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Group intensifies work on pension support for non-U.S. clergy

 


Group intensifies work on pension support for non-U.S. clergy

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A UMNS photo by the Rev. Larry Hollon

United Methodist churches across Africa are struggling to provide better pensions for their clergy.
May 18, 2005

A UMNS Report
By the Rev. Larry Hollon*

A United Methodist committee is stepping up efforts to address the plight of retired pastors and spouses in Africa and other parts of the world, where pension plans are minimal or nonexistent.

In Liberia, for example, retired pastors receive $55 and surviving spouses $27.50—in U.S. dollars—every four months. A 50-lb. bag of rice costs between $35 and $40.

Across Africa, similar economic conditions prevail. In Angola, labor unions are pressing the government to set US$300 as the minimum monthly wage, based on the cost of food and other necessities. Retired pastors receive $20 a month, and surviving spouses receive $15.

"It’s painful for our retired pastors," said Bishop Gaspar João Domingos, leader of the United Methodist Church’s Western Angola Annual (regional) Conference. "Sometimes they let their pension monies accumulate for two or three months because the cost of transportation takes too much for them to come monthly to collect it."

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Bishop Gaspar Joao Domingos
The Central Conference Pension Committee, which has been studying pension needs in the church’s regional units outside the United States, agreed during a May 6-7 meeting in Washington to step up development of model partnerships to provide increases in pension payments. The committee also will begin communicating about the need more aggressively to church members.

"We have authorized moving from talking to action," said Bishop Ben Chamness, committee chairperson and leader of the Central Texas Annual Conference.

The committee approved the first steps toward creating a fund-raising plan to endow a sustainable pension fund for central conference pastors. The United Methodist Board of Pension and Health Benefits projects that a $50 million endowment will be necessary to sustain the central conference pension fund.

"We are going forward boldly, with urgency and with care," said Barbara Boigegrain, top staff executive of the board, which is charged by General Conference with administering the fund.

The committee heard a report that 41 jurisdictional annual conferences have returned a portion or all of their distributions from the United Methodist Publishing House. Each year, the Publishing House provides a portion of its earnings to the conferences to help support pensions for retired clergy and dependents.

Conferences can elect to return those funds with the request that they be allocated to the central conferences. As of March 31, the Central Conference Pension Initiative Benefit Fund has received more than $800,000.

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Bishop Ben R. Chamness
The committee also authorized the Board of Pension and Health Benefits to develop a staffing recommendation for a full-time position for the design and administration of a benefit system.

Retired Bishop J. Woodrow Hearn was named chairperson of a newly created funding task force that will establish fund-raising policies and prepare a budget for a campaign with particular emphasis on major gifts. The task force will consider hiring a fund-raising consultant and creating an internal staff position for fund-raising activities.

The funding task force includes representatives from the Board of Global Ministries, the United Methodist Foundation and the Board of Pension and Health Benefits.

In addition, the committee set aside $34,000 to interpret and promote the need for pension support in the central conferences and assigned United Methodist Communications the job of producing video, print and Web-based information pieces. UMCom will deploy staff to three countries in Africa in July and August to gather this information.

The Board of Pension and Health Benefits was given the responsibility to interpret the Central Conference Pension Initiative to the church’s general boards and agencies and to begin preparation for reporting its progress to the denomination’s top legislative assembly, the 2008 General Conference. Bishop Bruce Ough, leader of the West Ohio Conference, will lead a task group preparing for General Conference.

The Central Conference Pension Committee includes representatives from the General Council on Finance and Administration, Board of Global Ministries, Board of Pension and Health Benefits, United Methodist Publishing House and United Methodist Communications.

*Hollon is the top staff executive of United Methodist Communications. United Methodist News Service is a unit of UMCom.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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