This is an account of the early history of Servant Solutions. Over the 60+ years of our ministry the church has called us to expand our services to much more than retirement planning. Today new services central to comprehensive financial planning for servants of the church have been added. This has all been made possible due to the careful planning in the early stages of the “Board of Pensions”:
“If a minister whom you have known and loved…were to die, would you count it a hardship to help his bereaved family by paying one dollar for burial expense or for temporal needs? How would you like to put a portion of that dollar into a fund for the relief of ministers who are ill or retired from active service? I am asking you to become a Contributing Member of the Ministers’ Benefit Association. Congregations, too, and Young People’s Societies, or other groups in the church may and should become Contributing Members. This plan is workable and will eventually grow into a Pension System.”
E. F. Adcock issued this challenge to the church on May 14, 1932, and 17 years later his challenge was answered when the Church of God Retirement Plan was born.
The Plan came into existence after years of serious study and research by numerous committees; E.F. Adcock, William Reed, Harold Boyer, Lawrence Brooks and others studied numerous church plans. With the assistance of an actuarial firm, pensions experts Huggins and Company of Philadelphia, this committee wrote a plan design that was unanimously adopted during the June, 1948 General Ministerial Assembly. The assembly approved a voluntary plan that called for joint participation on the part of the member and the church. The member was asked to contribute an amount equal to 3% of annual salary, while the church contributed 8%.
At the end of 29 months of operation, Lawrence Brooks, executive secretary-treasurer, wrote: “When we take into consideration…that the program of pensions is entirely new to the church, we have possibly done exceptionally well.” After 42 months he wrote: “We have realized an upsurge in interest in the pension plan…and have reason to believe that interest will continue to accelerate as the church and ministers become more aware that this is our best solution to the security problem of the aged minister.”
“Today,” Harold Conrad notes, “many churches automatically include pension deposits as a cost of ministry and pay these as a fringe benefit for all church employees.” But it wasn’t always this way. “In the beginning,” Conrad recalls, “marketing the plan was a difficult task. Churches had to be individually visited and board members had to be inspired and sold on the soundness and benefits of the program.”
Elaine Keeney, first secretary to the first executive recalls those days. “I remember Brother Brooks calling congregation after congregation and minister after minister to enroll them in the pension plan. When he got commitments from a number of churches and ministers in a given area he then made a train trip there to enroll them. I found myself thinking, ‘ministers are not going to get much of a pension, there was very little money anywhere around.’ Brother Brooks was ever believing and hopeful that pensions was something needful for the Church. The Pension Board and ministers today can be most thankful and appreciative for all the work, effort, and dedication he poured into the work.”
“When it was first announced that you were going to establish a Board of Pensions in the Church of God, I was a young pastor in South Charleston, West Virginia. I got the notice and I thought I’d better get busy and get this in, or I’ll be late. I sent my registration in and I soon had a letter from Lawrence Brooks telling me that I was the very first one that registered for the Board of Pensions. I’ve enjoyed that distinction all these years, if it is a distinction.” Hillery C. Rice (1907-2001)
Ministers who enrolled in the plan by January 1, 1954, and who remained active participants, were promised a monthly retirement benefit of at least $55. To help underwrite this benefit three church agencies, seeing the wisdom of this plan, supplied funding–World Service contributed $194,226; Warner Press, $127,615; and the Women’s Missionary Society (now Christian Women Connection), $682,215.
At the beginning the Board’s investments were in government bonds (33%), real estate mortgages (42%), and preferred stock (25%). An Investment Committee managed the plan’s portfolio. In those early days, the Pension Office deducted 1% from all deposits for administrative costs, but this charge was eliminated as the earnings from the Board’s investments significantly increased. Beginning in 1981 outside money consultants were engaged to manage the Board’s ever-expanding portfolio of investments.
THE FIRST BOARD
The nine-member Board elected by the General Ministerial Assembly was composed primarily of ministers. Judge Harold Achor was the first President. Other members were: C.W. Hatch, George Blackwell, W.H. Hunt, W.W. King, E.E. Shaw, Steele Smith, Floyd Stone, and Lawrence E. Brooks.
THEN AND NOW
The policies and practices of the Board changed over the years to reflect both its earning power and the changing social context. Retirement at the beginning, for example, was permitted at age 68, or after 40 years of ministerial service. Over the years this lowered. Currently, retirement may occur at age 60. At the beginning, the Plan was a ministers-only plan. Today all persons employed by the church or one of its agencies may participate.
At first all congregational deposits were forfeited when one left the employment of the church or renounced ministerial credentials and demanded a refund of one’s personal deposits. One could not serve the church in a paid capacity and receive pension benefits. Widows of retired ministers who remarried lost their benefits. Today participants’ accounts are fully vested, whether active or inactive, and whether or not one remains with the Church of God in worship or service.
CREATIVE AND RESPONSIVE
Other attractive programs sponsored by the Board over the years have been: The Seminary Plan which sought to enroll every ministerial college or seminary graduate in the retirement program. Later this program was altered and entitled Recently Ordained Program. It provides the $22 monthly minimum deposit for one year for all newly ordained pastors who enroll. Over the years the Plan’s minimum monthly deposit increased from $13.75 to $22.
ALWAYS GROWING — ALWAYS SERVING
The Retirement Plan has experienced constant growth. In 1949 the total annual membership of the Retirement Plan was 267. After years of steady growth–each year an increase over the previous year–in 2005 the membership had grown to 5,137. In 1949 the total assets were at $129,700; in 2005 they reached $230,000,000.
DIVERSITY AND CHOICE — A PLAN FOR THE FUTURE!
In June 1997, at the General Assembly, a major presentation was made by the Board of Pensions, asking for permission to embark on a track of major improvements to the Retirement Plan.
The Plan presentation was approved by a unanimous voice vote. The new direction was preceded by nearly four years of study and careful planning by the board of trustees. Surveys, focus groups, and personal contacts with scores of pastors and participants were made in the process. The Board also reviewed major pension plans in both church and secular settings to determine what was working best for plan members at this time.
The result is changes that have been well received throughout the church. The improvements made have fallen primarily in three key areas:
- A broader selection of diversified investment options
- Easier access to your personal Church of God Retirement Plan through improved recordkeeping features, and
- Greater control over your retirement savings, both in the working years and in the retirement years.
With the many new features and changes, the Board was sensitive to the fact that some members would desire to keep their planning simple and perhaps not utilize the newer retirement strategies. Many of the Plan’s long-used programs were preserved. An investment fund called the Capital Preservation Fund was developed for those who wanted a stable value fund similar to the way the Retirement Plan has worked for years.
Greater control, easier access to planning information, more choices–these are elements that have made a great Retirement Plan even better. The Church of God Retirement Plan continues to look to the future. Planning for the future and meeting the ever changing needs of our movement is what the Plan is about.