General Board of Pensions changes '03 decision


By Woody Woodrick

Advocate Editor

Pastors and Mississippi Conference officials concerned about a 2003 move by the United Methodist General Board of Pension and Health Benefits say they are happy the action has been reversed.


The board on Sept. 15 announced it will offer an alternative to its Protected Annuity Rate Balance (PARB).


“I’m very pleased,” said the Rev. Ray Stokes, pastor at Gulfport Trinity United Methodist Church. “I’ve been fighting this since late 2003 and again in 2005 when others began to realize the impact on our pensions.”


“I am delighted this issue has been resolved,” Bishop Hope Morgan Ward said in a statement. “I give thanks for the responsiveness of the General Board of Pensions.”


David Stotts, conference treasurer and pensions officer, agreed.


“I am very pleased that this ended the way that it did,” Stotts said. “I give thanks for the Board of Pensions, General Board staff and the general secretary for their leadership in this and all matters related to pensions and health insurance. They have always had the best interest of ‘those who serve’ in the forefront of all of their decisions. While this seemed to harm some, it was always their plan to help maintain good benefits for those nearing retirement. When the issue surrounding the PARB decision was brought to their attention, the General Board made a decision that was for the good of all.”


Stokes is among at least seven Mississippi Conference pastors and some 2,300 across the denomination who are affected by the decision.


PARBs were originally established for Ministerial Pension Plan (MPP) participants eligible to retire on July 1, 2003, who were at least age 62 or had a minimum of 35 years of service. They were designed to protect MPP participants close to retirement from significant reductions in expected monthly retirement benefit payment amounts. Basically, the promise guaranteed those affected an 8 percent annuity on the balance of their pensions account as of July 1, 2003. At the time, the stock market was showing downward trends.


For those 62 and nearing retirement, the promise was a good one, Stokes said. However, some of those with 35 years service had concerns about the plan. When the stock market improved, they faced the possibility losing significant value in their pension.


Stokes began making his case to the board. Stokes met with conference and general church pension leaders in June to discuss the situation.


At Annual Conference in June, the Mississippi Conference unanimously approved a resolution written by Stokes and six other pastors (Sam Morris, Russell Fletcher, Jim Harrison, Jerry Beam and Bert Felder) calling on the Board of Pension and Health Benefits to adjust the affected pension accounts to reflect earnings the pastors would have received without the PARB.


On Sept. 12, Stokes traveled to Chicago to meet with the board and make a presentation. “I’m more than pleased this was worked out through channels,” he said.


“We fully understood what the PARB was and the rationale behind it, but that didn’t make up for the injustice.”


Participants will have a choice between continuing the PARB 8 percent annuity rate guarantee or having their account credited with earnings that would have accrued as if they had not had a PARB.


Participants with a PARB will receive instructions and information about their choices in early 2007. They will have six months to make a decision and respond.

Participants who do not make a choice and those who choose to relinquish their PARB will have their PARB converted to a balance with earnings credited, and the PARB guarantee will end. From that time forward, the participant’s account balance will be subject to market fluctuations and, when the balance (at least 75 percent) is annuitized, the annuity rate in effect at the time will apply. Participants do not need to respond until they are notified.