Proposed changes in Oklahoma clergy pension and health benefits drew high interest at pre-conference meetings.
Delegates approved all the plans, and also an incentive-based wellness program that can reduce a clergyperson’s individual health insurance premium by up to $60 monthly.
"The Board is making recommendations that will impact all areas of our ministry," Mark Commons, who chairs the Board of Pension & Health Benefits, told the Annual Conference.
One delegate asked, "Will this not have a chilling effect on the vitality and survival of the smaller churches?"
"We think this will invigorate them, help them survive," responded Commons.
All the pension and healthcare changes become effective Jan. 1, 2014.
"I could preach a sermon about the need for all of us to improve our health" and to help keep insurance costs in check, said JD Ward to clergy delegates. And he challenged laity "to become very intentional with how you assist our clergy to live and maintain a healthy lifestyle."
A total of 580 people underwent health screenings during the conference.
Action by the 2012 General Conference and federal laws are driving the pension and health benefit changes.
Beginning in 2014, the Health Benefits Fund splits into two Apportionment funds, one for active clergy and one for retirees. These amounts are paid by churches.
Across four years, the active-clergy fund will be phased out. Instead, churches, agencies, and extension ministries that have full-time active clergy will be direct-billed monthly. That amount is $135.08 per full-time clergy in 2014.
The retired-clergy fund will continue. Both that Apportionment and the monthly premiums paid by retired clergy will rise by 2 percent in 2014.
In 2014, the monthly individual health insurance premium paid by full-time active clergy will be $248.
The Conference Plan insures only full-time clergy.
Beginning in 2014, only full-time clergy will participate in the Clergy Retirement Security Plan.
Part-time clergy will participate in the United Methodist Personal Investment Plan.
Benefits officers will offer seminars for clergy this fall.
For further information about the changes and the wellness campaign, go to www.okumc.org/benefits.
Other financial matters
The Council on Finance & Administration "is asking how must the Conference deploy its resources now so we are fulfilling our mission," said Chairman Tom Junk. Other groups also are exploring this. Junk paraphrased national church consultant Lovett Weems: "What decisions must be made now if The United Methodist Church is to have a future?"
"Our resources will need to dramatically shift. We have to be willing to look at new models and be open to new ministries for reaching" new people for Christ, Junk said.
"You are going to hear things that cause you to think, wonder, pray," said Judy Benson, who leads the Conference corporate board. "What does God want us to be doing? How can we accomplish that? "
Delegates also approved an increase in the Ministers Moving Fund, and voted to mandate participation by all churches in a Workers’ Compensation program. The latter action becomes effective on or after Sept. 15, 2013, based on a church’s current policy renewal date.