Compare apples to apples

I appreciated the insert in the January-February issue of Together attempting to explain the complexity of issues surrounding clergy pensions and benefits. It is a complex and emotional issue. As the Conference Council of Finance and Administration (CFA) chairman in the former North Conference, we struggled when we discontinued the health insurance subsidy entirely for new retirees. We made that recommendation as a result of projecting costs and conference income and determining that if we continued with the then current program, in 15 or 20 years (I don’t recall exactly) our total Conference apportionment (tithe) would go towards clergy retirement benefits.

The articles in the Together insert reminded us that clergy pensions are much better now than they were 20 years ago and the articles did a good job of explaining the history of pensions and Medicare supplements. Where the articles fell short, however, was in their assumptions. The graph was not that helpful. It attempted to compare rates of increase among each of the categories, but most of us try to compare Median Household Income to Denominational Average Compensation and Conference minimum salaries. Medians, Averages and Minimums are not comparable. We should be comparing Conference Median or Average Salaries to Indiana State Median or Average Household income. And the statement made saying, “…if clergy salaries have increased at far greater than the cost of living during the past few decades (as has been demonstrated elsewhere in this publication)…” is not based on what was presented. There was no cost of living graph, or a graph of average/median Conference salary increase.

To help us make the best decisions for our clergy and our conference, please give us facts that compare apples to apples, and don’t make assumptions that are not based on presented data.

Rev. Paul Arnold,
Trinity UMC, Lafayette

Conference Board Response

The Indiana Conference Board of Pensions and Health Insurance appreciates the Rev. Paul Arnold’s insights and encourages such dialogue. Arnold’s keen reading rightly caught an oversight, as an additional piece addressing cost-of-living increases was not ready by press time and did not appear in Together. Unfortunately, the statement to which he refers was not caught in our editing process.

The Board disagrees, however, that providing the Denominational Average Compensation (DAC), the federal median household income, and the minimum compensation package is not helpful or meaningful. It is quite helpful and very instructive to learn that the conference minimum compensation package (minimum salary plus 25 percent housing) has been consistently gaining ground on the federal median household income.

While it would be more location-specific to use the Conference Average Compensation (CAC) instead of the DAC, a reference was made to the fact that in recent years the CAC has been about $2,000 higher than the DAC. Conversely, the Indiana median household income has consistently been lower than the comparable federal figures (specifically, approximately 90 percent of the federal median household income in the past decade). Taken together, the higher CAC and the lower Indiana median household income underscores the point that today’s Indiana United Methodist clergy are much more adequately compensated than clergy of previous generations. – Greg Rittenhouse, chairman of the Indiana Conference Board of Pensions and Health Insurance