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Mozambique pastors to get pensions in pilot project

By Linda Green*
Nov. 6, 2007 | LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. (UMNS)

United Methodist pastors and surviving spouses in Mozambique will receive additional pension benefits beginning in 2009 following a decision by an interagency pensions committee.

As a part of an initiative to provide pensions for United Methodist clergy serving churches outside the United States, representatives from five United Methodist agencies agreed Nov. 3 to make the two annual (regional) conferences in Mozambique the denomination's second pilot pension project.

General Conference, the top legislative body of the denomination, asked the United Methodist Board of Pension and Health Benefits to find ways to fund pensions for pastors serving in Africa, Eastern Europe and the Philippines who often retire after more than 40 years of service without resources to sustain daily life.

The committee's action will provide additional pension benefits to 132 ordained clergy, 32 deacons and 278 evangelists in Mozambique. The decision to focus on the sub-Saharan African nation was announced before the Nov. 4-9 session of the United Methodist Council of Bishops.

The Central Conference Pension Initiative Committee consists of members from the denomination's Board of Pension and Health Benefits, the General Council on Finance and Administration, the Board of Global Ministries, United Methodist Publishing House and United Methodist Communications.

The committee made Liberia the first pilot pension project in 2006. More than 463 retirees and surviving spouses who served the conference on the west coast of Africa now receive quarterly payments.

"This will completely change the lives of the people who gave all of their lives to the ministry of The United Methodist Church. This is a joy." –Bishop Joćo Machado

Funding for retired Mozambique pastors and surviving spouses will begin in 2009 after the initiative raises $2 million in seed money.

"This news is just like a surprise that makes me collapse with joy," said Mozambican Bishop Joćo Machado. "This will completely change the lives of the people who gave all of their lives to the ministry of The United Methodist Church. This is a joy."

Machado said he and the United Methodist Church in Mozambique will dance to express joy at being chosen as the next pilot project for the Central Conference Pension Initiative.

"I thank God and God is the one who made this happen," he said. "I am grateful to the people who selected the conference and hope that the effort will continue until all of Africa can have these blessings."

Justice in Mozambique

The United Methodist Church in Mozambique has 160,000 members in more than 170 congregations in the 23 districts of two annual conferences.

"We are confident that we are ready to make this step, and Mozambique is eager for us to help them with their pension program," said Central Texas Conference Bishop Ben Chamness, chairman of the interagency pension committee and president of the Evanston, Ill.-based pension board.

A United Methodist pension committee chaired by Bishop Ben Chamness (left)
has chosen the two annual conferences
in Mozambique headed by Bishop Joćo Machado for a pilot clergy pension
project. A UMNS photo by Linda Green.

Chamness told the Council of Bishops that "it is a justice issue for many of us." Years ago, missionaries went to many parts of the world to evangelize and bring people to Christ. However, when reaching retirement age after years of ministry, they have no sustainable income.

Last November, the Council of Bishops conducted its first meeting outside the territorial United States in Mozambique. "We were hosted in a genuine way and we feel that church is making great progress and we want to support them as we will all of the central conferences," Chamness said.

"Mozambique is an excellent place to begin a different kind pilot project," said Dan O'Neill, managing director of the initiative.

Unlike Liberia, a small government pension program already exists in Mozambique and the pension initiative to provide US$100 per month to the 50 retired pastors and US$70 to 41 surviving spouses in the North and South annual conferences would help establish a secure retirement for these individuals, according to committee's Mozambique plan overview. The country's poverty level is nearly $300 a year.

When funded, the United Methodist pension plan will provide an additional $100 per month to the 50 retired pastors and $70 to 41 surviving spouses in the two annual conferences. Combined with federal funds, pastors will receive up to $150 a month from the two programs. The average income of Mozambique citizens is $300 a month.

Publishing House funds

Each year, annual conferences in the United States receive money based on earnings from the United Methodist Publishing House to support pensions for retired clergy. In recent years, the amount for all conferences has totaled $1 million annually.

The 2000 General Conference approved legislation allowing annual conferences in the United States to make central conferences the beneficiaries of those funds. During the 2007 annual conference season, 60 of the 63 U.S. conferences forwarded their annual distribution to the Central Conference Pension Initiative, netting almost $1.4 million.

"Some of you are catching a hold of the idea, and we are very appreciative of the efforts," Chamness told his episcopal colleagues.

In 1988, the Mozambique church began depositing its disbursement from the Publishing House with the denomination's pension agency. That money will be used to supplement the $100 from the pension initiative for clergy in Mozambique.

A $20 million campaign

A campaign to raise $20 million is under way to fully fund pensions for retired central conference clergy and surviving spouses. More than $4.6 million has been raised, "putting us off to a tremendous start in this campaign," said Chad Peddicord of the campaign's fundraising organization.

During the Nov. 4 meeting, Chamness announced receiving a $1 million commitment from William and Diane Green, United Methodists in Stamford, Conn. William is a member of the Board of Pension and Health Benefits, and the Greens have ties to United Methodist congregations in Connecticut and Dallas.

Chamness said the Greens chose to support the initiative because "they saw the value of this project and considered it a privilege to help the people who are serving the church and have served the church in the central conference areas who do not have the kind of funding they need for their subsistence."

"It is a justice issue for many of us." –Bishop Ben Chamness

"I know that others will want to join them in this effort," Chamness said.

Beginning in Africa, the pensions agency is developing different models for each country's circumstances, trying to determine how best to support the different governmental and church infrastructures and frameworks, cultural differences and economic situations.

Chamness told the bishops it is important that they lead the campaign with their own pledges. "This is an exciting opportunity which can bring up the central conference with those in the United States in terms of pension," he said.

The Central Conference Pension Initiative committee is scheduled to meet next on March 4, 2008, in Chicago. For more information, visit www.gbophb.org.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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