New Retirement Plan for Clergy

By John Langenstein

The General Conference has approved the Compass Plan, a new way of handling clergy retirement funds. What does that mean for churches in the West Virginia Annual Conference?

Let us take a look and see.

The care of our clergy is an important responsibility. The United Methodist Church strives to develop clergy compensation in tandem with the congregations which provide that care. In the Spirit of Paul’s teaching, the Church establishes compensation plans that care for clergy without burdening churches (2 Cor. 8:13). One question arises again and again in discussions of compensation: How do we maintain that balance in a world that seems to be more expensive to live in, day after day?

The cost of living has increased; everyone is struggling to make ends meet. Churches, conferences, and agencies are all caught in a juggling act between mission, ministry, and self-preservation. Amidst changing budgets, contribution levels, and markets, retirement plans are just one aspect of compensation that needs to go in a new direction. Amid so many changes, the promise of a safe retirement for our clergy – financial security and emotional and spiritual rest after a long career of service – seems more remote than ever. Add to all this the increased number of retired clergy and the reality of change, it all becomes unavoidable.

Enter, the Compass plan. Wespath proposed this new retirement plan at General Conference to increase the sustainability of the clergy retirement program, to help clergy retire comfortably, and to promote more equity and fairness in clergy compensation amounts. These goals will be accomplished by moving to a plan where the clergy own their retirement accounts (something like a 401(k) plan.) The clergy and their accounts will continue to be supported and cared for by Wespath to help ensure clergy have the resources needed to be sustained into and through retirement.

Rather than raising church responsibility, and in an attempt to account for all the uncertainty of a defined benefit plan (such as the current Clergy Retirement Security Program (CRSP,) Wespath’s Compass plan will allow West Virginia Conference churches to support their clergy without contributions changing significantly beyond their current amounts. The plan also allows for simple transfer of benefits to beneficiaries of clergy in the event of their death. The plan does not remove existing benefits either – any benefits accrued to date in the current retirement plans will remain. In the midst of an ever-changing world, Compass preserves the integrity of clergy retirement plans, and congregational budgets.

The formula for how these payments are calculated, as well as more background information regarding Compass can be found on Wespath’s website. Additional information regarding the plan’s implementation within the West Virginia Conference will be made available as it is developed. Any questions can be directed to Wespath directly or to Conference Treasurer Jamion Wolford.