Pilot Projects Aim to Help Central Conference Clergy
Pension Support Planned for All of the Central Conferences
Their stories are unique, yet they share a common thread: years of commitment to the Church followed by a retirement marked by hardship. While retired U.S. pastors and surviving spouses receive significant pension benefits, many of the roughly 2,000 retired pastors, surviving spouses and lay workers in the central conferences struggle to survive with little or no retirement income.
For instance, the Reverend Daniel Islam joined the Liberia Annual Conference in 1951 and served rural parishes for most of his 31 years of ministry. He often went unpaid and occasionally received his salary in rice and other food.
"The salary was very low, and sometimes I had to walk to get to different places to preach," said Rev. Islam in an interview with United Methodist Communications. "It wasn't sufficient, but I had already given my mind to carry the good news, so I just had to get by."
His financial struggles only worsened in retirement.
The Reverend Francis Marovi also has donated most of his life to the Church. He served for 48 years as an active United Methodist clergy in Sierra Leone. For another 10 years, he continued to help the ministry of local churches. Since he retired, Rev. Marovi has received a Church pension of only $12 a month.
For faithful clergy like Revs. Islam and Marovi, relief is coming.
A General Conference 2000 charge to "launch a pension support plan for the central conferences" resulted in the creation of Central Conference Pension Initiative (CCPI). Site visits to the central conferences began in 2004 to assess the needs of clergy and surviving spouses and to determine how the CCPI could help. Delegates to General Conference 2004 continued supporting CCPI efforts by passing a petition to provide immediate pension support in the form of emergency grants from the General Board of Global Ministries.
The initiative also has received gifts and pledges from individual donors, annual conferences, foundations and other sources. For instance, during the 2007 annual conference season, 61 of 63 U.S. annual conferences donated their United Methodist Publishing House distributions ("Cokesbury checks") to the CCPI.
So far, the funds received have allowed the CCPI to develop pilot projects in Liberia and Mozambique, augmenting pension systems for clergy who have served the Church and their surviving spouses.
Hardships in Liberia
Liberia is Africa's oldest republic. Political upheaval and economic instability in the 1980s and 1990s caused a bloody, 14-year civil war. Approximately 250,000 of Liberia's more than 3.8 million citizens were killed, and thousands more fled the country. The fighting finally ended in 2003.
In a country that is rich with natural resources, the people are very poor. The World Bank estimates that the average income in Liberia is $130 per year; more than half of Liberians survive on just 50 cents a day.
In Liberia's capital, Monrovia, electricity and running water are unaffordable and often unavailable. The city also has widespread corruption, unemployment and illiteracy.
"It's a long road to go. The challenges remain awesome," said Liberia's President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in an interview with BBC News in July 2007.
The hardships faced by the citizens of Liberia have dire consequences. The life expectancy of Liberian men is only 45 years, more than 20 years less than in the United States; Liberian women live two years more than the men, on average.
Disasters in Mozambique
The situation in Mozambique is just as grim as in Liberia.
The Republic of Mozambique in southeastern Africa has a population of 21 million. More than half of its residents live in extreme poverty—especially those in rural areas.
The country has been plagued by civil war and famine. Between 1977 and 1992, roughly 1 million Mozambicans died from fighting or starvation during a war that devastated the country's economy and land. After a period of relative stability and economic growth, much of the country was destroyed by floods in 2001, followed by a severe drought. In 2007, the country faced more flooding, causing thousands to seek shelter in resettlement centers.
The impact that war, natural disasters, famine and poverty have had on the citizens of Mozambique is sobering. More than half of Mozambique's citizens live on less than $1 a day. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that between 2004 and 2006, 44 percent of Mozambicans were malnourished. The average life expectancy of Mozambicans is only 43 years.
The Church Is Making a Difference
Currently, the 9,300 central conference clergy serve more than 3.5 million Church members. In the past four years, the Central Conference Pension Committee (CCPC)—which includes the general secretaries from the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits, the General Council on Finance and Administration, the General Board of Global Ministries, the United Methodist Publishing House and the United Methodist Communications—has visited retirees, met with conference leadership and worked with the nations' governments and their available banking, financial management and administration systems to determine how to improve Church pension programs.
The first CCPI pilot project began in 2006 in Liberia, where there are approximately 240 retirees and 250 surviving spouses in need of retirement income. Payments of $55 per quarter began to be distributed to eligible retirees in January 2007.
The active participation of local church leaders in the Liberia Annual Conference—who organize contact information for retired clergy and surviving spouses, help to distribute funds, and contribute financially—has been key to the success of the pension program in Liberia. To date, the participants have received five consistent quarterly payments.
Bishop John Innis of the Liberia Annual Conference commented on the impact of the pilot programs. He said, "Retirees in Liberia are very grateful that these funds are reliable. We can depend upon them from quarter to quarter."
Drawing from their experiences in Liberia and applying lessons learned about developing a viable pension program, the CCPC decided in November 2007 that the two annual conferences in Mozambique would be the site of the CCPI's second pilot project.
In Mozambique, there are more than 170 Church congregations with 160,000 members in two annual conferences. Unlike in Liberia, a small government pension program already has been established in Mozambique. However, the funds retirees receive are insufficient.
The groundwork has been completed, and the Mozambique project, which will affect both annual conferences, is being finalized. The CCPI will start providing pension funds to 90 clergy and surviving spouses in Mozambique on a monthly basis in January 2009.
Although the amount of pension funds received will vary, in general, pastors will receive up to $150 monthly, including both federal funds and those received from the Church.
The pension systems developed by the CCPI are intended to complement, not replace, country-developed plans. The goal of the CCPI is to create systems that are self-sustaining and self-sufficient, and that are customized for each country.
According to Dan O'Neill, managing director of central conference pensions, "Many of the central conference nations do have government-developed pension systems. However, in many cases, the payments are woefully inadequate to support the basic needs of clergy in retirement."
There are 66 annual conferences outside of the United States. Through the CCPI, the Church anticipates that a pension system will be defined for all of the central conferences by 2014.
"It sounds like a daunting task until you realize that a multiplicity of factors converge to make our charge more feasible," said O'Neill. "Eleven of the central conferences in Northern and Western Europe do not need our assistance, and 21 of the remaining 55 conferences are in the Philippines, requiring only one solution.
"Also, in comparison to the more than 70,000 clergy in the United States, there are only 9,000 clergy in the central conferences, and only 2,000 are currently retired and in immediate need. Because the number of clergy the CCPI will serve is smaller, the task we face is definable."
O'Neill points out that even though there may be a relatively small number of clergy in the central conferences, their need is enormous. He insists that "Providing these ministers, who have given their working years to the Church, with a means to live with security in their retirement, is a matter of justice."
For pastors in the central conferences, the help cannot come soon enough. Yet one thing that links these faithful retired pastors and surviving spouses is a pervasive sense of hope. And as the CCPI reaches its goals, their prayers will be answered.
To learn more about the CCPI, visit About CCPI, or make a pledge online today.
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