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Requests for aid reveal pastors' dedication to ministry

Every year around this time there is one particular meeting I attend that is consistently, an emotional rollercoaster.  It’s the meeting at which we disperse the monies that have been collected through the Insurance Assistance Fund.

Mike Denton
Mike Denton

The Insurance Assistance Fund is the successor of what used to be called the Pastor’s Insurance Fund.  For those who might not be aware of this story, a little history‚Ķ  A few decades back, it became clear that several of our retired pastors and several local churches were finding it difficult to afford their medical insurance costs.  In a wonderfully covenantal response, the churches of the conference agreed to support all these folks by creating a financial pool out of which the insurance costs for all the conference’s pastors would be paid.  To do this, each church was accessed a member based per-capita fee to cover these costs.  For many years, this program worked well.

However, over time, health-care costs went up at a rate much higher than the rate of inflation and, as they did, the per capita rate also increased, significantly.  Several years ago it became clear that many churches had concluded that the per capita rate could not be sustained.  Over time, a decision was made to try something different. 

Now, the conference has what is called The Insurance Assistance Fund.  As opposed to this being a common fund from which all the insurance costs of all our pastors are paid, this is a fund that those churches and pastors who are in need of insurance assistance apply to.  As opposed to this being a fund with an established per capita fee based on a local church’s membership, each local church decides how much to give to this fund.  Individuals are also welcome to donate to this, directly.  A subcommittee of the conference Stewardship Committee, along with a representative from the Church Development Committee, takes a look at the applications that come to us and we discern, based on the monies available, how to respond to each applicant.

For the most part, the applications are pretty straightforward.  Churches request help because of some particular unexpected financial challenges or because they are a community with particular financial challenges based on challenges within their church members’ lives, such as unemployment or poverty.  Sometimes, a church is in a transitional moment and, in that case, we’ve begun to connect the local church to our Church Development Committee so that they can have a conversation partner as they consider increasing their church vitality or their church’s viability.

Applications from individuals tend to be similar.  They tell a story of unexpected costs during the year or a particular financial challenge that makes it difficult for them to pay for insurance.  We have, on occasion, connected some folks who might be having particular financial management challenges with volunteers who were willing to help them sort things out.  These folks are still always in need but, with a few tweaks, we’re able to help them be less so.  This is one of the advantages of having such a great collection of people on the Stewardship Committee with professional financial management experience!

Then there are that few who just seem altogether different.  Every year, there are a few applicants who, during their time in ministry, served only impoverished, small churches that were never, ever able to pay them much.  None of our pastors are ordained because of their hopes for a high salary but most of us are able to live decent middle-class lives with the assurance of a decent pension when we retire.  Most of us were faithfully called to ministries that could support this.

However, many of the retired pastors who apply to The Insurance Assistance Fund were called to different ministries that carried significant financial risks.  These are folks who lived in to their call so faithfully and so well that, now, they are living in poverty.  Their applications to The Insurance Assistance Fund are not simply financial documents but testimonies to their faithfulness to God’s call in their lives; they are testimonies to their trust of that covenant among us that sometimes seems difficult to define.  As we read through these applications together, it’s not unusual for there to be a tear or two.  Reading through these particular applications and providing some help really feels like an honor.

So, sisters and brothers, thank you.  Thank you for your support of this fund, making sure it’s a part of your church’s budget, and your work as a conference to take care of each other.  On January 2, I will have been your conference minister for four years, now.  It’s in no small part because of intentions just like this that I’m so proud and pleased to be here.  Merry Christmas to each of you and, again, thank you so much for working to make sure that so many of your sisters and brothers who have served you so well in ministry have a happier New Year, too.

Copyright Pacific Northwest Conference News © December 2011

 

 

 

 

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