$2 million needed to close the gap

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Central Conference Pension Initiative (CCPI) is 90 percent of the way to its fundraising goal, but still $2 million short of the minimum amount needed to establish pension funds in every central conference.

The initiative was created to provide long-term financial support for clergy and their spouses who serve the church outside the United States, only to be left with little or no financial support for food and basic necessities once they retire.

Barbara Boigegrain, top executive of the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits, says clergy who serve all their lives providing mission and ministry in developing countries live out their later years in abject poverty, retiring with literally nothing.

She recalled a story of a retiring pastor in Angola who was presented with two sheets of metal upon retirement – intended to be the roof over his head in his later years. ”Can you imagine the destitution of going off with no income, no community support, literally carrying what is to be the roof over your head?” she asked.

“I don’t think the people called Methodist mean for the pastors that serve them to live that way. I think they want them to be comfortable and have an adequate retirement and that’s why it’s imperative that we all give and support this effort.”

In the current global economic crisis, the need becomes more urgent than ever. A recent report from the World Bank predicted that the global recession will thrust an additional 89 million people into “extreme poverty” by the end of next year.

“The CCPI is one of the most important efforts by the church to recognize and honor service rendered faithfully and to act justly. It was and is the right thing to do,” said Bishop Gregory Palmer, president of the Council of Bishops. ”I am humbled and grateful for the service of colleagues in the Central Conference and the generosity of those who have stepped up to help make their lives more livable in retirement.”

The goal of the CCPI is to raise $20 million, with more than $18 million contributed so far. However, Boigegrain says that a total of $25 million is really needed in order to provide benefits that will enable retirees to live at a level above mere subsistence.

“Twenty million is the basic amount, but we’d like to have $25 million so we could make the benefits a little more generous. They are very low. Right now, we are just headed for subsistence,” said Boigegrain.

So far, pension funds have been started in two countries – Liberia and Mozambique – and several others are underway. The monthly pension payment is $20 for Liberia and $128 in Mozambique, because of the difference in the cost of living.

As a short-term response, emergency grants were authorized in 2004 for retired clergy and surviving spouses in developing countries who are in extreme need to enable them to at least buy food. Once a pension plan is set up in a country and retirees begin to receive active benefits, the emergency grant payments stop.

The Central Conference Pension Initiative hopes to be able to work with annual conferences in the U.S. on fundraising campaigns to help raise the additional money by the end of the year.

Individuals can also help support the CCPI by making a contribution through their church or donate online at www.ccpi-umc.org.

“The CCPI is one of the most important efforts by the church to recognize and honor service rendered faithfully and to act justly.”

Gregory Palmer