I was privileged to witness the grassroots effort to secure the Minister’s Bill of Rights and The Ministerial Retirement Program. Let us save the Bill of Rights for another time. My present concern is for the allocation of Ministerial Retirement funds for the support of Wespath fees.
There are a few still alive who were part of the early years when these funds were designated in the budget and went through different administrative changes. More recently, active pastors were allocated a share of the annual sum according to a formula of tenure. Although I entered the pension system between 1979-1981, I do not remember ever receiving more than a hundred dollars or so in any given year. (If you ever got more, please confirm on your statement and let me know when.)
A driving theme among some of the departed advocates (Dr. OU Ifill, Dr. John G. Ragin, & Dr. AD Tyson, Jr) was that the connectional church made a “pension” allocation for bishops. Other salaried clergy were deserving of the same consideration. Keep in mind, this is before bishops and general officers were put into an annuity arrangement. Bishops and general officers elected prior to 2000 receive half salary (about $30,000) per year. The last person grandfathered will retire in 2024. Essentially, there will be 8 bishops and less than 10 general officers eligible for half salary pensions after 2024.
Until our connectional church is positioned to make significant contributions toward clergy retirement, the use of these funds for the Wespath administration fee would be an equitable reallocation in the spirit consistent with the founding of the fund. The current Wespath fee is about $114/year/person. That, times 4,000, would come under the amount currently budgeted (>$500k). Paying the Wespath fee for the AME participants would be a fair way to benefit all clergy equally. The $114/year of value represents more than most have/will receive. The savings to the participants will add to their annuity account. We will truly see a benefit!
I heard gossip that one of our Commissions wanted to do exactly what is outlined above. While I agree such a move should not be accomplished by the fiat of a Commission, the intent would be consistent with the original goal: the connectional church providing retirement benefits for clergy as it provides for bishops and general officers. We no longer have a continuing pension program for bishops and general officers. The program comes closer to extinction with each transition. It is time to realign our thinking on the Ministerial Retirement Program. This is an equitable alternative.
Also, it would be interesting to know how much Wespath life insurance would run.