One of the things I have been proud of since becoming a Presbyterian, being ordained, and becoming a participant in our Board of Pensions is the community nature of our benefits plan. All churches participate in the plan, even when they are between pastors, and all installed pastors and their families are covered by the plan. Congregations pay based on the salary they offer, not the health or needs of the pastor. It’s that simple; we share. We share in the cost and we share in the benefits. It’s a concrete example of connectionism and true community. The proposal being brought before the Board of Directors of the Board of Pensions in March erodes our community nature. It does precisely what we’ve been stridently avoiding; the cost of participation in the medical benefits will be based on need rather than the level of compensation.
This is a huge injustice for married pastors, particularly those with families. Pastor’s salaries are typically low to begin with. It’s not unusual for a pastor’s family to qualify for WIC, food stamps or fall dangerously close to the poverty line. The deductibles and co-pays of the medical plan are already a hardship on pastors and their families. Now we are looking to add to that an additional $2,500 or $5,000 a year to cover their family’s medical care? Sure, some congregations and some presbyteries will require that health care is provided by the congregation for the whole family … but will PNCs and congregations use the additional costs as reason to pass by younger pastors with families? will their salaries be less in order to cover the additional health care expenses?
I understand that congregations are find the health care portion of the their BoP dues to be burdensome. And I understand that the PCUSA health care expenses are unusually skewed because of the age and health of most pastors and their families. These are issues, however that need to be addressed in some other way. For instance? Is there a way to open the Affiliated Health Care plan to all Presbyterians, not just pastors and congregational employees? Would this ultimately be a benefit to our members? would it make a difference in the age/health demographics in a way that would bring the costs for all down?
I understand that charging employees for family health coverage is typical in corporate America. Maybe, then, we need to take a more active role in helping our country address the rising health care costs for everyone … not just pass those costs on to those who can least afford them. What’s happening among us Presbyterians has been happening to our neighbors for years/decades … we need serious conversations around the moral and ethical realities of high profits gained by insurance companies, for-profit hospitals and pharmaceutical companies … something seems wrong here.
Congregations are blown away, I know, by the costs required by presbyteries for pastor’s terms of call. But, I still think that most pastors are underpaid … grossly underpaid. If your pastor’s salary isn’t at or above the salary level of your local public elementary school principle, you’re underpaying. The education and responsibility level of both positions are roughly equivalent, and both are working in the service of their community, not to make a huge income.
If a congregation cannot afford to pay the full salary package of a pastor, then they have to face the truth … they cannot afford a pastor. It’s time to think of other options: increasing their stewardship significantly, changing the staffing patterns of the church, moving to a different location, yoking with another congregation, looking for a part-time pastor, raising up Elders to be commissioned as CRE’s, merging with another congregation, or, dare I say, consider dissolution. When pastors try to hold on to a call by agreeing to salaries less than presbytery minimums, or put their family at risk with no health care, they risk both a dependency on the congregation and a resentfulness of the congregation which hinders their ability to preach the Gospel, lead with authority, love with compassion, and keep the mission of the Church as their priority. This is a problem.