The board of directors for the Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) met last week to report on the financial status of the organization, discuss the 2017 benefits plan, and preview its new online portal for members and, for the first time, employers. 

The employer portal, scheduled for a July launch, will allow employers to configure benefits packages offered to employees, facilitate employee contribution calculations and provides flexibility for a variety of ministry contexts. No longer an “all or nothing” benefits plan, employers can select a variety of options for their employees, including:

  • the Pension Plan
  • the Retirement Savings Plan
  • medical coverage in the PPO and/or an exclusive provider organization
  • death and disability coverage
  • availability of dental, supplemental death, and supplemental disability coverage

The configuration tool will also contain employer-specific pricing based on a number of factors such as geographic location and demographic of covered employees. The plan provides transitional support through 2019 for organizations that incur higher costs at certain coverage levels. 

“Eighty percent of our employers have one employee—the installed pastor,” said Frank Spencer, Board of Pensions president. “It becomes more manageable, especially for small churches.” 

Noting a trend of declining membership and the options churches have in using local benefits providers, Spencer said, “We know that employers overwhelmingly choose other benefits plans other than the Board of Pensions.” He hopes the new tools will convince existing employers to continue with the Board of Pensions and attract new employers, such as Presbyterian colleges, seminaries and retirement living communities, to begin using its options. 

Other business included church engagement and a discussion of investment strategies. The Rev. John H. Hougen, one of the board’s two representatives to the Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) committee, reported on the ongoing engagement with corporations to influence their social responsibility. The board will continue to follow MRTI guidelines, including a recent decision not to divest from fossil fuel corporations in favor of dialog.

Total assets in the Board of Pensions balanced portfolio were at $8.2 billion on Dec. 31, 2015, even after investments incurred a 1.1 percent decrease in 2015. The balanced portfolio is the investment fund for the Pension Plan, Death and Disability Plan, Endowment Fund, and Assistance Program as well as for restricted gifts made to the Board of Pensions. 

Wayne Meisel, Director of the Center for Faith and Service at McCormick Theological Seminary, leads a group session at the spring 2016 Board of Pensions meeting.

Wayne Meisel, Director of the Center for Faith and Service at McCormick Theological Seminary, leads a group session at the spring 2016 Board of Pensions meeting. —Gregg Brekke

The Rev. Wayne Meisel, Director of the Center for Faith and Service at McCormick Theological Seminary, presented a session on church engagement to the board, calling on his experience as one of the founding minds behind AmeriCorps, Teach for America, City Year and the Bonner Scholarships. 

Meisel asserted, “Faith inspires, sustains and deepens our commitment to others,” while questioning why young people who are passionate about service have no connection to the church. “There is a great divorce between service and faith, and faith and service,” he said, challenging the board to look for ways they can bring the two together to meet the future needs of the church where vocation, he predicts, will be very different than known models. 

“I predicted in an article that in 10 years 50 percent of minister will not be operating in a church, or funded by a church budget,” Meisel said. “The future of the church depends on our ability to find and recruit good people.” 

Seven members who served on board of directors since 2008 were recognized for their service as their terms expired. The terms of Dr. Robert A. Gorsky, Judith A. Harris, the Rev. John H. Hougen, Linda J. Jacobsen, Frank S. James III, Dr. Bettina B. Kilburn and Joseph M. Kinard expire at the conclusion of the 222nd General Assembly. 

“These individuals made significant contributions in the areas of healthcare, assistance, pension policy, and more,” said John Hamm, chair of the board of directors. “Each one has left a legacy, and we are grateful for the gifts of leadership, acumen, fellowship, and faith that they brought to our work together.” 

Leadership was elected for the upcoming year; John Hamm as chair, the Rev. Dr. Lindley G. DeGarmo as first vice chair, and the Rev. Dr. Fairfax F. Fair as second vice chair.

Further details are available at the Board of Pensions site and in the Spring 2016 Board Bulletin