Saturday, October 23, 2010

Church Pension Fund and Small Church

Case study:

            In Rural, NC, St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church is the only Episcopal church in the county. It has ministered for over 100 years to a congregation that includes faculty and students of the state college across the street from the church building, workers at the hosiery and cotton mills and the furniture factory, and to farmers and retirees. Since her ordination in January, 1981 Mother Mary Schereskewsky has served as deacon-in-charge and then as rector. Mother Mary was born in the area in 1950, educated at the college, and taught in the local schools until she went to seminary in 1977.  From 1980 until 2000 the diocesan college work budget and the offerings of the church made it possible to pay her at the diocesan minimum.  When the diocesan support was ended the parish was able to pay her $40,000 a year salary and housing allowance, three-fourths of the diocesan minimum. Shortly after she came to St. Joseph’s Mary married a  faculty member five years older than she was; they had three children who have been educated at the local college, taking advantage of the staff subsidy. She has served as dean of the Western deanery, on various  iocesan committees including the Standing Committee and as a three time deputy to General Convention. She has also taught part-time and served as field hockey coach at the college.

            The mills and the factory are about to close, and the parish expects its budget to be reduced by half.  Mother Mary and the parish had expected her to officially retire when she has 30 years in ordained ministry. Her Highest Average Compensation is $40,000 and she was expecting a pension of $ 18,000 a year (HAC 30 Years of Credited  Service x 1.5%). The pension plus the $22,000 the reduced parish budget can afford would maintain her income at $40,000.

            But this week Mother Mary received the same Memo from the Church Pension Fund as I did,  "Please note that as of January 1, 2011 clergy who are under age 65 will not be approved for an exception if they plan to continue serving in the position they filled just prior to retirement.”


Is this an appropriate response to the situation presented above?

What recommendations would you make to Mother Mary and to St. Joseph’s and the diocese?

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