Peeter Piirisild: Church Pension Eases Life
by the Rev. Kathy Noble
TALLINN, Estonia (UMNS)-"My one desire or wish is that, if God should give me health, then I want to serve his kingdom until the day I die," says the Rev. Peeter Piirisild.
At 80 and retired, Piirisild continues to serve a small group of Estonians who gather each week for Sunday worship and midweek prayers at the United Methodist church in Narva on the Estonia-Russia border. The voice he combined with those of others to sing for church groups during the Soviet years is still strong.
In retirement, Piirisild receives both a church pension of EEK$861 (about US$86) each month and a state pension of about US$210 for the years he worked in furniture factories in Tallinn and Narva.
Piirisild used savings from his factory job in Tallinn to live when he went to Narva. Most of the congregation was retired, so he chose to serve as a volunteer. "I did it, and I truly knew it was the right thing to do," he says.
What savings remained were reduced significantly with monetary reforms in the country.
"They pretty much went down to zero. For example, if somebody had 10,000 in his account, then he only got 1,000. So that was a big problem," Piirisild explains. "And for retired people, that was a great hit because they had collected money either for their funeral or for living.
"Those retired people who don't get any extra support, even from the church, they, of course, cannot allow themselves everything," he continues. "They wouldn't even think about coming from Narva to Tallinn. The bus ticket is about EEK$100 (US$10), and that's quite a lot of money."
The United Methodist Church is working to ensure that all retired pastors and their surviving spouses have adequate income in retirement through the Central Conference Pension Initiative. The initiative, mandated by the 2000 and 2004 General Conferences, is developing models for pension systems to serve retired church pastors, lay workers and surviving spouses in Europe, Asia and Africa. More information is available at www.ccpi-umc.org.
The church pension has eased Piirisild's life.
"Before the church support I really had to work," he continues. "I had to ask what can I afford myself or not. But now I'm doing well with this."
Piirisild, who never married, lives in a fifth-floor, two-room apartment in Narva. He shares the rent with a friend who spends most of the year in Finland. He admits to having fallen a couple of times but says, "I can truly thank God for giving me quite a good health.
"At the moment, I can say that the money I get is enough to live on normally," he says. "I don't have to make any choices. I have everything that I need and can also support some people who are poorer than me if they need help."
Piirisild began serving the Narva congregation in 1972. He saw the congregation grow to about 100 in the mid-70s and 80s as "a lot of young people came to know the Lord," he says. "We were not allowed to visit prisons or hospitals (during the communist years), but when my church members were sick and in the hospital, I always visited them."
Estonia gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Church membership declined as young people were drawn to newer churches.
Piirisild looks forward to "the time again when more people would come to know the Lord, believers would become more active (and) start praying more, and they would also pray for the government and that God would give us peaceful lives."
*Noble is editor of Interpreter Magazine, a publication of United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.
Date posted: Apr 10, 2008