Don’t Victimize/Penalize the Faithful

Our Pension/Annuity programs were never perfect. While we were patient with tweaking and micro-improvements, there were always those who harbored suspicion, distrust, and low confidence in the system to monitor and protect assets.

Strict enforcement of the 12% Rule caused many to put ALL their church could afford for retirement in the system. They were not allowed to contribute only $312 twice a year. They could not put the difference between $624 and 12% into a private plan. Moreover, few were in comfortable enough pastoral situations to pay 12% on housing allowance or annual parsonage rental value. In short, most full time servants of the church began the process under-capitalized.

This makes the notion that “we” should wait on the proper investment of “our” remaining annuity funds outrageous! The faithful should not be penalized, or further victimized, because they followed the rules, and they served an institution unable to adequately provide fair, sufficient retirement benefits.

I have heard the arguments that the annuity funds are “the Church’s” to manage until participants separate. There are a few responses to this assertion, which I will hold for another time and expert commentary. The moral/ethical/practical question is why would the Church attempt to profit from, and withhold, Legacy Funds until the time of separation. Use your managerial authority to empower the participants!

Although we have not yet been informed of our individual statistics associated with a reasonable “expectation” of earnings on our annuity contributions over the last 20 years, there are some things which are quite clear:

1. The AME Church could have entered an arrangement, like our current one with Wespath, a long time ago.

2. When we transitioned from “pension” to “annuity” in the retirement presentation, we also should have been responsive to the cry for individually diverse investment options. This plea has been sounded for over 40 years. Had we been better informed, and less loyal, there would have been legal actions decades ago!

3. Although individual choices would have yielded varied earnings, many would have fared better with personal investment choices. All would have no one to blame for poor returns but themselves. We need more control over our funds NOW!

4. Why would anyone think it appropriate to bring the horse back to a renovated old corral, when we know the benefits and advantages of running the expanse of a free range?

5. Some of the same people who now watch over the funds have been in “watching” places for over a decade. Are they doing “better” when they are not vigorously leading the effort to rollover our funds?

Eventually, we must forgive and move on from the tragedy of the Annuity Crisis. Anger and lament need a final chapter. We do not deserve a prolonged reminder of our loss with every statement of under-earning and feeble restitution.

Here is the relevant question. Will our leaders do the right thing by rolling over our share of available funds, or will we spend additional hundreds of thousands of dollars in new litigation? Reasonableness or Receivership? Don’t penalize/victimize the faithful!

Are We Serious about Liturgical Prayer?

Do you remember when we would not talk or move during the prayer in worship? Even ushers were still, except when others had to be called to order during prayer! What happened? Are we lacking in faith or understanding? Do we believe that prayer, even in church worship, is our real communication with the real God?

Perhaps we do not understand that during the communion liturgy we are PRAYING. We Pray the General Confession. We Pray for Pardon, Humility and in Adoration. We Pray the Consecration. Do we even recognize PRAYER as part of our liturgical experience? What do clergy and lay think or focus on when we PRAY? Are they words on a page, or are they sentiments of our hearts?

It disturbs me when I see bishops, pastors, and stewardesses moving about, or engaged in conversation, during prayer. It may be difficult when we are trying to tweak logistics, but what good is smooth execution if we have dishonored the sacred moment with motion and talk…even seemingly important talk.

It is also disheartening when I hear clergy and lay rattle off prayers as though the words have no meaning. You have heard them “recite” the Lord’s Prayer. If you are “reciting,” are you “praying?”

We need liturgical reform! We must raise up a new generation of worshippers who go to the sanctuary to pray, for real. Clergy and laity must respect moments of prayer with focus and reverence. What if we are not truly praying when we sound the call, “Let us pray!“? What if God listens with the same nonchalant attitude with which we often pray?

Let’s get more disciplined about prayer, especially in our congregational worship! There are blessings missed because we are absent in spirit while present in body in the sanctuary.