News from the Executive Presbyter/Stated Clerk
I have a friend who is a “car guy.” I am not one of those. I turn to him whenever I have questions about my cars. I can do certain things, like change oil, replace light bulbs, and change the air filters, but these days I prefer to pay someone to do those things.
My friend has several antique cars. Not the really old, Model T type cars, but cars from when he was growing up. His first antique car was a 1954 Studebaker Hawk. Then he bought a 1950 Hudson, which was his family’s automobile (and the Driving Miss Daisy car). Finally, he came across a 1952 Studebaker bullet nose.
I have looked under the hood of the Hudson and was amazed at how empty it was. There was the engine, the usual things that hang off the engine, and little else compared to what is under the hood of a modern automobile. A lot of that extra “stuff” is for safety reasons, or emissions control, or other features that are in response to modern priorities and needs.
Transfer this discussion into the realm of the Benefits Plan of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Recently, I attended a meeting in Atlanta that was the first step in a churchwide conversation aimed at producing revisions to the Benefits Plan that will ensure it remains viable moving forward.
The Plan as we know it today is like an antique car, in that under the hood is a dues-based engine that powers it. This system worked well back in 1983 when the two benefits plans of our antecedent denominations were merged into one plan.
In 1983, we had 3.1 million members in 11,596 congregations. There were at least 12,500 ministers serving these congregations, with over 10,000 of them in the Benefits Plan. Fast forward to today. Now we are a denomination of 1.14 million active members in 8,705 congregations. I could not find statistics as to how many ministers are serving in installed positions, but the last time I heard any figures the number of congregations with an installed pastor(s) was in the low 60’s percent. Likely this means that the Benefits Plan is operating with around one-half of the installed pastors compared to 1983. That is a lot of lost revenue.
At the same time, costs in the medical side of the plan keep increasing. Dues were raised this year to 29% for medical coverage, for total dues of 39%. The Board projects that if no changes are made, the cost of the medical plan will push total dues to 50% of effective salary before the end of the current decade. This is even with all of the additional ministers not in installed positions and lay employees that were added to the Plan after the 2017 introduction of cafeteria-style coverage options.
[NOTE: The concern is largely on the medical side of the Plan. The pension side of the Plan is in solid shape, with the Board currently holding $1.50 for every dollar they need to spend. Their target threshold for this is $1.25.]
The Board of Pensions has begun what it is calling “a season of rebuilding.” They are looking at ways to alter the Plan to allow for more people to be covered, and exploring how to fund this, with an eye towards moving beyond the 1980’s-style dues system. The plan is to have a new Plan ready to roll out in 2025. Pastors, other plan members, and Sessions will want to pay attention to what is happening in this “rebuild.”
But the opportunity is yours to do more than just listen for news. The Board is looking for input from across the denomination as it works towards this rebuild. It has scheduled a series of Virtual Town Hall meetings to receive input from the denomination at large. The target is to create more choices for congregations and their pastoral leadership. If you are interested in providing feedback during a Virtual Town Hall, you need to register via the Board’s Season of Rebuilding web site:
The Virtual Town Halls will be held from 3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. on the following dates:
Again, this is your opportunity to make your voice heard in this process. It is to the Board’s credit that they are actively exploring ways to improve the Benefits Plan and lower costs for individuals and congregations. Some of the denominations that we partner with to negotiate the cost of medical procedures and prescription drugs have gotten out of providing medical insurance altogether. Together, maybe we will find a better way to continue this commitment to providing a benefits package that for the Board is work that in some form dates back over 400 years now.
Executive Presbyter / Stated Clerk
Rev. Dr. Dan Williams