pastor who is using the class to help in developing a mentoring project for her New York City church. “Investing in communities and people are essential components of what the church is called to do. Every institution has its own language and so does a bank.”
Topics presented during the course include “The Community Reinvestment Act – History and Impact,” “Public/Private and Faith-Based Community Development Projects that Work,” “The Role of Government Agencies in Financing Opportunities,” “Perspective from Community Developers” and “Business Plans and Grant Writing.”
LL DuBreuil, pastor of Faith United Church of Christ and also a student in the program, said the ministers in the class were so impressed with the senior-level expertise of the lecturers that students referred to the guest speakers as “rock stars.”
“They were the most amazing people in their fields,” she said. “There was a real personal touch, but a lot of good hard facts that came out of it. This was a real hands-on, nitty-gritty program. This is something that is not normally taught, but boy, is it necessary.”
DuBreuil said at first she thought finance wouldn’t have much to do with her ministry, but since her church is beginning to grow, she thinks the class made her better-equipped to deal with future funding needs.
Another student in the program, Earl Johnson, who is the pastor of Mt. Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church in Newark, said the program was very timely.
“The dynamics of ministry have changed so much,” said Johnson. “Now, ministers are required to understand financial matters, especially in terms of community development corporations, 501(c)3s – things of that nature. Faith based initiatives require that you have knowledge of those things so that you can apply for whatever financial support you need. You can’t do that unless you have a good knowledge of how the banking industry participates in helping faith-based organizations achieve those goals. I thought it was a goldmine to have the opportunity to sit in a class like that.”
Johnson said the course helped focus the students on how the mission of churches in supporting their communities has changed.
“The growth of churches depends on how well they are able to structure faith-based initiatives,” he said. “The day for churches to grow numerically in terms of people walking down the aisle saying ‘what do I have to do to be saved?’ is over with. I think the growth depends today on how well they affect the community and how well the community understands their role with the church.”
Johnson said churches have relied on donations alone for too long.
“When times are hard, when people lose jobs, when incomes are not as high, you can’t do creative ministry, you can’t be effective in your community,” he said. “But if you know how to get involved in community activism and work with the local banks and executives, whatever vision you have can be carried out if it’s done in a very detailed, very structured way. There’s so much out there that can help them improve the quality of life in their communities.”
Steven L. Lubetkin is a corporate communications and public relations consultant and a contributing editor of NJBankers. He can be reached at (856) 751-5491 or email@example.com.