Agencies plan emergency pension help for central conference clergy
Agencies plan emergency pension help for central conference clergy
Nov. 23, 2004
By Tim Tanton*
Ill. (UMNS) – For the retired Mozambican minister and his wife, the
“golden years” had nothing to do with gold and everything to do with
trying to survive on a $120 annual pension.
a 2003 trip to Mozambique, a United Methodist team found that the
couple exemplified the need for pension programs not only in Africa but
other parts of the world.
a career in the church, the minister had reached the end of life with
barely enough pension income to buy a few bags of food.
and his wife were forced to live with their son and his five children
in their two-room home,” said Barbara Boigegrain, a member of the
fact-finding team and top staff executive of the denomination’s Board of
Pension and Health Benefits. “It was not a retirement with dignity.”
“All my life,” the man told the team, “I have preached heaven, and now I am in hell.”
“He said he had a heart condition,” Boigegrain recalled, “and we got word about a month later that he had passed away.”
parts of the world where the United Methodist Church enjoys its
strongest growth — Africa, the Philippines, Eastern Europe — pastors who
are building the flocks are finding themselves with little to live on
where the Central Conference Pension Initiative comes in. The
initiative is a multi-agency effort to establish models for permanent
pension coverage in the church’s regions –or conferences – in Africa,
Asia and parts of Europe. Providing those models for each conference is
still several years away, so in the interim, the agencies are working
under a mandate from the 2004 General Conference to develop emergency
funding for regions most in need.
members of the Board of Pension and Health Benefits discussed the
initiative during their Nov. 19-20 meeting in Skokie. Representatives of
the board and four other United Methodist agencies sit on the committee
that oversees the program.
Those agencies are the Board of
Global Ministries, the United Methodist Publishing House, the General
Council on Finance and Administration, and United Methodist
May, General Conference authorized the pension agency to create and
administer funding for the programs of the initiative, in consultation
with the finance agency and supported by the partner agencies. General
Conference also directed the Board of Global Ministries to make
emergency grants for retired clergy and spouses in central conferences
where extreme need exists. The emergency funding will enable those
conferences to reach a point where they can eventually start their own
plans, and it will be separate from the country-specific programs that
the initiative is developing.
Central Conference Pension Committee is focusing on three countries
initially: Mozambique, Liberia and Zimbabwe. A study team will
visit those countries next spring and summer.
A UMNS file photo by Nancye Willis
United Methodist pastor Jo�o Tene Ngale and his wife visit with a group
in Mozambique studying the pensions system outside the U.S.
United Methodist pastor Jo�o Tene Ngale and his wife Serafina visit
with Jerald Scott, a staff member of the General Board of Global
Ministries and other members of a fact-finding group in Mozambique to
gather information to inform study of the feasibility of establishing a
viable pensions system in the United Methodist Church's central
conferences outside the United States. Ngale died soon after the visit
by representatives of the denomination's Global Pensions Task Force.
UMNS file photo by Nancye Willis, Photo number 03-477, Accompanies UMNS
committee is developing different models for each country’s
circumstances, trying to determine how best to support a national
infrastructure like Mozambique’s, which offers social security; support
an existing church pension system, such as Zimbabwe’s; and provide
coverage from scratch where no system exists, as in Liberia.
addressing emergency pension funding in Africa, the committee will
focus on Russia and Eastern Europe, then the Philippines, Boigegrain
The church’s central conference pension initiative
fund already has received $716,000 for the permanent program. The
initiative’s funds are kept separate from the pension plans of U.S.
clergy and lay employees, so the U.S. plans are not affected in any way.
far, support for the initiative’s fund has come primarily from U.S.
annual conferences redirecting the yearly checks that they receive from
the United Methodist Publishing House to augment their clergy pensions.
Since the 1700s, the Publishing House has provided a portion of its
earnings for that purpose, carrying on a tradition with spiritual roots
reaching back to Methodism’s founder, John Wesley, who emphasized the
need to care for retired pastors and their dependents.
those yearly checks is a good way for annual conferences to support the
initiative, said Bishop Ben Chamness, chairperson of the pension agency
and the Central Conference Pension Committee.
would certainly encourage more of our conferences to do that,” he said.
“We really need all of them to participate so that we can do the
funding that we need.”
the past two years, 34 of the denomination’s 63 U.S. conferences have
contributed their checks. The remainder of the $716,000 has come from
other donors. It’s a lot of money but a small fraction of the total
need to raise $20 (million) to $25 million,” Boigegrain said. She
described that as a rough estimate of what is needed to provide a
her board directors, Boigegrain said the Central Conference Pension
Committee is focusing immediately on fund raising and education.
education and communication process will include speaking with groups
around the church, such as the jurisdictional colleges of bishops, the
Connectional Table, conference treasurers and the top executives at
other general agencies. The Central Conference Pension Committee will
emphasize that it will not compete for church dollars already allocated
to other purposes. The fund-raising work will involve seeing where and
how money can be raised.
funding element is one of the most pressing needs, Chamness said in an
interview. “We really can’t make a lot of decisions about the pension
program until we are able to see what kind of funding we can raise, so
that’s going to be one of our concentrated efforts during this
quadrennium. And we do plan to go beyond United Methodist Publishing
House funds for other funds. We have a team that is working on designing
that approach for funding.”
2000, the committee’s predecessor task force set a 12-year time frame
for the planning and other work necessary for permanent funding.
However, that doesn’t mean the permanent funding will be in place by
2012, board officials said.
all of the central conferences are in dire straits. The Northern Europe
Conference, for example, is affluent, and its annual conferences have
strong pension systems.
Rev. Vidar Sten Bjerkseth, a board member from Norway, said he would
seek support for the pension initiative when he returns home to his
annual conference, and he would contact neighboring conferences about
providing support too.
is necessary for the rich annual conferences in the central conferences
in Europe to get a lot of information about this work and also see if
they have possibilities to give contributions to raise the funding of
this central conference pension plan,” he said. If those annual
conferences start giving their contributions from the Publishing House,
“that would be a good start.”
More information about the initiative can be found at www.gbophb.org online.
*Tanton is managing editor of United Methodist News Service.