Christmas Joy

Gifts Help Retired Minister Live with Joy and Dignity

December 17, 2019 by Pat Cole

Grocery shopping was once an anxiety-filled experience for the Rev. Gloria Casasus-Urrutia.

A divorce 10 years after her 2006 retirement had thrust her into severe financial hardship. “The economic anguish was so intense that I could only buy in the supermarket what was extremely necessary,” she said. “I had to write down the price of each item and add the prices to make sure I had the money.”

She also struggled to find a safe and affordable place to live. Her husband of 15 years was the sole owner of the home they had shared in San Germán, Puerto Rico, and she was forced to move. Her residence and neighborhood changed four times in two years.

To make matters even worse, Hurricane Maria arrived the year after Casasus-Urrutia’s divorce. Much of Puerto Rico was devastated, and she was beset by both mental anguish and physical ailments. “I had a panic attack, I had bronchitis, my arm was dislocated, and as if that wasn’t enough, my puppy had to be hospitalized for several days.”

While melancholy gripped her life, she was never in total despair. “I suffered a deep depression but there was something that was not affected: my faith and trust in the God of love and mercy that we preach so much.” She prayed for people who suffered severe setbacks from the storm and gave thanks for the meager provisions that she had.

A year after the hurricane, Casasus-Urrutia’s circumstances began to improve thanks to a grant from the Assistance Program of the Board of Pensions. The Assistance Program is supported by gifts to the Christmas Joy Offering.

She became aware that help might be available when she contacted the Board seeking an income certification letter. The letter was a necessary step in her application for government benefits. Maria Perry, a Board service specialist, took note of Casasus-Urrutia’s extremely modest income and advised her to apply to the Assistance Program.

Casasus-Urrutia’s pension is small because she entered ministry later in life and served small congregations that had limited financial resources. Perry told her that she and other Board representatives would soon be visiting Puerto Rico to meet with current and retired pension plan members. At the gathering, Perry helped Casasus Urrutia complete an Assistance Program application.

“I saw light at the end of the tunnel,” Casasus-Urrutia said. “The good news (of her application’s approval) soon arrived.”

Her life, she noted, “has taken on a new turn.” The grant enabled her to repair the computerized position bed that helps her cope with orthopedic difficulties. She was also able to get her car’s brakes fixed and replace two tires that were flattened as she drove on debris-strewn roads in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

Her grocery shopping is no longer such a worrisome chore. In fact, she is now able to treat herself to butter pecan ice cream, a treat long missing from her freezer. She enjoys faithfully placing her tithe in her congregation’s offering plate.

Casasus Urrutia expressed gratitude for gifts to the Christmas Joy Offering and for the Assistance Program of the Board of Pensions they support. She said the generosity of Presbyterians and the Board’s work bear witness to the care of the Good Shepherd.

Most congregations receive the Christmas Joy Offering during the Advent and Christmas seasons. Half of the gifts go to the Assistance Program of the Board of Pensions to support past and current church workers and their families in critical financial need. The other half helps prepare future church leaders who study in Presbyterian-related schools and colleges equipping communities of color.

This was originally published for Presbyterian News Service on December 17, 2019.

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For those supported through the Christmas Joy Offering, this help is truly a gift from above. May our gifts, and the leaders who receive them, point us always to the truth of the one whose birth we celebrate, Jesus Christ — the truly perfect gift.