Central Conference Pensions—A Connectional Success Story
The Central Conference Pensions story demonstrates a connectional success—the denomination worked together to provide central conference ministers and their surviving spouses with financial support in retirement. The story begins as General Conference 2000 focused the denomination's attention on the issue of clergy pensions by creating a task force (made up of five general secretaries and three bishops), and charging it with “launching a pension support plan for the central conferences.” General Conference 2004 reaffirmed the original mandate and amended The Book of Discipline to authorize the effort of the Central Conference Pension Initiative (CCPI)—under the auspices of Wespath Benefits and Investments—to raise the funds needed to fulfill the original charge. Bishop Ben Chamness led the initial fundraising effort with a minimum goal of $20 million to fund central conference pensions.
The people of The United Methodist Church embraced the challenge and responded generously, even during the most severe economic recession in modern times. Annual conferences donated their annual distribution (Cokesbury) check from the United Methodist Publishing House to support this important effort. Local churches sought ways to make contributions, as did many individuals and UMC general agencies.
In the 2008-2012 quadrennium—with guidance and help from the general agencies on the task force—CCPI made significant strides in establishing pension programs throughout the central conferences. Pilot programs were launched in nine African countries from Angola to Zimbabwe—in 2007, the first was established in Liberia under the direction of Bishop John Innis.
In December 2009, after reaching its original $20 million fundraising goal, an additional $5 million challenge goal was announced to support specific conference needs identified during the pilot projects.
In January 2013, CCPI reached a major milestone when all of the central conferences had a pension plan in place. Even though the plans differ in detail and reflect the economies and cultures of each area, they all focus on becoming self-funded and self-governed, in order to have sustainable pension systems for the future.
CCPI achieved its $25 million challenge goal and completed the fundraising effort in October 2013 with a generous donation from the General Board of Discipleship (GBOD)—making it possible to retire the CCPI once all pledged contributions are received. As a result, “Initiative” was removed from the name, and the program was re-named “Central Conference Pensions” (CCP). General Secretary Barbara Boigegrain commented on the achievement: “We are so grateful to the thousands of individuals, local churches, conferences and others, and now the GBOD, who contributed over the years to make it possible for our United Methodist Church clergy in the central conferences to also have hope for the future.”
CCP serves as a model of cooperation and commitment within the Church—a successful effort to fund pensions for central conference clergy, who without Church support, would have little or nothing in retirement. Many retirees and surviving spouses continue to express their thanks for the generosity and kindness of the thousands of UMC members who have made pension support in the central conferences possible.