Shepherd’s Fund helps retired clergy with medical expenses

By Jessica Brodie

Imagine you’re a retired pastor living on a limited budget when you get hit with an unexpected medical expense.

For many people, this can quickly become a huge problem. Even those who planned decently for retirement might struggle to afford hearing aids, home health assistance, dental work or other surprise care needs. Insurance only goes so far.

Now, an opportunity called The Shepherd’s Fund is helping retired or disabled pastors, their spouses, or widows with a limited income and who have health issues for which they can’t afford treatment—or the financial impact it may have on their ability to provide for themselves.

Started in 2016 thanks to an anonymous donor who was part of the South Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church, The Shepherd’s Fund strives to heed the charge in 1 Timothy 5:17, which notes, “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching” (NIV).

While initially the fund was only available to people in the South Georgia Conference, they have since expanded to South Carolina and every other conference in the Southeastern Jurisdiction, plus Louisiana, West Virginia and Arkansas. 

The Rev. Chris Lollis, pensions and health benefits officer for the South Carolina Conference of the UMC, is partnering with Derek W. McAleer, recently retired treasurer and benefits oficer for the South Georgia Conference, to get the word out to South Carolina retired clergy that funds are available for all, regardless of need. McAleer helps retirees know about the fund.

“This is not a hoax; it’s legitimate,” Lollis said, noting care grants of up to $10,000 are available every 12 months and people are encouraged to apply. “I find a lot of folks didn’t plan well for retirement, and there’s more money available than you might think.”

They also assist retirees from several seminaries and retired clergy from the African Methodist Episcopal denomination. 

McAleer said the fund will start serving retirees from the Global Methodist Church this year. 

McAleer said that in 2023, The Shepherd’s Fund was able to give out 883 grants totaling just less than $8.5 million in care. Their goal for 2024 is 1,000 grants, about $10 million in care.

They started granting funds to South Carolina in 2022, offering nine grants. In 2023, they gave 24 grants to South Carolina retirees.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for our retired clergy people, some of whom are truly in need,” Lollis said. “Sometimes they have to decide whether to pay a bill or eat.”

According to The Shepherd’s Fund, many pastors serve small churches and do not have substantial salaries. Often they work second jobs to supplement their income. As a result, they often are not able to set aside an appropriate sum of money for retirement, and when a medical crisis occurs, this puts them in a financial crisis as well.

A retired pastor and his or her spouse can qualify for a one-time grant up to $10,000 each or $20,000 total. They may reapply in subsequent years, every 12 months, especially if they have a chronic ongoing medical condition. 

Grants may also be given to disabled pastors and their spouses; widows of pastors; and retired/disabled pastors who are legal custodians for their adult children that may have a disability from childhood. Grants may also be given to retired/disabled pastors that are legal custodians for their grandchildren who have a medical crisis or disability, regardless of age.

To apply for a grant, go to and click on “Our Process.” Fund administrators will coordinate with the retiree’s conference benefits, alumni or denominational contact.

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