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Committee Approves Pilot Program for Liberia Pension

by Linda Green

MAPUTO, Mozambique (UMNS) - The executive committee of the United Methodist Council of Bishops has approved a proposal to the denomination's finance agency to pilot a pension program in the church's Liberia Annual Conference.

The proposal will use over-funding of $1 million in a prior United Methodist pension plan that existed until 1982.

The bishops' executive committee, meeting Oct. 31-Nov. 1 in Mozambique, approved the recommendation to the United Methodist General Council on Finance and Administration that the earnings from the over-funding in the church's former Ministerial Reserve Pension Fund (known as the Pre-'82 Plan) be lent for two years to implement a pension plan for clergy and church lay workers in Liberia beginning in 2007.

The earnings on $1 million of the $5.6 million in the over-funded pool will be used to start an income stream. After two years, the funding of the pension plan would come from money raised by the Central Conference Pension Fund. 

The idea to use money in the Pre-'82 Plan came from the Central Conference Pension Committee on the recommendation of Sandra K. Lackore, top executive of the finance agency, with support from the episcopal leadership of the General Council on Finance and Administration and the chairperson of the agency's episcopal services committee. The Central Conference Pension Committee met Oct. 30, prior to the meeting of the Council of Bishops, which is gathering for the first time outside the United States.

The bishops' action "is giving us the interest for two years from the over-funding of the Pre-'82 jurisdictional bishops' pension plan to fund the pension pilot in Liberia," said Barbara Boigegrain, top executive of the United Methodist General Board of Pension and Health Benefits.

The denomination had the Pre-'82 Plan in place prior to the current ministerial pension plan. It was a defined benefit and contribution plan of the church that was supported by the denomination's annual (regional) conferences.

"This is something that the church should celebrate," Boigegrain said. "The bishops are leading the way in helping to develop the Central Conference Pension Fund for retired clergy, lay workers and surviving spouses in developing countries."

"This is groundbreaking and is a celebration of the church's global nature and that we are in mission together," said Liberian Bishop John Innis. For the Liberia Annual Conference to be chosen as the first pension pilot project in the African central conferences is "commendable" and "falls under the umbrella of making disciples for the transformation of the world," he said.

Leveraging the future
The United Methodist Church, directed by its 2000 and 2004 General Conferences, has been working to develop pension models to help pastors and church layworkers in annual conferences outside the United States retire with dignity, hope and an adequate pension.

Even though the denomination's greatest growth is in Africa, Eastern Europe and the Philippines, pension funds are minimal or nonexistent for pastors in those areas. Many of the pastors have faithfully served for 20, 30, 40 or more years. When they retire, they find it difficult to provide for their daily lives.

"We are taking a resource that comes from the Pre-'82 pension plan and using it to leverage the future," Lackore said.

The pension committee, under the auspices of the United Methodist General Board of Pension and Health Benefits, has been leading a Central Conference Pension Initiative. The committee consists of members from five church agencies: the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits, General Council on Finance and Administration, General Board of Global Ministries, United Methodist Publishing House and United Methodist Communications.

"The Central Conference Pension Committee knows that it is urgent to get pensions started in the central conferences, and we hope to have pilot plans started in three conferences by the 2008 General Conference," Boigegrain said.

The problem, she said, has been the lack of resources to support sustainable systems in the central conferences. The United Methodist General Board of Pension and Health Benefits has been working on developing funding streams in order to implement pension plans in the conferences, beginning in Africa. The committee 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.

"We are making progress on the Central Conference Pension Initiative," said Bishop Ben Chamness, president of the committee and of the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits. "It is a big undertaking and will take time to bring it to fruition."

In addition to conversations surrounding fundraising and administration, the committee on Oct. 30 decided that money from a Central Conference Benefit Fund would be used to implement the pilot pension scheme in the Liberia Annual Conference.

Currently, the fund has $2.25 million in contributions from annual conferences that donated money they had received annually from the Publishing House to augment their pension plans and from individuals and churches.

Boigegrain said that in order for an income stream to begin for the pension pilot first in Liberia, an investment of $2 million is needed, which would result in about 5 percent from the amount or $100,000 a year to fund the pension program.

Emergency grants
Delegates to the 2004 General Conference, The United Methodist Church's top legislative assembly, heard of the plight of retired pastors and surviving spouses in the African central conferences. The delegates were so moved that they passed a petition to provide immediate pension support in the form of emergency grants from the General Board of Global Ministries.

According to Paul Dirdak, chief executive of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, Global Ministries and the Board of Pension are beginning to make payments of $76 to pensioners who are retired pastors or surviving spouses in African central conferences.

Dirdak told the Central Conference Pension Committee that the emergency grants "were in response to the African bishops' appeal (for) an interim emergency supplement for pensions for clergy and surviving spouses." The pension initiative, he said, "is using $100,000 per year for this purpose" and is dividing that amount evenly among the African claimants whose names are reported to both the general boards of Global Ministries and Pension and Health Benefits.

Chamness said large-scale investments are needed, such as real estate or equities, to produce ongoing income for pensions. "This is needed to have a lasting and enduring effect of providing pensions for the clergy and lay workers," he said.

Pension for the retiring clergy and surviving spouses and lay workers in the central conferences is "a justice issue," Chamness said. "We need to address the needs of our clergy that have given themselves so faithfully across the years in countries that are not able to support them in their retirement years."

More information about the initiative can be found at online.

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

See Also...
Topic: Finance Health United Methodist Church Methodism Older adults
Geographic Region: AfricaLiberia
Source: United Methodist News Service

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Date posted: Nov 01, 2006