On Day 2 (April 26) of the Board of Pensions’ (BOP) 2013 Western/Central Regional Benefits Consultation (RBC), the spotlight again fell on the “Changing Church.”

The approximately 200 RBC participants broke into two groups on the final morning of the RBC to attend two sessions. The different sessions ran simultaneously and both ran twice, enabling participants to attend a session of each.

One session focused on operational issues related to the Board’s three proposals for restructuring the Traditional Program medical dues model, and the other was structured as a time for questions and comments on the “Changing Church.”

The BOP hosts two RBCs a year, and each presbytery is invited to send up to four people and each synod up to two, with the board covering expenses for those who attend so that financial considerations do not prevent participation. The first 2013 RBC was held in Philadelphia the previous week.

“We’re going to need additional time to implement the changes,” said James Miles of Tres Rios Presbytery. He suggested that if the Board ultimately decides to change the dues model to something other than Option A (which would provide full family coverage at dues of 23 percent for 2014 and an anticipated 24.3 percent in 2015), then the Option A model should be used in 2014, keeping the status quo and increasing dues as needed, with the new model being implemented in 2015. “Please give the presbyteries time,” he said.

Participants asserted a need for the BOP to assist presbyteries and Committees on Ministry with implementing Option B or C (which would provide member-only coverage and give employers the option of paying for dependent coverage or sharing that cost with the employee on either a flat-rate or percentate-of-salary basis), should either be the ultimate choice, echoing feedback received last week on Day 2 of the Eastern RBC.

Citing the proposed timeline, many Committee on Ministry representatives raised the concern that enough time has not been built in between when a decision would be made (late June 2013) and when the changes would take effect (January 1, 2014).

During the breakout sessions on medical dues, Western/Central attendees requested that the support the board provides be tailored to different audiences, e.g., ministry committees and members, and in different forms, such as print and instructional-type video.

The board was also asked to continue to consider that it serves a church that is changing and was advised to be mindful of the language resources for translation it makes available.

Other comments received included the expected need for the following:

  • guidance on section 125 plans
  • increased on-site presence of Regional Representatives
  • expanded Member Services support, including additional hours of operation to accommodate the West Coast
  • clear information on taxes

Patricia Haines, the BOP’s vice-president for benefits, asked attendees to continue to provide feedback following the RBC sessions.

“We urge you to use all the communication channels available, whether it’s online, through regional representatives, with phone calls,” she said. “We ask that you continue to find ways to dialogue with us.” Comments also continue to be taken on the website the board has dedicated to healthcare, at healthcare.pensions.org.

As at the Eastern RBC, talk around changing the medical dues structure led to concerns about the “Changing Church.”

“We all seem to be closet congregationalists these days,” said Bill Davnie of Twin Cities Area Presbytery. “There’s a sense that we’re trying to be what we believe to be connectional Presbyterians in a world that doesn’t do that anymore.”

His comment played off the RBC keynote, The Changing Church, by the Reverend Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, who referred to a “do-it-together church” in a “do-it-yourself world.” Watch the presentation in it's entirety here.

Hazel Watson of Sacramento Presbytery said what needed to change was the definition of “together and connection and community.” “I do my life together with my cousin in Australia who I never would have gotten to know if not for Facebook,” she said, adding with a chuckle that at age 40, she was viewed as a “young adult” in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Concern for the younger generation was heard throughout both RBCs this year. “The Church is shrinking,” one participant said yesterday. “We’re losing churches all the time … and yet the seminaries … churn out more and more seminary graduates.”

Asked for numbers during a “Changing Church” breakout, Gradye Parsons said that from 2007 to 2011, 500 full-time pastor positions and approximately 200 associate positions were lost.

Robert W. Maggs Jr., president and CEO of the Board of Pensions, who led the “Changing Church” breakout with Parsons, was asked whether the Board had an “exit strategy,” a plan to cease offering healthcare benefits, in light of such contraction, coupled with rising healthcare costs.

“I’m not prepared to say that [an exit strategy] is the right thing for the Board of Pensions to address,” Mr. Maggs said, adding that a good medical plan should be part of a benefits package. He agreed, however, that more flexibility might be needed, and acknowledged that the Book of Order mandate on membership by all installed pastors in the Traditional Program as well as Benefits Plan rules around retired but still working teaching elders might be topics for discussion.

One participant asked whether the board had considered providing healthcare coverage to leaders in the 1001 Worshiping Communities movement, designed to build church membership by offering alternative forms of congregational life. Many of its leaders are young teaching elders.

“Many of the 1001 don’t qualify as employing organizations, and many of the leaders have no salary or terms of call,” Maggs said, in a comment that further illuminated “Changing Church” concerns. “There has to be a paycheck upon which dues can be calculated.”

Those concerns also were apparent in comments regarding part-time church positions, which are growing in number.

“The Board of Pensions should think of more creative ways to serve different part-time members,” said Wendy Tajima of the Pacific Presbytery, referring to commissioned ruling elders, tentmakers, and others. These church servants should be allowed to pay their way into the Benefits Plan, she said.

Sabbaticals for part-time clergy are also an issue, said Inho Kim of the San Francisco Presbytery, who added that his full-time teaching elder wife was about to go on sabbatical. “I will never be able to take a sabbatical,” said Mr. Kim, a part-time teaching elder for 15 years.

The Rev. Peter C.S. Sime, the board’s vice-president for assistance, CREDO & funds development, said that part-time teaching elders are invited to attend Presbyterian CREDO, a highly praised eight-day residential program that helps pastors examine the vocational, financial, health, and spiritual aspects of their lives.

The RBC closed at noon after an investment update by Judith D. Freyer, senior vice-president for investments, treasurer, and Chief Investment Officer at the board. A video of Ms. Freyer’s presentation will be available next week so that listeners may hear about this important topic in her own words.

Videos of the other plenary presentations, including the medical dues discussion at the Eastern RBC, will also be available on pensions.org next week.