5:00 P.M. EST June 21, 2010
As a United Methodist pastor in Zimbabwe, the Rev. Lovemore Nyanungo often gave whatever extra money he had to the orphans and widows in his community. That left no savings for his retirement.
Now after nearly 40 years of ministry, Nyanungo’s only regular source of income is a $100 monthly stipend from the local church he served — about half what the average Zimbabwean earns in a month.
The 76-year-old appreciates the help from his congregation, but it is not enough to take care of him and his wife. To make ends meet, he relies on the produce from his garden and “a little bit here and there” from his five children.
However, he expects his situation will soon change.
The United Methodist Church’s Central Conference Pension Initiative has reached its initial fundraising goal of $20 million to help provide for retired pastors like Nyanungo and their surviving spouses.
The United Methodist Board of Pension and Health Benefits will invest the money. The earnings will pay pensions for about 1,200 retired clergy and 1,300 surviving spouses in 62 central conferences in Africa, Asia and Europe.
The pension initiative has set a goal for each central conference to have its own pension system in place by 2014. But Dan O’Neill, managing director for the Central Conference Pension Initiative, is working with his team to accelerate the timeline.
Retirees already receive quarterly pension payments under pilot projects in Liberia, Mozambique and Angola.
Each retired clergy member and surviving spouse also has received an emergency grant from the pension initiative. Nyanungo recently received his grant of $80. Those grants will stop once the pension system is established.
O’Neill said the funds already have made a difference in people’s lives.
One retired pastor told pensions staff members that the quarterly payments allow him to eat “good food.”
One widow was able to replace her disease-breeding thatched roof with a corrugated metal roof.
Another widow who lives with one of her children and grandchildren said the income means her grandchildren can now afford to go to school.
Still another retired pastor told the pension staff that after a lifetime of sleeping on the floor, she could afford for the first time to buy a mattress.
The distribution and the amount of payments vary by conference. Ultimately, the goal is for each pension system to be self-supporting, which O’Neill expects will take many years.
In the mean time, Central Conference Pension Initiative is still working toward its goal of more than $25 million to accommodate the growth in the central conferences.
“We’ll be able to pay pensions for a long, long time with $25 million,” O’Neill said.
Formal fundraising for the pension initiative began in the United States nearly three years ago. Even before this push, the United Methodist Publishing House began raising awareness about the need when it distributed its profits to conference pension boards.
Since 2000, every annual (regional) conference in the United States has given at least one Cokesbury check to the effort.
O’Neill said about $4 million of the pension initiative funds have come from Cokesbury.
Even as the United States dipped into recession, annual (regional) conferences and local churches continued to donate.
“It says that the denomination across the United States sees this as a matter of justice,” O’Neill said. “It also shows that a large number of moderate contributions can add up to enough to solve the problem.”
Bishop Ben R. Chamness, a member of the fundraising committee, said he knew when he retired in 2008 he would have time to go fishing with his grandchildren, perfect his baseball card collection and play bridge with his wife. His pension would assure him a secure future, he said.
“I was grateful for that,” he said. “But I also realized the dichotomy is there for pastors in the central conferences who had little to nothing to look forward in retirement in terms of income.”
He made it his mission to help remedy the situation.
Thousands of miles away, Nyanungo said he has faith God will provide for his needs.
As part of his faith, he is praying that “giving in the United Methodist Church will continue to grow.”
*Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service.
News media contact: Heather Hahn, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (615) 742-5470 end_of_the_skype_highlighting or firstname.lastname@example.org.