Author: Gary Beach
Wespath, the United Methodist pension fund, has been clear about the choices confronting the UMC at the Special Called Session of General Conference that there are ramifications to the pension plans of the UMC depending on which choice is made by General Conference. Any decisions made by that conference that would substantially change the UMC would trigger necessary adaptations to the plans and how they are funded. Each of the three choices has different ramifications or they would be different in scope.
Attempts to keep the church together as in the One Church Plan could result in the fewest problems. However, even in that plan, if churches decide they can no longer in good conscience be a part of the UMC there are legacy costs of our pension plans such churches must cover before they can be released from the UMC. While Wespath has not yet released pension liability numbers for each Annual Conference they have indicated they will be substantial even for Conferences that have to this point considered themselves fully funded. For Conferences not fully funded the liability would be even greater.
A similar result would occur if the Connectional Conference plan is chosen although the hope is that most churches would find a home within one of the three Connectional conferences thus having fewer choosing to leave the UMC. However, for Wespath the administration of pension and benefit plans for three separate Connectional Conferences would be challenging especially as, over time, the Connectional Conferences might choose to vary their pension and benefit plans one from the other.
The largest impact appears to me to come from the adoption of the Traditional Plan. And that is because there may well be a large number of Annual Conferences or local churches who would choose to no longer to be a part of the UMC. Because there is no provision in the Traditional Plan for a single entity to which all those churches and Conferences could affiliate then pension liability would immediately accrue for all such churches and conferences.
It is my hope that Wespath can provide the amount of liability for each Annual Conference prior to the Special Called Session as that number could impact the decisions made. To act without that information and its impact on Annual Conferences and local churches would be irresponsible.
When considering any proposal, folks should ask themselves:
1) Does this plan adequately care for the financial promises we have made to our retired and active clergy?
2) How clear is the path for the financial and administrative implementation of this plan? How much is left up for decision making in the years to come?
3) Does this plan provide a clear framework for the ownership or distribution of assets at every level of the connection?
4) What level of risk does this plan pose for future litigation and the forced disposal and distribution of assets by the courts?
5) Is this plan good stewardship of the church’s resources?
Rev. Gary A. Beach is the retired treasurer of the Great Plains Annual Conference
Read the Appendix to the Way Forward Report that was written by Wespath Here