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ALPB => Your Turn => Topic started by: Scott6 on April 22, 2010, 11:47:50 AM

Title: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Scott6 on April 22, 2010, 11:47:50 AM
Perils of Church-Related Pensions

Employees and retirees of Minneapolis publisher Augsburg Fortress are suing their employer, alleging in their complaint that it allowed their pension plan to fail, and used its connection to the Lutheran church as a legal shield to avoid paying them all their pensions.

<snip>

The publisher had asked the church for help, but "the church-wide organization advised us that it had no obligations or fiduciary duties" to do so, Ms. Lewis noted.

"I'm disappointed that the church hasn't felt more responsibility for this," said Mr. Lipscomb. "If the basis for a church plan is the company's relationship to the church, is it reasonable that the church can feel no responsibility for what its publisher is doing?"

Augsburg Fortress is a separately incorporated unit under the ELCA church wide organization. "The church-wide organization had no role in the creation, management or termination of that plan. That was Augsburg Fortress and its Board of Trustees decision," said John Brooks, a spokesman for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

The suit alleges that the pension at Augsburg Fortress wasn't a church plan, but falls under the federal pension law because it promised pensions to its employees. The complaint claims that the employer violated its fiduciary duty by allowing the plan to become underfunded, and by failing to warn participants of the plans poor condition. And even if it is deemed to be a church plan, it failed its state-law duties to prudently manage the plans and its assets, the suit argues.

Find it here (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704448304575196061466485430.html?mod=WSJ_Investing_MoreHeadlines).
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Team Hesse on April 22, 2010, 11:58:32 AM
It's either a "church pension plan" (shielding them from certain disclosure laws, apparently) or it's not (so they are required to fund the full benefits).   The ELCA, by claiming not to be in any way responsible, has hung AF out to dry -- if the church disavows any involvement in what happens at Augsburg Fortress (even though AF is an incorporated unit "under" the ELCA church wide organization), how can it have been a "church plan"?  So the grounds for the suit might be valid -- they used the church exemption to dodge the law, albeit probably unintentionally.  
The AF employees are suing Augsburg Fortress -- I wonder if AF will turn around and sue the ELCA for misleading them into thinking they were part of the church?
Debbie
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Charles_Austin on April 22, 2010, 03:14:03 PM
More scare tactics. There was no misleading. Let's remember that saying the publishing house is a "part" of the church is quite different from making church responsible for the finances of a body incorporated in another way.
But, of course, why pass up an opportunity to posit some more trouble for the ELCA, even if in fantasy-land?
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: dkeener on April 22, 2010, 03:32:42 PM
More scare tactics. There was no misleading. Let's remember that saying the publishing house is a "part" of the church is quite different from making church responsible for the finances of a body incorporated in another way.
But, of course, why pass up an opportunity to posit some more trouble for the ELCA, even if in fantasy-land?

The legal stuff aside it is the "no obligation" stance of the ELCA that I find offensive.  What about the moral one?
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Brian Stoffregen on April 22, 2010, 05:52:59 PM
More scare tactics. There was no misleading. Let's remember that saying the publishing house is a "part" of the church is quite different from making church responsible for the finances of a body incorporated in another way.
But, of course, why pass up an opportunity to posit some more trouble for the ELCA, even if in fantasy-land?

The legal stuff aside it is the "no obligation" stance of the ELCA that I find offensive.  What about the moral one?

When the ELCA congregation I served was four months behind on their mortgage payments (and being threatened with foreclosure) and over a year behind on my car allowances, did the churchwide offices have a moral obligation to make up the arrears?
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: James Gustafson on April 22, 2010, 09:28:00 PM
I think the real danger here is not that the ELCA will have to fund the pension, but rather, that the legal suit would win on the grounds that the AF doesn't have the right to exist without paying off it's legal obligations.  The assets of AF could be foreclosed and sold off piecemeal to pay back the pension fund by court order.  Forced bankruptcy and the last 200 employees would be out of work and the ELCA would be out of a publisher.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: jrubyaz on April 23, 2010, 12:26:16 AM
Brian,

Your usual red herring in tossed in here. A parish and a pastor having a financial agreement is far different than this situation. If the church falls on hard times, through  (hopefully) mutual consent situations can be worked out.  That is not unlike companies in the current recession trimming pay or telling their employees there are cutbacks, which most find better than no job at all.

That is far different than a pension being cut or completely eliminated after paying into it for years. THe better analogy is BOP coming to you and telling you all your pension is gone, won't be paid. Legally, they have a leg to stand on as our pensions are not guaranteed by the FDIC or anyone else. Morally, it would be reprehensible.

For a church that lectures on economic justice in every press release possible, it is blatant hypocrisy.

I wonder if the BOP could also go under. It is evidently a discussion point for some leaving the ELCA that they do not want their funds to remain even though it is possible to do so.

More scare tactics. There was no misleading. Let's remember that saying the publishing house is a "part" of the church is quite different from making church responsible for the finances of a body incorporated in another way.
But, of course, why pass up an opportunity to posit some more trouble for the ELCA, even if in fantasy-land?

The legal stuff aside it is the "no obligation" stance of the ELCA that I find offensive.  What about the moral one?

When the ELCA congregation I served was four months behind on their mortgage payments (and being threatened with foreclosure) and over a year behind on my car allowances, did the churchwide offices have a moral obligation to make up the arrears?
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: George Erdner on April 23, 2010, 12:36:44 AM
More scare tactics. There was no misleading. Let's remember that saying the publishing house is a "part" of the church is quite different from making church responsible for the finances of a body incorporated in another way.
But, of course, why pass up an opportunity to posit some more trouble for the ELCA, even if in fantasy-land?

The legal stuff aside it is the "no obligation" stance of the ELCA that I find offensive.  What about the moral one?

When the ELCA congregation I served was four months behind on their mortgage payments (and being threatened with foreclosure) and over a year behind on my car allowances, did the churchwide offices have a moral obligation to make up the arrears?

That would depend on if the congregation's problems were the result of the national church's actions, or if they were the result of you not being a very effective pastor. If you were doing an outstanding job of evangelism and educating the congregation on stewardship, but the national church launched a new mission congregation only a few miles away that took a big chunk of your congregation's members, I'd say that HQ might have a moral obligation. But, if you preached antinomianism in your sermons, did minimal outreach, refused to engage in stewardship programs, and otherwise caused the problems, then HQ wouldn't have an obligation.

Are AF's woes the result of decisions made in Chicago, or are they the result of mismanagement on AF's part?
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Steven Tibbetts on April 23, 2010, 02:03:22 PM

I wonder if the BOP could also go under. It is evidently a discussion point for some leaving the ELCA that they do not want their funds to remain even though it is possible to do so.


Remember, the AFP pension plan that was closed down was a defined benefit plan, that is, the plan was obligated to pay pensioners a particular amount, regardless of what the retiree or company paid into it.  This is the same kind of pension plan that has been driving major corporations into bankruptcy for 30 years, and is now doing the same with states, cities, etc. 

The ELCA-BOP pension plan is what was once called a "defined contribution" plan.  Some of you compensation is set aside today to be paid out after retirement.  BOP manages how that money is invested, but promises only to invest according to the "Prudent Man Rule," not how much you will actually get at the other end.  If you and they plan well, you run out of life before you run out of money. 

The ELCA's response should be to establish something like the ELCA Special Needs Retirement Fund for the employees and retirees of the church's publishing ministry, and have a churchwide offering specifically for that purpose.

Pax, Steven+
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Brian Stoffregen on April 23, 2010, 02:53:25 PM
That would depend on if the congregation's problems were the result of the national church's actions, or if they were the result of you not being a very effective pastor. If you were doing an outstanding job of evangelism and educating the congregation on stewardship, but the national church launched a new mission congregation only a few miles away that took a big chunk of your congregation's members, I'd say that HQ might have a moral obligation. But, if you preached antinomianism in your sermons, did minimal outreach, refused to engage in stewardship programs, and otherwise caused the problems, then HQ wouldn't have an obligation.

The major issue with that congregation was the declining population in the area. Our sons' grade school was one of four (if I remember right) that were closed due to declining population. Our neighbor -- a long-time employee at the high school -- stated that there population was the lowest she had seen in 20 years. Like with a number of issues today -- the problems were caused by a major decline in the economy. (That area often went through boom/bust cycles.)
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: edoughty on April 23, 2010, 03:11:34 PM

I wonder if the BOP could also go under. It is evidently a discussion point for some leaving the ELCA that they do not want their funds to remain even though it is possible to do so.


The ELCA's response should be to establish something like the ELCA Special Needs Retirement Fund for the employees and retirees of the church's publishing ministry, and have a churchwide offering specifically for that purpose.


Agreed. 
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: George Erdner on April 23, 2010, 05:41:39 PM
That would depend on if the congregation's problems were the result of the national church's actions, or if they were the result of you not being a very effective pastor. If you were doing an outstanding job of evangelism and educating the congregation on stewardship, but the national church launched a new mission congregation only a few miles away that took a big chunk of your congregation's members, I'd say that HQ might have a moral obligation. But, if you preached antinomianism in your sermons, did minimal outreach, refused to engage in stewardship programs, and otherwise caused the problems, then HQ wouldn't have an obligation.

The major issue with that congregation was the declining population in the area. Our sons' grade school was one of four (if I remember right) that were closed due to declining population. Our neighbor -- a long-time employee at the high school -- stated that there population was the lowest she had seen in 20 years. Like with a number of issues today -- the problems were caused by a major decline in the economy. (That area often went through boom/bust cycles.)

So, are you saying that it wasn't your fault, but it wasn't the fault of Higgins Road either?
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Brian Stoffregen on April 23, 2010, 09:32:43 PM
That would depend on if the congregation's problems were the result of the national church's actions, or if they were the result of you not being a very effective pastor. If you were doing an outstanding job of evangelism and educating the congregation on stewardship, but the national church launched a new mission congregation only a few miles away that took a big chunk of your congregation's members, I'd say that HQ might have a moral obligation. But, if you preached antinomianism in your sermons, did minimal outreach, refused to engage in stewardship programs, and otherwise caused the problems, then HQ wouldn't have an obligation.

The major issue with that congregation was the declining population in the area. Our sons' grade school was one of four (if I remember right) that were closed due to declining population. Our neighbor -- a long-time employee at the high school -- stated that there population was the lowest she had seen in 20 years. Like with a number of issues today -- the problems were caused by a major decline in the economy. (That area often went through boom/bust cycles.)

So, are you saying that it wasn't your fault, but it wasn't the fault of Higgins Road either?

Do we consider the economic crash to be an act of God?
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: J. Thomas Shelley on April 23, 2010, 09:50:02 PM

Do we consider the economic crash to be an act of God?

No, I consider it to be an act of human hubris ("too big to fail") and, ultimately, sinfulness.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: revklak on April 23, 2010, 10:00:23 PM
It's interesting that last weekend two of us in the TX-LA Gulf Coast synod brough forht a resorlution (written elsewhere in the ELCA) to memorialzie the Church Council to take certain steps to help alleviate both the AF pension scandal and the BoP cut in benefits to retirees.  it included 4 resolves - to sell the Churchiwde office buiding and move to  more suitable digs, to close all LOGA fucntions and offices, to cut travel budtes and travel outside US except for those lving and owkring (in hindisht, I think that one could have been clearer to make a distinction between "working" and "sending representatives to Climat Conference in Copenhagen) - and all savings was to be given to AF and BoP to help, at least somewhat, the suffering.

Schwartling with the churchiwde rep at our assembly.  He outright attacked the selling of the buidling, saying the Chircago market makes it impossible to do so.  (Like any marekt is good; Gulf Coast did just that - well, not selling but moving to more modest accomodations to accompany their shrinking staff).  LOGA closing was also dramaticzlly attacked, most notably by our ELM 17 poster child in our syond.  Interestingly enough, the refernce and counsel committee had spent several weeks trying to convince us to withdraw our resolution, on variios points, including another resolution they knew was coming that was similar but didin't address ALL our concerns.  We said no, present it as is.  Well, they recommended defeat, of course, and it was.  As soon as it was defeated, they moved the last resolution up, which we were told was drafted by none other than Schwartling himself... I could be mistaken, but the langrage was VERY lawyerly.  It called for some such encouragement to the BoP to look to reinstate their funds, and to ask the Church Council to look at ways it might help.  (All talk.  The other, at least, had suggestions.  I'm not saying I thought it had a chance, but at least we got conversation on whats goin on onto the assembly floor).


Seems to be the Church Wide posiditon -- we're concerned, we'll encourage, but don't ask us to get involved, feel responsible, etc.  No wonder they were so hot and heavy to keep saying last week that AF is an entirely separate entity and we should in no way even SUGGEST how they should work their pension.  I think it was CYA all the way!
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: George Erdner on April 23, 2010, 10:05:22 PM
That would depend on if the congregation's problems were the result of the national church's actions, or if they were the result of you not being a very effective pastor. If you were doing an outstanding job of evangelism and educating the congregation on stewardship, but the national church launched a new mission congregation only a few miles away that took a big chunk of your congregation's members, I'd say that HQ might have a moral obligation. But, if you preached antinomianism in your sermons, did minimal outreach, refused to engage in stewardship programs, and otherwise caused the problems, then HQ wouldn't have an obligation.

The major issue with that congregation was the declining population in the area. Our sons' grade school was one of four (if I remember right) that were closed due to declining population. Our neighbor -- a long-time employee at the high school -- stated that there population was the lowest she had seen in 20 years. Like with a number of issues today -- the problems were caused by a major decline in the economy. (That area often went through boom/bust cycles.)

So, are you saying that it wasn't your fault, but it wasn't the fault of Higgins Road either?

Do we consider the economic crash to be an act of God?

Roast lamb tastes best, I think, done to an internal temperature of 140 degrees.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: G.Edward on April 23, 2010, 11:00:12 PM
I think the real danger here is not that the ELCA will have to fund the pension, but rather, that the legal suit would win on the grounds that the AF doesn't have the right to exist without paying off it's legal obligations.  The assets of AF could be foreclosed and sold off piecemeal to pay back the pension fund by court order.  Forced bankruptcy and the last 200 employees would be out of work and the ELCA would be out of a publisher.

While that would be unfortunate for the remaining employees, it would be an ethical corrective for the ELCA leadership's disavowing fiduciary and pastoral responsibility, and it would be a theological win if AF had to divest some or all of it's publishing assets to pay a settlement since AF would no longer be able to publish so much that is theologically unsound at best.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Brian Stoffregen on April 23, 2010, 11:59:45 PM
That would depend on if the congregation's problems were the result of the national church's actions, or if they were the result of you not being a very effective pastor. If you were doing an outstanding job of evangelism and educating the congregation on stewardship, but the national church launched a new mission congregation only a few miles away that took a big chunk of your congregation's members, I'd say that HQ might have a moral obligation. But, if you preached antinomianism in your sermons, did minimal outreach, refused to engage in stewardship programs, and otherwise caused the problems, then HQ wouldn't have an obligation.

The major issue with that congregation was the declining population in the area. Our sons' grade school was one of four (if I remember right) that were closed due to declining population. Our neighbor -- a long-time employee at the high school -- stated that there population was the lowest she had seen in 20 years. Like with a number of issues today -- the problems were caused by a major decline in the economy. (That area often went through boom/bust cycles.)

So, are you saying that it wasn't your fault, but it wasn't the fault of Higgins Road either?

Do we consider the economic crash to be an act of God?

Roast lamb tastes best, I think, done to an internal temperature of 140 degrees.

Thursday night I had a wonderful rack of lamb at the Ironwood Restaurant -- a very nice restaurant at the Quechan Casino Resort. Went there with my wife and my mother; then saw Merle Haggard in concert.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Charles_Austin on April 24, 2010, 06:12:54 AM
So do those who have been trashing Augsburg-Fortress all these years bear some responsibility for the loss of pensions for the retirees?
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: J. Thomas Shelley on April 24, 2010, 08:34:08 AM
That would depend on if the congregation's problems were the result of the national church's actions, or if they were the result of you not being a very effective pastor. If you were doing an outstanding job of evangelism and educating the congregation on stewardship, but the national church launched a new mission congregation only a few miles away that took a big chunk of your congregation's members, I'd say that HQ might have a moral obligation. But, if you preached antinomianism in your sermons, did minimal outreach, refused to engage in stewardship programs, and otherwise caused the problems, then HQ wouldn't have an obligation.

The major issue with that congregation was the declining population in the area. Our sons' grade school was one of four (if I remember right) that were closed due to declining population. Our neighbor -- a long-time employee at the high school -- stated that there population was the lowest she had seen in 20 years. Like with a number of issues today -- the problems were caused by a major decline in the economy. (That area often went through boom/bust cycles.)

So, are you saying that it wasn't your fault, but it wasn't the fault of Higgins Road either?

Do we consider the economic crash to be an act of God?

Roast lamb tastes best, I think, done to an internal temperature of 140 degrees.

Thursday night I had a wonderful rack of lamb at the Ironwood Restaurant -- a very nice restaurant at the Quechan Casino Resort. Went there with my wife and my mother; then saw Merle Haggard in concert.
A moose once bit my sister.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: George Erdner on April 24, 2010, 09:51:47 AM
So do those who have been trashing Augsburg-Fortress all these years bear some responsibility for the loss of pensions for the retirees?

No.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: racin_jason on April 24, 2010, 10:54:12 AM
So do those who have been trashing Augsburg-Fortress all these years bear some responsibility for the loss of pensions for the retirees?

You're right, Charles. If only the critics had been more loving, then perhaps this all could have been avoided.

The parallels between AFP and the ELCA are rampant: fiscal woes, the inablity of leadership to see significant shifts in the marketplace, the lack of providing what the constituencies are asking for, a progessive bias among the decision-makers while those in the pews are more pragmatic, if not orthodox.

If a person were a shill for the ELCA, i wonder how he'd reconcile the troubles of the publishing house with his "the-ELCA-isn't-as-bad-off-as-you-all-are-saying-it-is" stance.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Charles_Austin on April 24, 2010, 11:16:14 AM
RJ writes:
If a person were a shill for the ELCA, i wonder how he'd reconcile the troubles of the publishing house with his "the-ELCA-isn't-as-bad-off-as-you-all-are-saying-it-is" stance.

I muse:
A "shill"? So that's what being a concerned, participatory, relatively loyal member of one's church body is? Nice. Good insight to the attitudes here. Speak ill of your church body, denounce its leaders and you are some kind of "traditionalist" hero. Speak well of it and you are a shill. I get it.
As for the publishing house, analyzing its business plan, marketing skills and general direction is beyond my competence. I'm sure that a few people here will let me know in excruciating details what went wrong.
Title: resolution in Texas-Gulf Synod
Post by: MEKoch on April 24, 2010, 12:09:20 PM
Can someone send me a copy of this resolution?  My Synod disassembly is coming up within a month.  Sounds like a good resolution for us to consider.

Northeastern Ohio - Mike Koch - zionvc@aol.com
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Steven Tibbetts on April 24, 2010, 01:02:36 PM
So do those who have been trashing Augsburg-Fortress all these years bear some responsibility for the loss of pensions for the retirees?

Not sure how to respond to this Charles.  I've personally spent $300-400 annually with Augsburg Fortress -- a big part of that at Synod Assemblies (oops, they stopped going to Synod Assemblies) while at the same time being highly critical of the ELCA publishing ministry.  I could give you a laundry list of things, but I'll only raise up two matters:

      1) as pastor of a small congregation, AFP has rarely published congregational educational materials
          that I could use (for children or adults) -- and of the half-dozen items I found useful over the last  
          20 years, all went quickly out-of-print and disappeared from the catalog -- and

      2) its years of hyping as its star Bible Study writer a former ELCA pastor/seminary professor whose
          reappropriation of the "L" word (Lutheran, though I found her first book quite un-Lutheran) led to
          her abandoning her marriage for a lesbian relationship while she was teaching ELCA seminarians.

I've really wanted to support our publishing house, but many of its editorial and marketing decisions have gone out-of-their way to drive away the business of pastors like me and congregations like mine.

And yet, while the ELCA's leadership is declaring that it has no responsibility, fiduciary or otherwise, for the abandoned AFP employees and retirees, here I first suggested in January for a churchwide offering specifically to help them.

Responsibility?  You want to talk about responsibility?

Kyrie eleison, Steven+
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Charles_Austin on April 24, 2010, 01:07:22 PM
Like you, Steven, I have been a long-time customer of the church publishing house. But they have never had everything I needed or wanted. Some of its authors didn't interest me.
Glad to see you were a supporter. Others weren't, and used certain Augsburg-Fortress books as weapons against the ELCA.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: George Erdner on April 24, 2010, 01:33:19 PM
Like you, Steven, I have been a long-time customer of the church publishing house. But they have never had everything I needed or wanted. Some of its authors didn't interest me.
Glad to see you were a supporter. Others weren't, and used certain Augsburg-Fortress books as weapons against the ELCA.

Austin, pointing out that some publications of Augsburg Fortress contained errant teachings is not using those book as weapons against the ELCA.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Charles_Austin on April 24, 2010, 01:39:42 PM
Whatever.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Dadoo on April 24, 2010, 02:30:57 PM
It's interesting that last weekend two of us in the TX-LA Gulf Coast synod brough forht a resorlution (written elsewhere in the ELCA) to memorialzie the Church Council to take certain steps to help alleviate both the AF pension scandal and the BoP cut in benefits to retirees.  it included 4 resolves - to sell the Churchiwde office buiding and move to  more suitable digs, to close all LOGA fucntions and offices, to cut travel budtes and travel outside US except for those lving and owkring (in hindisht, I think that one could have been clearer to make a distinction between "working" and "sending representatives to Climat Conference in Copenhagen) - and all savings was to be given to AF and BoP to help, at least somewhat, the suffering.

Schwartling with the churchiwde rep at our assembly.  He outright attacked the selling of the buidling, saying the Chircago market makes it impossible to do so.  (Like any marekt is good; Gulf Coast did just that - well, not selling but moving to more modest accomodations to accompany their shrinking staff).  LOGA closing was also dramaticzlly attacked, most notably by our ELM 17 poster child in our syond.  Interestingly enough, the refernce and counsel committee had spent several weeks trying to convince us to withdraw our resolution, on variios points, including another resolution they knew was coming that was similar but didin't address ALL our concerns.  We said no, present it as is.  Well, they recommended defeat, of course, and it was.  As soon as it was defeated, they moved the last resolution up, which we were told was drafted by none other than Schwartling himself... I could be mistaken, but the langrage was VERY lawyerly.  It called for some such encouragement to the BoP to look to reinstate their funds, and to ask the Church Council to look at ways it might help.  (All talk.  The other, at least, had suggestions.  I'm not saying I thought it had a chance, but at least we got conversation on whats goin on onto the assembly floor).


Seems to be the Church Wide posiditon -- we're concerned, we'll encourage, but don't ask us to get involved, feel responsible, etc.  No wonder they were so hot and heavy to keep saying last week that AF is an entirely separate entity and we should in no way even SUGGEST how they should work their pension.  I think it was CYA all the way!

Swartling's thoughts could be found here: http://www.prettygoodlutherans.com/?p=9801#more-9801
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Steven Tibbetts on April 24, 2010, 03:34:03 PM
Like you, Steven, I have been a long-time customer of the church publishing house. But they have never had everything I needed or wanted.

 ::)  ::)  ::)
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Charles_Austin on April 24, 2010, 04:29:02 PM
I said I, too, was a regular customer of Augsburg-Fortress and Steven replied:
 ::)  ::)  ::)

I say now:
You know, guys, today you just can't rile me up.
My Orpheus Club Men's Chorus has its spring concert tonight and tomorrow afternoon. (Fifty guys in tuxedos and cool male chorus singing, oldies, a Welsh Laudamus, some Broadway, Schumann's "Der Hidalgo" and some other fun stuff.)
Tomorrow I finish up a pleasant interim pastorate with two morning celebrations.
Early next week, it's off to Minneapolis for some time with children and grandchildren.
Then comes the move to Geneva for the summer and work at the LWF headquarters there. I'm figuring we'll get a long week-end in Paris while the flowers are still blooming, a trip to Mont Blanc and Chamonix, and some hikes in the Jura before the LWF Assembly in Stuttgart in July. We'll scoot down to Provence maybe in August, or hang out there for a week or two when my term is up.
So.... No amount of  ::) ::) ::), or silly "Austin hates me" postings really rattles my cage today.
Everybody be cool.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Steven Tibbetts on April 24, 2010, 06:13:19 PM

No amount of  ::) ::) ::), or silly "Austin hates me" postings really rattles my cage today.
Everybody be cool.

Oh, I'm quite cool with it, Charles.  Even the part where you completely miss what I'm saying.  Whimsey, nuance, and all that, y'know.

spt+
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: pr dtp on April 24, 2010, 06:49:29 PM
I said I, too, was a regular customer of Augsburg-Fortress and Steven replied:
 ::)  ::)  ::)

I say now:
You know, guys, today you just can't rile me up.
My Orpheus Club Men's Chorus has its spring concert tonight and tomorrow afternoon. (Fifty guys in tuxedos and cool male chorus singing, oldies, a Welsh Laudamus, some Broadway, Schumann's "Der Hidalgo" and some other fun stuff.)
Tomorrow I finish up a pleasant interim pastorate with two morning celebrations.
Early next week, it's off to Minneapolis for some time with children and grandchildren.
Then comes the move to Geneva for the summer and work at the LWF headquarters there. I'm figuring we'll get a long week-end in Paris while the flowers are still blooming, a trip to Mont Blanc and Chamonix, and some hikes in the Jura before the LWF Assembly in Stuttgart in July. We'll scoot down to Provence maybe in August, or hang out there for a week or two when my term is up.
So.... No amount of  ::) ::) ::), or silly "Austin hates me" postings really rattles my cage today.
Everybody be cool.

Luke 10:20....
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: edoughty on April 24, 2010, 08:54:27 PM
I said I, too, was a regular customer of Augsburg-Fortress and Steven replied:
 ::)  ::)  ::)

I say now:
You know, guys, today you just can't rile me up.
My Orpheus Club Men's Chorus has its spring concert tonight and tomorrow afternoon. (Fifty guys in tuxedos and cool male chorus singing, oldies, a Welsh Laudamus, some Broadway, Schumann's "Der Hidalgo" and some other fun stuff.)
Tomorrow I finish up a pleasant interim pastorate with two morning celebrations.
Early next week, it's off to Minneapolis for some time with children and grandchildren.
Then comes the move to Geneva for the summer and work at the LWF headquarters there. I'm figuring we'll get a long week-end in Paris while the flowers are still blooming, a trip to Mont Blanc and Chamonix, and some hikes in the Jura before the LWF Assembly in Stuttgart in July. We'll scoot down to Provence maybe in August, or hang out there for a week or two when my term is up.
So.... No amount of  ::) ::) ::), or silly "Austin hates me" postings really rattles my cage today.
Everybody be cool.

Wave when you drive through Mpls!

Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: shrimp on April 25, 2010, 01:26:23 AM
Apparently the Augsburg Fortress Board of Directors is meeting this weekend.  That is the lead to this article (http://www.prettygoodlutherans.com/?p=9801) on Susan Hogan's excellent pretty good lutherans news blog.  Not only does she offer a dynamite story about the increased secrecy enveloping AFP finances since the election of a new ELCA secretary, but after it she posts:

   * a proposed synod assembly resolution on the AFP pension plan termination (seems a bit economically naive to us; we like
       Pr. Tibbetts' idea (http://www.alpb.org/forum/index.php?topic=2776.msg149270#msg149270) of a special churchwide offering for special needs retirement fund for victims of the AFP pension plan);

   * a memo from Secretary Swartling commenting on that resolution; and

   * a message entitled "Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson's Response to those Advocating for Augsburg-Fortress Workers."

Any comment of ours on the latter two would likely bring out the 4th and 8th Commandment police, so we'll simply point you here (http://www.prettygoodlutherans.com/?p=9801) to read them yourselves.   

Shrimp
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Scott6 on April 25, 2010, 03:11:10 PM
One thing this situation makes me wonder is whether or not the advocacy wing of the ELCA -- those whose job it is to advocate for justice issues -- would be willing to back up their advocacy with action, dedicating all the money that would go to advocacy to fixing a problem of justice within the midst of the ELCA.  I wonder if the amount that has been line-itemed for such advocacy per year could cover the year-to-year costs of the pension plan that was for A-F pensioners.  That way, advocacy starts at home, and the problems in one's own house are cleared up before pointing out those in your neighbor's (or motes and logs, whichever image you prefer).
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Steven Tibbetts on April 25, 2010, 04:14:46 PM
That way, advocacy starts at home, and the problems in one's own house are cleared up before pointing out those in your neighbor's (or motes and logs, whichever image you prefer).


Sorry, Scott.  It's charity begins at home, not advocacy.  Charity, of course, is also demeaning to those who receive it, and thus would be oppression on our part.  And we certainly cannot oppress others in the guise of helping them out.  So, not only would your suggestion not be appropriate in this kind of situation, it is precisely the wrong thing to do. 

No, advocacy is speaking to power on behalf of those who have no voice.  And nothing, not even the perils of our own brothers and sister, shall dissuade us from speaking for the voiceless in our society.

[/sarcasm]
spt+
 
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: George Erdner on April 25, 2010, 04:47:06 PM
And nothing, not even the perils of our own brothers and sister, shall dissuade us from speaking for the voiceless in our society.
 

Especially those voiceless in our society who are likely to vote for candidates from the political party that invites our Presiding Bishop to meetings and photo ops.

(Sorry, I knew I should have resisted. The temptation to pile-on was more than I had the strength to resist.)

Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Bergs on April 29, 2010, 07:42:20 AM
Of course defined benefit plans are in trouble all over.  It is a huge problem in Minnesota for government workers.  Legislatures and city councils have abused the public pensions by promising big unfunded future benefits keeping the government unions happy and satisfying contemporary taxpayers.  But our children are going to have to face some ugly music.  It is financial child abuse. 

As my current job is covered by one of these pensions, I am at risk.  This will be a massive bailout or a massive cut to benefits.  Either one is painfu as is the situation with AF.  I am watching with interest how this goes at AF.  At what point do we recognize reality as AF did.  Then what do you do with that reality?  We need to do away with defined benefit plans, they are way too subject to abuse.

Will government pensions be next to go bust?
Generous benefits and faltering investments have depleted government funds.

http://www.startribune.com/politics/state/92374769.html?elr=KArksLckD8EQDUoaEyqyP4O:DW3ckUiD3aPc:_Yyc:aUac8HEaDiaMDCinchO7DU

Brian J. Bergs
Minneapolis, MN
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Jakozak on April 29, 2010, 08:35:15 AM
Just a few days ago I got the latest LCMS "Benefits Bulletin."  There is a statement to the effect that, as required by law, the synod is reporting that the Worker Benefits Plan is not subject to reporting or compliance with various US securities laws and codes.   Nobody ever explained the exact nature of these plans to me, but I am under the impression that LCMS pastors are not covered by health "insurance" but by a health "plan."  The same goes for disability and retirement.  I am not really sure of the rammifications of this.   Anyone?

Rev. Jack Kozak/Akron, Ohio
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Dan Fienen on April 29, 2010, 09:46:48 AM
I did some looking on line.  The primary web address for the Concordia Plans is www.concordiaplans.org . Apparently the retirement is a defined benefit plan that did take a hit during the recession.  One response to that hit was to increase employer contribution rates 1% at the beginning of 2010.  http://www.concordiaplans.org/graphics/assets/documents/PRESletter.pdf .  According to materials posted on the site, the plan seems to be adequately funded.

Quote
Delivering on Our Promises (Employer Bulletin Fall 2009)
We understand that times of uncertainty cause concern. And, we know that both the current and future benefits provided are important to LCMS employers, church workers, and retirees.

That’s why we are dedicated to doing what it takes to deliver on promises made.

You can find solace in the fact that your retirement funds, as well as other benefits, are managed with a disciplined approach. Concordia Plan Services staff does not work alone; we partner with top investment managers and business consultants. Their professional guidance—along with that of our experienced board members, prudent policies, and commitment to our fiduciary responsibilities—help to ensure we make the appropriate decisions when required.

During difficult economic times, difficult decisions need to be made. The very difficult decision to raise contribution rates for the Concordia Retirement Plan (CRP) is an example. Another example is the fact that current CRP beneficiaries will not be receiving benefit increases in 2010. These decisions were not made because the Plan is in any current danger of being unable to meet its obligations; instead, they represent prudent measures taken to secure long-term funding stability.

We will continue to share periodic updates about the CRP with you throughout the year.


Concordia Retirement Plan Update (Employer Bulletin Fall 2009)
Concordia Plan Services, like you, is very concerned about the care for church workers both in their active ministries and when they retire. Our goal is to provide peace of mind that allows the worker to focus on the ministry.

Our collective peace of mind was challenged this past year as economic events caused a downfall in public and private assets worldwide. The Concordia Retirement Plan was not immune; our assets in 2008 through March 2009 declined about 30%.

Although this was a big jolt, it’s important to keep perspective. The CRP was in a strong position heading into the economic downturn. Over long periods of time CRP assets have exceeded the 8% expected actuarial return, primarily due to our long-term investing philosophy. We know we must accept a certain level of investment risk and related volatility to achieve progressive returns.

As confirmation, the CRP assets have responded positively in market gains the past few months. That encouraging news will be supplemented by the 1% increase in the CRP contribution rate effective January 1, 2010, as announced this past July. The increase will strengthen the long-term funding status of the CRP while it continues to recover.

Market cycles present an opportunity to evaluate our strategic thinking around contributions, benefits, and risk. Rest assured that our Board of Trustees, investment managers, consultants, leadership team, and staff continually assess these key components of our Plans and will work diligently to make appropriate, measured responses that place the Plans in the best position to deliver on the promises made to members.

One prinary difficulty of, it seems, of many pension funds, AF's included I guess (I'm no expert) is underfunding it to begin with - not putting enough in each year to adequately provide for evetual pay out.  It is not obvious that this has happened with the Concordia Retirement Plan.  There was not increase in benefit for 2010, but that is better than a reduction.

More questions could be addressed directly to the plan office is St. Louis.  (They are a large occupant of the Internationsal Center in Kirkwood.)

Dan
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Dadoo on May 05, 2010, 07:01:12 AM
For all you legal junkies: a copy of the suit may be found here: http://docs.google.com/fileview?id=0B4XQ1WVXxqllZmYyNzJhMDEtNjMyMi00OTdmLWIwMTctNjBmMGZmNWI1NjU5&hl=en

The ELCA is prominently featured on page 46ff. According to the lawyers, Augsburg is ELC's "alter ego."  Interesting reading.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Bergs on May 20, 2010, 10:57:39 AM
There is another Minneapolis pension problem that just got resolved in Minnesota courts.  I do not know how if will affect the Augsburg-Fortress.  This is another sad story since it involves a much beloved group, our first responders.  If you follow the story, their pension trustees made some very speculative investments which failed.  So then they came to taxpayers with their tale of woe and request for financial assistance.  They tried to get the MN legislature to give assistance.  Given the sacrifice these people made for our safety, it is tough to turn backs on them but financial markets and investment decisions have consequences. 

http://www.startribune.com/local/94216954.html?elr=KArksUUUoDEy3LGDiO7aiU

There are perils for all of us in our retirements, including the impending devaluation of Social Security payments. 

Grace & Peace,
Brian J. Bergs
a Minneapolis taxpayer
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Evangel on July 29, 2010, 10:41:03 AM
A new article on the ELCA/Augsburg debacle.

http://www.newsok.com/pension-fight-raises-moral-concerns-for-elca-publisher/article/feed/176687
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: SmithL on July 29, 2010, 03:38:07 PM
How safe are ELCA pensions?
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: ptmccain on July 29, 2010, 03:56:44 PM
If the ELCA is found to be responsible for the AF pension funds, I am not sure what this means for the fiscal health of the ELCA pension funds.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Michael_Rothaar on July 29, 2010, 04:06:40 PM
How safe are ELCA pensions?

There are no "pensions." There is a 403b plan, in which accumulations may -- in the past -- have been annuitized. Updates on the situation -- which led to a projected 24% reduction in benefits to retirees -- are posted at https://www.elcabop.org/en/UnderstandMyBenefits/Retirement/Annuity-briefings.aspx.

This is from a June 2010 letter from Board of Pensions president John Kapanke to annuitants:

I am pleased to report that the plan to return the Fund to fully funded status remains on track, despite the increased market volatility we have witnessed over these past few weeks. The Fund’s funded ratio, which measures the Fund’s assets divided by the benefit obligation, has improved from 0.67 as of December 31, 2008, to 0.83 as of May 31, 2010. While the funded ratio is actually slightly down from earlier this year, it is an improvement nonetheless. We attribute the overall improvement to the Fund’s investment returns, annuity reduction and the interest-crediting rate for 2010 — giving us some cause for hope that we may be able to potentially lessen the remaining two years of anticipated annuity reductions. As you know, the very reason we made the difficult decision to reduce annuity payments and allow markets time to recover is to help meet our priority goal of providing income to you for your lifetime.
[snip]
Looking ahead to 2011, I can understand that you may want to know what your annuity payments will be as soon as possible. Our board of trustees is expected to approve annuity adjustments for 2011 when it meets in early November. After the board of trustees meeting, we will notify you promptly of annuity adjustments for 2011. Annuity payments depend on the Fund’s investment returns, which are difficult, if not impossible to predict.
While there has been some recovery in the markets and improvement to the Fund’s funded ratio, keep in mind that a funding gap of nearly $400 million remains and the financial markets continue to be quite volatile. If the Fund’s investment returns are higher than the projected rate of 7.6%, we will re-evaluate the funded ratio and could potentially lessen the remaining two years of anticipated annuity payment reductions. Conversely, if investment returns are less than the Fund’s projected rate of 7.6%, the Board of Pensions will evaluate what additional measures may be necessary to reach our goal of closing the funding gap by the end of 2012. (The 7.6% projected return is based on the Fund’s asset mix over the long term; it’s unlikely in any given year that investment returns will be exactly 7.6%.)

Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Charles_Austin on July 30, 2010, 02:03:04 AM
Pastor McCain writes:
If the ELCA is found to be responsible for the AF pension funds, I am not sure what this means for the fiscal health of the ELCA pension funds.

I respond:
Of course Pastor McCain isn't sure, for until a few minutes ago, he probably never gave 23 seconds thought to the ELCA pension funds. But when an opportunity to post yet another slam and fear-mongering message....he seizes it like a pit bull. And for what point?
"Watch out, ELCAers! Your pension funds may be in danger! And it's all because of......" (probably the decision to ordain women, but fill in your own blanks.)

The ELCA Board of Pensions (and I have been critical of them in the past) has done a good job of keeping us informed. That Pastor McCain is not informed doesn't bother me a bit.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: SmithL on July 30, 2010, 10:50:50 AM
I posted my question about ELCA pensions because a friend of mine, an ELCA pastor, posted a note on Facebook asking if anyone else got bad news from the BOP.
Title: Retirees take on Lutheran-affiliated publisher Augsburg Fortress
Post by: LutherMan on August 08, 2010, 02:54:19 PM
http://www.twincities.com/business/ci_15697272?nclick_check=1

By John Welbes
jwelbes@pioneerpress.com
Updated: 08/07/2010 10:49:46 PM CDT

Judy Olsen remembers getting hired at Augsburg Publishing House in 1983, and how the pension plan was part of the package.

'It was part of the orientation,' she said. Employees saw the defined-benefit pension plan, providing a monthly payout for life for retirees, as a trade-off for what they called the lower-than-average wages they earned from the publisher of religious material.

Olsen, now 73, says she never had reason to doubt her pension, which provides about $600 per month.

'Then, at the end of last December, like 'Happy New Year,' we got the letter,' she said.

The letter came on Dec. 31, from Beth Lewis, president and CEO of what is now called Augsburg Fortress, Publishers, announcing the termination of the pension plan at the Minneapolis-based company.

For the 500 people who were part of the plan, its demise was a shock. By April, four of the affected participants filed a civil lawsuit against Augsburg Fortress, Lewis, other executives and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The suit is seeking class action status.

Augsburg Fortress is the publishing house for the ELCA. The lawsuit challenges whether Augsburg Fortress' defunct pension is actually a "church" plan, the type that doesn't operate under the same federal laws as most other company plans. The next court action is set for October, a hearing on the ELCA's motion to dismiss the suit.

The demise of the Augsburg Fortress pension is adding fuel to the idea that such "church"
Advertisement
 
pension plans are in need of regulatory reform.

"We've been lobbying the IRS and Congress to do something about this," said Nancy Hwa, a spokeswoman for the Pension Rights Center, a nonprofit consumer organization based in Washington, D.C.

Beyond the legal dispute, the situation has also divided some synods of the ELCA as they've taken up resolutions on whether the church should help remedy the problem at Augsburg Fortress.

The plan's demise has pulled together frustrated pensioners who see their security disappearing. Dozens have shown up for meetings with the attorneys leading the legal case. There's also a Facebook page with 124 members — titled "Augsburg Fortress Pension — Speak Up!" — where plan participants share information and question how this happened.

Titles of discussion threads, where many employees have posted comments, include "Hit by a truck," "Where is the integrity?" and "Write the Board Now!"
<snip>

Much more at the link.
http://www.twincities.com/business/ci_15697272?nclick_check=1
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: G.Edward on October 31, 2010, 10:45:12 PM
Quote
Welcome to Augsburg Fortress, the Publishing House of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. As the ministry of publishing for the ELCA, we are dedicated to serving you with top quality Christian materials that communicate the Gospel, enhance faith, and enrich the life of the Church and the communities it serves. In turn, each purchase you make from us helps us to support your ministry. Unlike other publishers and church supply companies, Augsburg Fortress reinvests all profits made into the development of new quality ministry resources for the church. The result — a virtuous circle that encompasses both the needs of your church and the ability for Augsburg Fortress to provide you with resources to meet those needs

From Augsburg's own website.  They sound pretty well integrated with the ELCA to me.  How about a virtuous circle for employees and retireies counting on pension promises that were made at time of employment?
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Charles_Austin on October 31, 2010, 10:52:24 PM
As we have often noted, linkage through common interest and programs and even "mission" is not the same as legal union. Tough. Non-theological. But true.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Scott6 on November 01, 2010, 06:43:25 AM
As we have often noted, linkage through common interest and programs and even "mission" is not the same as legal union. Tough. Non-theological. But true.

Under the heading "Program Units of the Churchwide Organization" in the ELCA Constitution we find:

16.30. PUBLISHING HOUSE OF THE ELCA
16.31. This church shall have a publishing house to carry out the publishing
ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The Publishing
House of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America shall
be incorporated. The president of the corporation shall serve as its
chief executive officer. Upon authorization of the Church Council,
portions of the activities of this church’s publishing house may be
conducted through separate corporations.

Among other descriptors of the publishing house "of the ELCA" (an important genitival construction, as becomes quite clear), including its name as AF, we find:

16.31.02. Constitutional provision 16.12. and bylaws 14.21.02., 14.21.03., 16.12.11.,
and 16.12.14. shall apply to this publishing house.

So what are those provisions, you might ask?

They are:

16.12. Each unit shall be responsible to the Churchwide Assembly and will
report to the Church Council in the interim. The policies, procedures,
and operation of each unit shall be reviewed by the Church Council
in order to assure conformity with the governing documents of this
church and with Churchwide Assembly actions.

So AF is, per the ELCA constitution, responsible to the Churchwide Assembly, and its policies, procedures and operation are under the authority of the Church Council (who can review them to assure conformity with the governing documents of the ELCA and CWA actions).

To make sure this is clear, we have 14.21.02:

14.21.02. The Church Council shall review the procedures and programs of the
churchwide units to assure that churchwide purposes, policies, and
objectives are being fulfilled. Each unit shall recommend policy and
develop strategies in its particular areas of responsibility after consultation
with other units of the churchwide organization and affected synods,
congregations, agencies, and institutions.
a. Policies related to the day-to-day functioning of the unit or to the
specific responsibilities of the unit that have no implications for other
units, congregations, synods, agencies, or institutions may be approved
by the unit, subject to ratification by the Church Council.
b. All other policies shall be submitted to the Church Council for
approval.

So even policies relative to the day-to-day functioning of AF are subject to the Church Council's ratification though they can be adopted provisionally, and everything else must (a "shall" rubric) be approved by the Church Council.

Moving on...

14.21.03. The Church Council shall review all recommendations from churchwide
units for consideration by the Churchwide Assembly.

So AF can make recommendations to the Church Council in order for the council to make recommendations for CWA action relative to AF.

And:

16.12.11. Each program committee, which normally shall meet two times each year,
shall function as specified in this church’s constitution, bylaws, and
continuing resolutions regarding its responsibilities in relation to a
particular unit of the churchwide organization.

AF must function according to how its responsibilities are spelled out in "this church's constitution, bylaws and continuing resolutions".  If it wasn't clear already, it is the church that calls the tune relative to AF.

All in all, it seems to me that the pensioners of AF have a pretty good case to make.  AF may be separately incorporated (as the ELCA constitution says it must be -- another linkage), but its relationship is so tied in to the ELCA in her own governing documents that they can make a strong, persuasive case for a claim against the ELCA.  In one form, such a judgment has already been made by the government in its prior decision to approve AF's exemption from participating in the federal pension plan insurance b/c it is classified a church organization.

This is leaving aside the simple injustice of the ELCA itself not voluntarily coming to the rescue of the pensioners while she continues to fund advocacy programs worldwide in an attempt to right various other injustices done by others, of course.  Odd that the one she has the most ability and responsibility to fix she ignores.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Charles_Austin on November 01, 2010, 07:42:08 AM
I am not, Scott, the ELCA lawyer, or anyone else's lawyer. Neither are you. So I do not know whether your questions to this matter of our legal system are properly framed or how to answer them.
Having spent a good deal of time covering courts and issues relating to property, ownership, responsibility and accountability, I will only say that I think no one here - neither you nor I nor anyone who has not read the law and studied the attendant documents (at a rate of about $300 per hour) - has a handle on what the real issues are.
My pension was cut 9 percent this year, and faces cuts for the next two years, perhaps at the same amount. Pastors who worked for peanuts most of their ministries, did not buy a house or plan properly for retirement are suffering throughout the ELCA, much more than I. My wife has a good pension, I have some pension from my secular work and I am able to earn a few bucks when I wish to do so.
If I were to take up the banner of "justice" on any ecclesial economic matter, it would be in a battle to see that pastors are properly compensated and that our pension plan is fully funded, rather than being crippled by the unfunded liabilites we stupidly accepted at the time of the merger.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: James Gustafson on November 01, 2010, 07:48:44 AM
...
This is leaving aside the simple injustice of the ELCA itself not voluntarily coming to the rescue of the pensioners while she continues to fund advocacy programs worldwide in an attempt to right various other injustices done by others, of course.  Odd that the one she has the most ability and responsibility to fix she ignores.

I don't think it's odd at all, its all to common actually.  They've been around for thousands of years, Jesus mentioned meeting a few, He called them hypocrites when he talked to them.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: James Gustafson on November 01, 2010, 07:54:38 AM
...
If I were to take up the banner of "justice" on any ecclesial economic matter, it would be in a battle to see that pastors are properly compensated and that our pension plan is fully funded, rather than being crippled by the unfunded liabilites we stupidly accepted at the time of the merger.

And that's wrong too, I would stand and fight beside you if you did lead that battle.  The promises already made by the "management" needs to first and foremost in their accountabilities today, short of utter bankruptcy and forfeiture of assets those things need to be cut last.  New promises shouldn't be made and new endeavors should not be undertaken if they aren't held liable for past shortcomings and responsibilities.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Scott6 on November 01, 2010, 08:04:07 AM
I am not, Scott, the ELCA lawyer, or anyone else's lawyer. Neither are you. So I do not know whether your questions to this matter of our legal system are properly framed or how to answer them.

True, I am no lawyer (though here I can claim to be the son of a lawyer which, in some circles, may be claiming to be the son of something I'd not want repeated here  >:( [especially as it's my dad who's the lawyer]), but I do know argumentation which is what lawyers do -- though I certainly don't know the ins and outs of the law here.  So I made an argument based on the ELCA's constitution alone as to how one can see that the ELCA is closely tied to AF in terms of: a) being responsible for its creation by legislating its existence as a separately incorporated unit; b) overseeing both its general policies as well as its day-to-day operational policies; c) having AF be responsible to the CWA; d) giving the Church Council oversight of AF; e) allowing AF to make recommendations to the CWA via a review of AF's suggestions by the Church Council; f) requiring AF to operate according to the ELCA's governing documents; and g) having it recognized as a church organization exempt from federal pension insurance.

Like I said, I'm not a lawyer, but those seem to me to be rather strong arguments connecting AF to the ELCA, and showing such a connection would be a key component in arguing that the ELCA is legally responsible for the AF pensions.

But perhaps James Gale or Donald Kirchner, who are lawyers, could comment.

If I were to take up the banner of "justice" on any ecclesial economic matter, it would be in a battle to see that pastors are properly compensated and that our pension plan is fully funded, rather than being crippled by the unfunded liabilites we stupidly accepted at the time of the merger.

I can understand why you'd want your pension plan to be fully funded.  I would further say that not doing so while funding the advocacy office in Washington to advocate for other injustices is simply another example of an injustice the ELCA could and should address.  This would be under the rubric of cleaning up the your own backyard before pointing out how bad your neighbor's is (or splinters and logs, if you like).
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Charles_Austin on November 01, 2010, 08:18:33 AM
Scott writes:
I can understand why you'd want your pension plan to be fully funded.  I would further say that not doing so while funding the advocacy office in Washington to advocate for other injustices is simply another example of an injustice the ELCA could and should address.  This would be under the rubric of cleaning up the your own backyard before pointing out how bad your neighbor's is (or splinters and logs, if you like).

I comment:
If I only put my resources towards alleged injustices that affect me and my family, I will be ignoring my responsibility to be concerned about the sufferings of others.
So I am glad that our national and synodical offices of governmental affairs speak up for the poor, the immigrants, the abused and others in need, some of whom may need that voice more that I need a bigger pension.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Scott6 on November 01, 2010, 09:05:51 AM
Scott writes:
I can understand why you'd want your pension plan to be fully funded.  I would further say that not doing so while funding the advocacy office in Washington to advocate for other injustices is simply another example of an injustice the ELCA could and should address.  This would be under the rubric of cleaning up the your own backyard before pointing out how bad your neighbor's is (or splinters and logs, if you like).

I comment:
If I only put my resources towards alleged injustices that affect me and my family, I will be ignoring my responsibility to be concerned about the sufferings of others.
So I am glad that our national and synodical offices of governmental affairs speak up for the poor, the immigrants, the abused and others in need, some of whom may need that voice more that I need a bigger pension.

Unless you're related to all the AF pensioners, I think they qualify.

Or at least you should ask them their opinion, first, before ignoring their needs.

But in any case, the ELCA should not perpetrate injustice.  Proclaiming against the injustice of another while actually perpetrating it by being a party to it elsewhere has a quite simple name -- hypocrisy.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Charles_Austin on November 01, 2010, 09:44:55 AM
Scott writes:
But in any case, the ELCA should not perpetrate injustice.  Proclaiming against the injustice of another while actually perpetrating it by being a party to it elsewhere has a quite simple name -- hypocrisy.

I comment:
Personally, I do not know enough about the situation to declare it "unjust." That requires some assumptions about what is going on that I am not qualified to make. And, as noted above, I don't think you know enough about the situation either.

Now, if your view of justice is that all retirees or all people should somehow receive a certain level of support at a certain time in their lives, you will want to expand the work of the LC-MS offices of governmental affairs.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: FatherWilliam57 on November 01, 2010, 09:52:34 AM
Translation:  Because the only way to make this church (ELCA) "do the right thing" is to compell them to do so under secular law?  ??? ??? ???
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Charles_Austin on November 01, 2010, 09:57:35 AM
Read more carefully, Pastor Henry, I do not know that in this situation the church has not "done the right thing." Wow! The assumptions fly around here like autumn leaves!
Oh, and before the howling begins, I do not contend without a doubt that the ELCA or Augsburg-Fortress has "done the right thing." My point is: We do not know. We do not have in our hands the information necessary for us to know. So the carping and wailing and accusations are inappropriate.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Scott6 on November 01, 2010, 10:24:30 AM
Scott writes:
But in any case, the ELCA should not perpetrate injustice.  Proclaiming against the injustice of another while actually perpetrating it by being a party to it elsewhere has a quite simple name -- hypocrisy.

I comment:
Personally, I do not know enough about the situation to declare it "unjust." That requires some assumptions about what is going on that I am not qualified to make. And, as noted above, I don't think you know enough about the situation either.

Now, if your view of justice is that all retirees or all people should somehow receive a certain level of support at a certain time in their lives, you will want to expand the work of the LC-MS offices of governmental affairs.

It's certainly true that the legal verdict on whether or not they are acting justly is out, but the verdict on the morality of the issue is much closer at hand -- again, if you will spend millions to advocate for folks who are the victims of bad situations being placed upon them by others, and your own publishing house has canceled the pensions of hundreds of its employees, leaving many high and dry in their retirement, then it goes to reason that charity and a sense of fair play would use those funds to help pay the pensions of your publishing house's retirees.

Which is to say, we don't need a court to tell us what is moral or not.  Church folk are certainly capable of chiming in, though I agree that the church won't be the one to make the legal determination.

As to the "all people" receiving a certain level of financial support bit, that's a non sequitur as I was concerned with the pension plan to which AF employees contributed for many years, expecting to receive a pension.

In any case, if James Gale or Donald Kirchner would chime in on my argument above (http://www.alpb.org/forum/index.php?topic=2776.msg185797#msg185797), I'd be interested in hearing their lawyerly opinions.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: FatherWilliam57 on November 01, 2010, 10:29:00 AM
Oh, and before the howling begins, I do not contend without a doubt that the ELCA or Augsburg-Fortress has "done the right thing." My point is: We do not know. We do not have in our hands the information necessary for us to know. So the carping and wailing and accusations are inappropriate.

Oh, but we do know.  The ELCA released a statement shortly after the A-F Pension Fund "went south" stating that "this church" has no legal obligation to address the problem.  Nothing, as I recall, was said about any moral or ethical obligation we might have toward these men and women who served for the benefit of "this church."   Sounds a little "morally bankrupt" to me...but your mileage may vary.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Mike Bennett on November 01, 2010, 11:02:00 AM
Read more carefully, Pastor Henry, I do not know that in this situation the church has not "done the right thing." Wow! The assumptions fly around here like autumn leaves!
Oh, and before the howling begins, I do not contend without a doubt that the ELCA or Augsburg-Fortress has "done the right thing." My point is: We do not know. We do not have in our hands the information necessary for us to know. So the carping and wailing and accusations are inappropriate.

1. It is a matter of uncontroverted public record that
a. The AF employees had/have a defined benefit pension plan ("AF DB Plan")
b. A DB Plan includes a promise to its participants to pay them a pension based on the formula stated in the Plan
c. A DB Plan is overseen by its trustees and, unlike a defined contribution plan (401K or the non-profit equivalent) is completely outside the control of its participants
d. The AF DB Plan has become increasingly underfunded over the past several years, as employer contributions and investment returns were inadequate to fund the actuarially calculated value of pension benefits
e. AF has now explicitly advised its DB Plan participants that it cannot and therefore will not keep its promiss to them (b. above) and has reduced the payments in specific announced ways

On what planet is it unclear whether AF has "done the right thing" in breaking its promise to retirees and soon-to-be retirees, who have naively believed their employer's promise?

2. Like you and Scott, I am not a lawyer (though I can raise Scott's lawyer father by one lawyer brother and one lawyer nephew).  More to the point, I am trustee of a DB pension plan (in addition to several 401K plans).
a. Each year our actuary provides the DB plan trustees a report based on  its assets, pension formula, investment returns, and participant demographics that tell us the amount of employer contributions required in the following year to maintain a sound funding level.
b. As we are a for-profit company, we are subject to regulations established by the ERISA law, which, among other things, require a certain funded level and impose certain limitations on the plan if it fails to attain that level.
c. Following the 2008 investment market debacles, we were required to dig deeper than planned to maintain the required funded level for our DB Plan.  We did it.  That's what plan sponsors do.
d. Further, because the people of the United States became sick and tired of seeing pension plans break their promises to participants, we are required to pay an insurance premium to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation ("PBGC") each year.  Should oru plan become insolvent and its sponsor (my employer) be unable to save it, the participant pensions are protected by PBGC.

So long as churches invest in the same world as for-profit organizations, there is no excuse for the continuation of a "church plan" exception from ERISA and PBGC coverage.

3.  For the present AF DB Plan human crisis (and it is a human crisis), the ELCA churchwide "expression" of church needs to step up and do what churches traditionally do in a financial emergency - make an emergency fund raising appeal to its 5 million (4 million? 3 million?) members, explaining exactly what's happened, the human suffering that's resulted, and promising that all proceeds from the emergency appeal will be added to the AF DB Plan investments, and the promised benefit levels restored to the participants.  My wife and I would respond as we traditionally do to true emergency appeals, and I am confident that enough other ELCA members would do the same that the crisis would be dealt with.  There is only one reason not to do this, and it has everything to do with establishing a bad legal precedent for ELCA, and nothing to do with right and wrong.

Try to refrain from references to "howling" "carping"  and "wailing," Charles.

Mike Bennett
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Mike Bennett on November 01, 2010, 11:03:25 AM
Translation:  Because the only way to make this church (ELCA) "do the right thing" is to compell them to do so under secular law?  ??? ??? ???

You have a problem with the peccator part of the simul?

Mike Bennett
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Brian Stoffregen on November 01, 2010, 11:07:09 AM
Personally, I do not know enough about the situation to declare it "unjust." That requires some assumptions about what is going on that I am not qualified to make. And, as noted above, I don't think you know enough about the situation either.

Now, if your view of justice is that all retirees or all people should somehow receive a certain level of support at a certain time in their lives, you will want to expand the work of the LC-MS offices of governmental affairs.

Is it unjust that none of the places where my wife has worked has given her pension?
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Mike Bennett on November 01, 2010, 11:11:06 AM
Personally, I do not know enough about the situation to declare it "unjust." That requires some assumptions about what is going on that I am not qualified to make. And, as noted above, I don't think you know enough about the situation either.

Now, if your view of justice is that all retirees or all people should somehow receive a certain level of support at a certain time in their lives, you will want to expand the work of the LC-MS offices of governmental affairs.

Is it unjust that none of the places where my wife has worked has given her pension?


But AF has a DB Plan, which includes promises to the participants as an integral part of being DB.  What part of "promise" is unclear, and how does "given" come into play?

From lawyers I might expect this (sorry Dad, sorry Roger, sorry Jason) (sorry Scott's dad) but from pastors?
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Michael Slusser on November 01, 2010, 11:21:34 AM
b. As we are a for-profit company, we are subject to regulations established by the ERISA law, which, among other things, require a certain funded level and impose certain limitations on the plan if it fails to attain that level.
c. Following the 2008 investment market debacles, we were required to dig deeper than planned to maintain the required funded level for our DB Plan.  We did it.  That's what plan sponsors do.
d. Further, because the people of the United States became sick and tired of seeing pension plans break their promises to participants, we are required to pay an insurance premium to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation ("PBGC") each year.  Should oru plan become insolvent and its sponsor (my employer) be unable to save it, the participant pensions are protected by PBGC.

So long as churches invest in the same world as for-profit organizations, there is no excuse for the continuation of a "church plan" exception from ERISA and PBGC coverage.

Mike Bennett

Thank you, Mike, for a clear and sound analysis of the problem. If the AF employees were in a plan covered under ERISA, then the safeguards you list would protect them.

The point of the "church" plan exception, as I understand it, is that whereas corporations are come-and-go affairs, being wound up, taken over, merged, and so forth, ERISA was passed to make sure that their DB pension plans (if they had them) were not exploited by being drained of money for the profit of whichever owners might be in charge at a particular time. In the case of a recession such as the one we are in, a DB pension fund under ERISA has a few years, but only a few years, to get back up to fully funded status.

Churches, on the other hand, are expected to be there for the long pull, and therefore in theory always able to pay on their pensions out of current income, even if the fund in question is low; corporations were allowed to do that before ERISA, and many state governments (including--I'm told--Illinois still must appropriate pension money every year, because they refuse to fully fund their pension obligations; after all, that would RAISE TAXES, and we can't have that) still pay pensions as they go.

Still, even if the AR fund is under the "church plan" exemption, Charles is right that the details of the the Plan and its legal commection--or lack of connection--with the rest of the ELCA's corporate operations are what will determine whether the ELCA must bail out its publishing arm's pension plan by paying AR pensioners out of general church operating funds.

Peace,
Michael
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Jeremy Loesch on November 01, 2010, 11:24:20 AM
Brian, perhaps your wife should have looked elsewhere for work.  I cannot find in my handy pocket-edition of the US Constitution that a pension is guaranteed.  Was "life, liberty, and the happiness of pursuit" amended when I wasn't looking?  There is nothing just or unjust about pensions.  But when one is a DB (excellent summary BTW Mr. Bennett) then justice and injustice language is appropriate.

Jeremy
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Mike Bennett on November 01, 2010, 11:27:24 AM

many state governments (including--I'm told--Illinois still must appropriate pension money every year, because they refuse to fully fund their pension obligations; after all, that would RAISE TAXES, and we can't have that) still pay pensions as they go.

Don't get me started. >:(

Mike Bennett
Fort Sheridan, Illinois
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Michael Slusser on November 01, 2010, 11:36:17 AM

many state governments (including--I'm told--Illinois still must appropriate pension money every year, because they refuse to fully fund their pension obligations; after all, that would RAISE TAXES, and we can't have that) still pay pensions as they go.

Don't get me started. >:(

Mike Bennett
Fort Sheridan, Illinois

As the risk of getting you started: my Illinois relatives tell me that two Illinois state pension funds ARE fully funded (whatever it costs!), namely, the one for legislators and the one for judges.  >:(

Peace,
Michael
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Charles_Austin on November 01, 2010, 11:48:20 AM
Mike Bennett seems to have some special knowledge that can be useful in the discussion. Good. Our knowledge is still incomplete regarding this "church plan" exemption, and - as noted above - I don't believe any opinion begins to hold water until we have seen the exact documents and legal standing of this particular case.

We are also unaware of the longer-term consequences if Augsburg-Fortress or the ELCA would - out of our sheer graciousness and Christian compassion - say "oh, sorry. The plan can't pay you, but here's your money anyway, taken from funds that should have gone elsewhere." We do not know what kind of unintended consequence that might have or what it might mean the next time a pensioner is in need.

But, of course, this sad situation does give ELCA critics another chance to say how hypocritical and corrupt we are. Enjoy.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Mike Bennett on November 01, 2010, 12:05:14 PM

many state governments (including--I'm told--Illinois still must appropriate pension money every year, because they refuse to fully fund their pension obligations; after all, that would RAISE TAXES, and we can't have that) still pay pensions as they go.

Don't get me started. >:(

Mike Bennett
Fort Sheridan, Illinois

As the risk of getting you started: my Illinois relatives tell me that two Illinois state pension funds ARE fully funded (whatever it costs!), namely, the one for legislators and the one for judges.  >:(

Peace,
Michael

I did not know that.  I believe Illinois must have the worst state government of the 50, in pretty much every way I can think of.  Irresponsible operation of pension funds is only one of the many ways.  My party and the other one cooperate happily in the mess. I know there are some supposed competitors for worst state government, but I think we've got 'em licked.   Another chance to try to fix it tomorrow.   >:(

Mike Bennett
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Mike Bennett on November 01, 2010, 12:19:52 PM
Mike Bennett seems to have some special knowledge that can be useful in the discussion. Good. Our knowledge is still incomplete regarding this "church plan" exemption, and - as noted above - I don't believe any opinion begins to hold water until we have seen the exact documents and legal standing of this particular case.

We are also unaware of the longer-term consequences if Augsburg-Fortress or the ELCA would - out of our sheer graciousness and Christian compassion - say "oh, sorry. The plan can't pay you, but here's your money anyway, taken from funds that should have gone elsewhere." We do not know what kind of unintended consequence that might have or what it might mean the next time a pensioner is in need.

But, of course, this sad situation does give ELCA critics another chance to say how hypocritical and corrupt we are. Enjoy.

1. "if Augsburg-Fortress or the ELCA would - out of sheer graciousness and Christian compassion . . . . . "

Charles, since you evidently believe some kind of "special knowledge" is required to read English, read my lips instead.  This is an AF Defined Benefit Pension Plan.  The Defined Benefit is a promise.  AF is the party making the promise.  Keeping a promise doesn't require sheer graciousness and Christian compassion.  It only requires integrity.

2. "another chance to say how hypocritical and corrupt we are."

As I'm a part of ELCA, "We" includes me.  And yeah, we're hypocritical and corrupt.  You're another one with a problem with the peccator part of the simul?  I've never been to seminary, and I get it.

3. "Enjoy."

Not hardly.  But I am willing to call a thing what it is, and AF has broken its promise to long-time employees, while ELCA stands to one side resting on its lack of legal liability.  It's scandalous.

Mike Bennett
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: George Erdner on November 01, 2010, 12:42:08 PM
Personally, I do not know enough about the situation to declare it "unjust." That requires some assumptions about what is going on that I am not qualified to make. And, as noted above, I don't think you know enough about the situation either.

Now, if your view of justice is that all retirees or all people should somehow receive a certain level of support at a certain time in their lives, you will want to expand the work of the LC-MS offices of governmental affairs.

Is it unjust that none of the places where my wife has worked has given her pension?

If she knew when she was deciding to accept a job or not that there would be no pension, then it is not unfair. On the other hand, if she was promised a pension and then the employer reneged on the deal, then that is unfair. There's no obligation for a company to provide a pension, but there is an obligation for a company to honor its promises. Even if the company didn't have to make the promise, if it makes the promise, then it is bound to it.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Charles_Austin on November 01, 2010, 12:50:00 PM
And I suspect the issue of justice in this matter will be sorted out by the courts; and I would expect that if it is found that the ELCA has obligations, the ELCA will satisfy those obligations. Until then, we are either rushing to judgment or being irresponsibly defensive.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: G.Edward on November 01, 2010, 01:08:03 PM
Scott writes:
But in any case, the ELCA should not perpetrate injustice.  Proclaiming against the injustice of another while actually perpetrating it by being a party to it elsewhere has a quite simple name -- hypocrisy.

I comment:
Personally, I do not know enough about the situation to declare it "unjust." That requires some assumptions about what is going on that I am not qualified to make. And, as noted above, I don't think you know enough about the situation either.

Now, if your view of justice is that all retirees or all people should somehow receive a certain level of support at a certain time in their lives, you will want to expand the work of the LC-MS offices of governmental affairs.

Expanding bureaucracies only chews up more resources, leaving less for those in need.  Bigger human anything is - historically speaking - highly unlikely to improve anything.  Changed hearts of real people who then seek to keep promises to love and serve their neighbor is the finger of God.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Jeremy Loesch on November 01, 2010, 01:09:26 PM
So...a promise is only binding unless a court declares it to be?  And I don't think there is excessive defensiveness nor rushes to judgment being made.  

Q: When is a promise not a promise?
A: When's its inconvenient.

Mike Bennett, you've done a very fine job explaining this.  (And I think you have a point about your state government too.  I'm sorry for that.  That's not fair.  And tomorrow is an opportunity to 'fix' things.  I'm voting for everyone that is not an incumbent tomorrow, except for the Caecil County Sherriff.  Even my bum is a bum.)

Jeremy  
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Mike Bennett on November 01, 2010, 01:21:33 PM
And I suspect the issue of justice in this matter will be sorted out by the courts; and I would expect that if it is found that the ELCA has obligations, the ELCA will satisfy those obligations. Until then, we are either rushing to judgment or being irresponsibly defensive.

And in the meantime AF retirees will eat catfood.  But we wouldn't want to rush to judgment or use the PB's bully pulpit for a special appeal to replenish the pension fund so AF's promises can be kept.  The whole thing is just an excuse for ELCA's enemies to take pot shots.  (Including the enemies within, who would love to see a fund appeal against which they can write a check!)  

Wow.  Just wow.

Mike Bennett

And please don't say something stupid, such as I can write a check any time I please, without a fund appeal.  I'll point out in advance that there really isn't a way for an ELCA pew sitter to write a check that goes straight into AF's DB pension plan
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Richard Johnson on November 01, 2010, 01:30:14 PM

If I were to take up the banner of "justice" on any ecclesial economic matter, it would be in a battle to see that pastors are properly compensated and that our pension plan is fully funded, rather than being crippled by the unfunded liabilites we stupidly accepted at the time of the merger.


If I only put my resources towards alleged injustices that affect me and my family, I will be ignoring my responsibility to be concerned about the sufferings of others.


OK then .  . .
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Richard Johnson on November 01, 2010, 01:33:37 PM
Mike Bennett seems to have some special knowledge that can be useful in the discussion. Good. Our knowledge is still incomplete regarding this "church plan" exemption, and - as noted above - I don't believe any opinion begins to hold water until we have seen the exact documents and legal standing of this particular case.


It didn't seem to help much when Scott quoted the exact legal document that is supposed to govern our life together in the ELCA (its Constitution).
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Brian Stoffregen on November 01, 2010, 01:39:37 PM
Mike Bennett seems to have some special knowledge that can be useful in the discussion. Good. Our knowledge is still incomplete regarding this "church plan" exemption, and - as noted above - I don't believe any opinion begins to hold water until we have seen the exact documents and legal standing of this particular case.


It didn't seem to help much when Scott quoted the exact legal document that is supposed to govern our life together in the ELCA (its Constitution).

Well, we have Jesus' words in Matthew 6

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

and,


25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life ?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

I've heard arguments that these text speak against having pension plans or life insurance. Seeking to store up treasures for the future is showing a lack of trust in God.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Richard Johnson on November 01, 2010, 01:42:55 PM
Non sequitur of the day award. No financial remuneration involved.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Charles_Austin on November 01, 2010, 01:48:00 PM
The legal document that is the ELCA constitution may not be the operative document in the Augsburg-Fortress Pension matter.
But nice try.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Brian Stoffregen on November 01, 2010, 01:48:11 PM
Non sequitur of the day award. No financial remuneration involved.

I figured if the Constitution/Bylaws are quoted as authorities, why not scriptures. Why shouldn't we wonder if pension plans, life insurance, or even social security, indicate a lack of trust that God will provide what we need in the future?

Remember that during a very conservative time in my Christian life, I associated with people who said that buying life insurance indicated a lack of faith in God.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: James_Gale on November 01, 2010, 01:49:42 PM
And I suspect the issue of justice in this matter will be sorted out by the courts; and I would expect that if it is found that the ELCA has obligations, the ELCA will satisfy those obligations. Until then, we are either rushing to judgment or being irresponsibly defensive.

Is your position that US law determines what is, and what is not, "justice"?  Are you claiming the ELCA's moral obligations extend no further than its legal obligations?
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: John Theiss on November 01, 2010, 01:54:08 PM
Charles, if none of the posters here can be sure that we have "all the information" about the AF situation and therefore are not qualified to speak to the issue of pensions, how does the ELCA office of public policy (by whatever name) insure that it has "all the information" on every issue to which it speaks?  I noticed that such an office must continue to be funded in a previous post you made, as to not do so would somehow mean the ELCA was failing to address injustice in our world. 
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: RevDavid on November 01, 2010, 01:59:08 PM
I think, from everything that I have seen, that the ELCA does not have a legal obligation to help out the AF pension fund (but I'm no lawyer).  However, that is not the issue for me.  

It is not a question for me of "what must we do" but rather "what can we do."  We in the ELCA love our brothers and sisters who are in the AF pension plan, with whom we have a long and mutually beneficial relationship; What can we do to help them?  Not because we must, or because some court twisted our arm, or to answer outside criticism, but because it is the right thing to do.

Would it be easy for us to respond?  Probably not.  Not when we are cutting our own budgets (denominationally, synodically, and congregationally), not when the economy is in the state that it is in, not when our own house is as divided as it is.  But doing the right, best thing is often difficult.

And yes, this issue is being used by those who are critical of the ELCA.  Used by people who are searching not for what is best in the ELCA, but who are always looking for the worst (not necessarily speaking of anyone here).  So what?  The fact that this issue is being used for the purposes of others ought not keep us from doing the right thing - because the fact is they are right.  We should do something.

~ David
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: G.Edward on November 01, 2010, 01:59:39 PM
The legal document that is the ELCA constitution may not be the operative document in the Augsburg-Fortress Pension matter.
But nice try.

No, but it is the purported operational document for those who make so much of "bearing each others' burdens'.  Is it as elastic in your view as the Scriptures?
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Charles_Austin on November 01, 2010, 02:05:05 PM
John Theiss writes:
Charles, if none of the posters here can be sure that we have "all the information" about the AF situation and therefore are not qualified to speak to the issue of pensions, how does the ELCA office of public policy (by whatever name) insure that it has "all the information" on every issue to which it speaks?
I comment:
Because we speak to issues, pending legislation and regulations, rather than to particular cases. Sometimes we file an amicus brief and when we do that, we do indeed have all the documents and file according to our interpretation of what is in the documents pertaining to a certain case.

John Theiss writes:
I noticed that such an office must continue to be funded in a previous post you made, as to not do so would somehow mean the ELCA was failing to address injustice in our world.
I comment:
That is an overstatement. Addressing the institutions and systems of government is not the only way we address injustice in our world. But it is one of the ways we do that, and I am glad we do address government. I suspect the "pro-life" people in the LCMS are also glad that their church addresses government with regard to legislation relating to abortion.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: James Gustafson on November 01, 2010, 02:10:00 PM
Non sequitur of the day award. No financial remuneration involved.

I figured if the Constitution/Bylaws are quoted as authorities, why not scriptures. Why shouldn't we wonder if pension plans, life insurance, or even social security, indicate a lack of trust that God will provide what we need in the future?

Remember that during a very conservative time in my Christian life, I associated with people who said that buying life insurance indicated a lack of faith in God.


I understand.  However, there are more quotes about how the management is treating the employee, such as; I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers. (1 Cor. 6)
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: James_Gale on November 01, 2010, 02:44:39 PM
I am a lawyer but I don't know much about the laws regarding pension rights.  So I won't offer any substantive opinions regarding the AF lawsuit.

For those interested, here's the complaint (http://www.erisafraud.com/Portals/7/documents/Augsburg_PlThorkelsonERISAComplLockridgeMcEwen042110.pdf) from the case.  I didn't find the briefs related to the dismissal motions on any "free" site and don't want to pay to get them from the court's site.  Arguments on the dismissal motions likely will take place in December.

"Church plan" is a term of art.  The government in recent years has narrowed the scope of organizations that it will permit to form such plans.  Ultimately, though, the courts decide.  

The ELCA constitution standing alone doesn't resolve the question regarding the ELCA's legal responsibility for the AF pension plan.  You'd need to see all the relevant governing documents.  And I'll bet that at least some of those documents wall the ELCA off from legal responsibility for the AF pension plan.  But that's just a guess.

And as I said, the law in this area is complex.  So we'll wait and see.

Now, the question of moral obligation, well . . . .
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: edoughty on November 01, 2010, 02:49:48 PM
Full disclosure:  I am one of the AF pensioners.  I only worked there 5 years, but that was the plan I was on.  Others, who worked their entire careers at AF in what they understood to be a ministry of publishing, are losing much more; and I feel for them.

As I understand it, part of the problem is that the money simply is not there.  

I would like to see the ELCA say, "Even though we have no financial responsibility in this case and nothing forces us to do so, we choose to help as we are able," and then undertake a fund-raising campaign to assist the pensioners.  

Thus far, that is not the route they have chosen and I confess I am disappointed in the ELCA because of it.  I know time are hard for everyone but it seems to me we might be pleasantly surprised what can happen if we just asked.

As James says, we will have to wait and see what comes of the situation.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Jay on November 01, 2010, 04:28:56 PM
I have handled a few ERISA cases, but nothing of this magntitude.  I would note that Minnesota is in the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, so this case from the 8th Circuit I found during a quick westlaw search might be instructive on the issue of whether the AF plan is an ERISA plan or a "church plan":

Employee benefit plan for employees of nonprofit hospital corporation was not “church plan” exempted from ERISA, even though corporation imposed denominational requirement on its upper-level management and board members and required its chaplains to be ordained ministers of that denomination; denomination's state governing body played no role in corporation's governance and did not appoint or approve any of corporation's board members, corporation received no financial support from governing body, lower-level management employees were not required to be denomination members, and hospital treated patients of all faiths. Chronister v. Baptist Health, 442 F.3d 648 (8th Cir. Ark. 2006).

Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Steven Tibbetts on November 01, 2010, 06:00:52 PM

So I am glad that our national and synodical offices of governmental affairs speak up for the poor, the immigrants, the abused and others in need, some of whom may need that voice more that I need a bigger pension.

If only they would speak out for those abused by their own church.

Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Steven Tibbetts on November 01, 2010, 06:59:24 PM

So long as churches invest in the same world as for-profit organizations, there is no excuse for the continuation of a "church plan" exception from ERISA and PBGC coverage.


Other than the constitutional issues of the federal gov't regulating religion, which is why a church plan is exempt from ERISA and PBGC inthe first place.

The legal question will center largely around whether the AF defined benefit plan was legitimately a "church plan." The ELCA's documents make a very strong case for that.

OTOH, the Presiding Bishop and the Secretary have pointed to the very conscious decision at the ELCA's formation to spearately incorporate AFP as they deny any legal or moral responsibility for the failure of the AFP pension plan.  Which undercuts to some degree the AFP plan's regulatory status as a "church plan."


As for the moral responsibility of the ELCA, as I wrote on the day after this topic began:

The ELCA's response should be to establish something like the ELCA Special Needs Retirement Fund for the employees and retirees of the church's publishing ministry, and have a churchwide offering specifically for that purpose.


Until this is done, the Presiding Bishop and the ELCA have very little capital to be making moral pronouncements to the rest of our society.  "I was naked, and you said it was a matter of litigation and couldn't do anything."  Each day this continues, the ELCA spends more of its moral capital and, frankly, no one benefits from this with the possible exception of the lawyers recording billable hours.


Oh, and since it apparently needs to be said again: the underfunded nature of AFP's defined benefit plan is a very, very different matter than those ELCA pensioners who annuitized (portions of) their defined contributions pension plans.  Had they not done that, they would not be subject to the 9% reductions.  OTOH, they would have been subject greater losses in the market value of the how they were investing their contributions.  

Of course, there should be a churchwide offering for the ELCA Special Needs Retirement Fund for those retired ELCA pastors who, regardless of whether they annuitized or lost directly, are suffering.

Christe eleison, Steven+
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Steven Tibbetts on November 01, 2010, 07:10:50 PM
Hmmm.  Wondering if this is one of the reasons why this memo came out a couple of weeks ago:

          Augsburg Fortress stopped taking orders for churchwide-developed
          resources effective October 20, at 5:00 p.m. CDT. (Staff who are
          responsible for resource development within each unit have been
          working with us for a few months to make this possible.)

          Callers or visitors looking for churchwide products on the Augsburg
          Web site immediately will be directed to contact the new distribution
          center at 800-638-3522, ext. 2580. As of October 25, 2010, orders can
          also be placed online www.elca.org/resources.

          Northern Printing Network will manage the distribution center for us.
          You may see their name and logo (or the acronym "NPN") on invoices and
          correspondence related to orders.

          ELCA resources previously carried by Augsburg Fortress are being
          transferred to the new warehouse this week and next. Backorders will
          be filled by November 8.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Michael Slusser on November 01, 2010, 07:49:50 PM
There is probably a back story on the AF pensions going back to the separate publishers A and F and how they were integrated at the time that they were. I have seen no data (nor am I seeking any) about how the resulting pension plan compares in promised benefits with its predecessors in the separate entities. Was the amount hiked to motivate the smooth transition? Nor have I seen anything about how the promised pension formula compares to pensions in the ELCA central organization generally. Is the ELCA being asked to subsidize a level of AF pensions that they can't afford to give (and haven't promised) to the rest of their own employees? These are all questions that can change the picture in significant ways.

Peace,
Michael
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Mike Bennett on November 02, 2010, 12:58:46 PM

So long as churches invest in the same world as for-profit organizations, there is no excuse for the continuation of a "church plan" exception from ERISA and PBGC coverage.


Other than the constitutional issues of the federal gov't regulating religion, which is why a church plan is exempt from ERISA and PBGC inthe first place.


Here's a non-lawyer, businessman argument that would probably make the lawyers here itch, and might prompt a judge to dope-slap me.

Our churches are subject to our civil laws in areas involving their Non Religious activities (those not involving religious beliefs, practice, teaching, ceremonies, etc.).  The distinctions between a church's "Religious" and "Non-Religious" activities are drawn in a way that defines Religious activities quite broadly (e.g. the ability to opt out of Social Security on grounds of religious belief, lack of sanction of giving alcohol to minors in Holy Communion, etc.).  But there are limits, beyond which a church is subject to civil laws just like anybody else, evidently without running afoul of the First Amendment.  Examples include fire and building codes, jurisdictions of civil courts to enforce contracts where a church is a party, including a mortgage lender filing its security interest at the county court house just like they do on my personal home, and, perhaps closest to the current issue, the requirment to cover church employees by workers compensation insurance.  I'm sure there are 221 years of of case law dealing with where these lines are drawn, but I don't claim to know any of those cases.

I believe that the justification for requiring workers compensation insurance is just as persuasive for requiring pension protection Neither of these has to do with a church's religious activities.  The civil authorities have an interest in protecting pensioners from a religious employer ignoring its pension promise, just as strong as protection against a non-religious employer doing the same, in the same way that an employee's injury sustained falling from a ladder at work is no less severe if "work" was a church instead of a factory or store.  I was an admirer of Milton Friedman, but I believed his notion that a tort action was the right way to deal with every damage suffered from the negligence or wickedness of another was naive and doctrinaire.  Some actions need to be forbidden, mandatorily  insured against , or both, and I think regeging on a pension promise needs to be both forbidden (ERISA) and insured against (PBGC).

Whether a publishing house's pension plan should have qualified as a "church" plan would then be a non-issue.

The lawyers can now apply their anti-itching lotion, and any judges present can dope-slap me.

Mike Bennett
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: G.Edward on November 16, 2010, 12:17:59 PM
Look for "Publishing House of the ELCA" at the bottom of the page http://www.elca.org/ (http://www.elca.org/) and consider again the degree of interconnection.  There is no direct link to Thrivent on the main page of the ELCA's website, but "Publishing House of the ELCA" suggests by it's phrasing and prominent location a close connection that ought to carry with it a level of responsibility for the burden of our neighbor as the ELCA.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Charles_Austin on November 16, 2010, 12:22:39 PM
Gregory Davidson writes (re the website):
but "Publishing House of the ELCA" suggests by it's phrasing and prominent location a close connection that ought to carry with it a level of responsibility for the burden of our neighbor as the ELCA.

I comment:
It has been said before that contracts and responsibilities, both legal and moral, are not determined by phrasing on a web page.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Steven Tibbetts on November 16, 2010, 01:23:13 PM

I comment:
It has been said before that contracts and responsibilities, both legal and moral, are not determined by phrasing on a web page.

Anything can be said, Charles.  Time will tell how judge and jury rule.

Pax, Steven+
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Bergs on November 16, 2010, 01:54:30 PM
This may also be of note here. 

ELCA Board of Pensions Trustees Announce Annuity Adjustment for 2011

http://www.elca.org/Who-We-Are/Our-Three-Expressions/Churchwide-Organization/Communication-Services/News/Releases.aspx?a=4672

This quote is interesting for a number of discussions on this board.

Quote
+ Trustees approved amendments to the ELCA retirement, medical and dental, survivor benefits and disability benefits plans to allow congregations or qualified church-controlled organizations with "common religious bonds with the ELCA" -- such as the new North American Lutheran Church -- to sponsor members in the benefit plans. The amendments were sent for approval to the ELCA Church Council. David D. Swartling, ELCA secretary, told the trustees that the topic had been discussed by leaders of the churchwide organization and the Board of Pensions. He said it had been determined to open the plans to qualified non-ELCA congregations or churches. The benefit plans that are offered will be exactly the same as plans offered to ELCA plan members.

Brian J. Bergs
Minneapolis, MN
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Maryland Brian on November 16, 2010, 04:06:22 PM
This may also be of note here. 

ELCA Board of Pensions Trustees Announce Annuity Adjustment for 2011

http://www.elca.org/Who-We-Are/Our-Three-Expressions/Churchwide-Organization/Communication-Services/News/Releases.aspx?a=4672

This quote is interesting for a number of discussions on this board.

Quote
+ Trustees approved amendments to the ELCA retirement, medical and dental, survivor benefits and disability benefits plans to allow congregations or qualified church-controlled organizations with "common religious bonds with the ELCA" -- such as the new North American Lutheran Church -- to sponsor members in the benefit plans. The amendments were sent for approval to the ELCA Church Council. David D. Swartling, ELCA secretary, told the trustees that the topic had been discussed by leaders of the churchwide organization and the Board of Pensions. He said it had been determined to open the plans to qualified non-ELCA congregations or churches. The benefit plans that are offered will be exactly the same as plans offered to ELCA plan members.

Brian J. Bergs
Minneapolis, MN

  Thanks for posting this. Fascinating.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: jeric on November 16, 2010, 05:08:15 PM
This may also be of note here. 

ELCA Board of Pensions Trustees Announce Annuity Adjustment for 2011

http://www.elca.org/Who-We-Are/Our-Three-Expressions/Churchwide-Organization/Communication-Services/News/Releases.aspx?a=4672

This quote is interesting for a number of discussions on this board.

Quote
+ Trustees approved amendments to the ELCA retirement, medical and dental, survivor benefits and disability benefits plans to allow congregations or qualified church-controlled organizations with "common religious bonds with the ELCA" -- such as the new North American Lutheran Church -- to sponsor members in the benefit plans. The amendments were sent for approval to the ELCA Church Council. David D. Swartling, ELCA secretary, told the trustees that the topic had been discussed by leaders of the churchwide organization and the Board of Pensions. He said it had been determined to open the plans to qualified non-ELCA congregations or churches. The benefit plans that are offered will be exactly the same as plans offered to ELCA plan members.

Brian J. Bergs
Minneapolis, MN


Question for the "financial types" among us:  Does this sound like an attempt to shore up the ELCA Pension/Med program with enough money to keep the program afloat?

John Ericksen
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Dan Fienen on November 16, 2010, 05:12:01 PM
Or, perhaps, it is an attempt to do right by those who for reason of conscience end up leaving the ELCA for new arrangements that have not yet had time to organize pension and health insurance, etc.  It is perhaps a way - to maintain numbers that are important for the benefit plans, yes - but also to fair and helpful to dedicated workers who have been members of the ELCA.  That could indeed be a win-win for all concerned.

Dan
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Charles_Austin on November 16, 2010, 05:28:49 PM
John Ericksen writes:
Question for the "financial types" among us:  Does this sound like an attempt to shore up the ELCA Pension/Med program with enough money to keep the program afloat?

I comment:
For heaven's sake! The ELCA offers medical coverage to those leaving it who might not otherwise have easy access to such coverage and, instead of considering it a way to reach out to "dissidents," it is jumped on as a money-making scheme. So much for putting "the best construction" on what our fellow Lutherans do. Shame.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Steven Tibbetts on November 16, 2010, 05:48:44 PM

For heaven's sake! The ELCA offers medical coverage to those leaving it who might not otherwise have easy access to such coverage and, instead of considering it a way to reach out to "dissidents," it is jumped on as a money-making scheme. So much for putting "the best construction" on what our fellow Lutherans do. Shame.

On one hand a Bishop is calling particular folks "schismatic."  On the other, the Board of Pensions is offering these very same people the medical coverage and a defined contribution pension.  

Generally, a larger pool is desired for medical plans.  For investing pension contributions, given the market of the last couple of decades, not so much.

I find it confusing, but continue to appreciate the attitude of the Board of Pensions, ELCA, as expressing more gracefulness than Churchwide and Synodical ELCA.

spt+
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: jeric on November 16, 2010, 05:51:46 PM
John Ericksen writes:
Question for the "financial types" among us:  Does this sound like an attempt to shore up the ELCA Pension/Med program with enough money to keep the program afloat?

I comment:
For heaven's sake! The ELCA offers medical coverage to those leaving it who might not otherwise have easy access to such coverage and, instead of considering it a way to reach out to "dissidents," it is jumped on as a money-making scheme. So much for putting "the best construction" on what our fellow Lutherans do. Shame.


Charles:

That was a simple question from a simple person.  Sorry you jumped to the conclusion that it was an attempt to dis the ELCA.  The ELCA pension program, I believe, is supposed to funded in a way that protects the assets regardless of the yearly contributions.  Still, the drop in ELCA membership numbers raised the question in my mind about the general stability of the ELCA pension program.  I am certainly not a "financial type" so I asked the question.  That's the long and short of it.

John Ericksen
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: A Catholic Lutheran on November 16, 2010, 08:59:29 PM
John Ericksen writes:
Question for the "financial types" among us:  Does this sound like an attempt to shore up the ELCA Pension/Med program with enough money to keep the program afloat?

I comment:
For heaven's sake! The ELCA offers medical coverage to those leaving it who might not otherwise have easy access to such coverage and, instead of considering it a way to reach out to "dissidents," it is jumped on as a money-making scheme. So much for putting "the best construction" on what our fellow Lutherans do. Shame.

C'mon, Charles...  John's question is perfectly valid in these days of financial shaking and quaking...

My first reaction was that this was the precursor to the ecclesiastical "one-world-government," because in theory there is no reason why this needs to stay limited to ELCA ex-pats or "Lutheran" bodies.  Knowing how things work, how difficult would it be to extend our health/pension plans to some struggling body like the UCC, and once we have enveloped them in the health/pension plan it would be relatively easy to absorb them in other ways.  I mean the darn health/pension plan has proven stronger than debates on ecclesiology, orthodoxy, and all sorts of other things...

But that really would not be interpreting things in the "best possible light."

Kinda makes John's question look tame, don't it?  :D

Pax Christi;
Pr. Jerry Kliner, STS
 
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Charles_Austin on November 16, 2010, 09:52:14 PM
Yes, Pastor Kliner, there are those who wallow in conspiracy theories, assume that if it comes from "the ELCA," there is something wrong with it, knows before they read the posting that Pastor Stoffregen has bazooka-ed another key doctrine of the faith, are sure that the ELCA is out to destroy their personal ministry and sanity, believe ecumenism is aiming at the dreaded "one world government", think that our presiding bishop is a reincarnation of Karl Marx or Saul Alinsky, and believe the pages of the ELW are coated with a mind control drug.  We get that.
Happy shakin' and quakin' all.  ::)
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: GoCubsGo on November 16, 2010, 10:20:44 PM
Yes, Pastor Kliner, there are those who wallow in conspiracy theories, assume that if it comes from "the ELCA," there is something wrong with it, knows before they read the posting that Pastor Stoffregen has bazooka-ed another key doctrine of the faith, are sure that the ELCA is out to destroy their personal ministry and sanity, believe ecumenism is aiming at the dreaded "one world government", think that our presiding bishop is a reincarnation of Karl Marx or Saul Alinsky, and believe the pages of the ELW are coated with a mind control drug.  We get that.
Happy shakin' and quakin' all.  ::)

Chalres,

More and more you sound like a lunatic!

That being said.  As one who has left the ELCA but has remained in the ELCA's pension plan (for the time being and for reasons I shant get into here) I can say that the main reason that they have allowed dissidents to remain in the plan--group rates would be affected by large losses of participants.  I see the reasons for extending coverage as financially savvy and sound and not so much grounded in a "new world order."  Though I will agree with you Charles that some seem to likely to see everything that the ELCA does as a part of a conspiracy.  But to put the best possible construction on this the ELCA has earned that distrust by routinely ignoring actions or willfully refusing to discipline actions that were at odds with the policy of "this church."  The ELCA bred distrust over the years and seeing consipiracies is a result of that.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Charles_Austin on November 17, 2010, 03:37:15 AM
Pastor Copeck writes:
Though I will agree with you Charles that some seem to likely to see everything that the ELCA does as a part of a conspiracy.
I respond:
Good. 'Cause it's true.

Pastor Copeck:
But to put the best possible construction on this the ELCA has earned that distrust by routinely ignoring actions or willfully refusing to discipline actions that were at odds with the policy of "this church."
Me:
There is no putting "the best construction" on someone seeing everything the ELCA does as a conspiracy. And in matters of discipline, a person's complaint should be with their synodical bishop, not with "the ELCA," which does not have a direct hand in discipline. And I suppose one must note again, without hope of being understood, that "discipline" may have been applied in many cases without that discipline resulting in a person or congregation being kicked out of the ELCA.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Pilgrim on November 17, 2010, 11:38:00 AM
Tim Christ wonders: Charles, reading through this thread and in particular your views/perspectives particularly as expressed herein (and with the absence of George, for goodness sakes!), I can't help but wonder if a visit to your physician for a thorough check up might not be in order. For someone who trumpets his own "reasonableness" your reactive writing reads as if you are on the verge of losing it.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: A Catholic Lutheran on November 17, 2010, 11:51:59 AM
Pastor Copeck writes:
Though I will agree with you Charles that some seem to likely to see everything that the ELCA does as a part of a conspiracy.
I respond:
Good. 'Cause it's true.

Pastor Copeck:
But to put the best possible construction on this the ELCA has earned that distrust by routinely ignoring actions or willfully refusing to discipline actions that were at odds with the policy of "this church."
Me:
There is no putting "the best construction" on someone seeing everything the ELCA does as a conspiracy. And in matters of discipline, a person's complaint should be with their synodical bishop, not with "the ELCA," which does not have a direct hand in discipline. And I suppose one must note again, without hope of being understood, that "discipline" may have been applied in many cases without that discipline resulting in a person or congregation being kicked out of the ELCA.

Not "everything."  Just "certain things."

And, if you don't believe that some conspiracies exist, that evil works more frequently in subtle and "behind the scenes" than in "grand displays," and that sin indeed is "prowling at the door" and even our best leaders can be so easily consumed by it, then I think you are being will-fully blind.

It is true that "not everything" the ELCA does is a sinister conspiracy.  It is equally true that "not everything" the ELCA does is motivated by good motives. 

And besides, I was being light-hearted, trying to show you that John's reaction is certainly more reasonable than my first reaction and certainly more charitable.

To borrow a line from the immortal comedy classic Stripes: "Lighten up, Francis."

Pax Christi;
Pr. Jerry Kliner, STS
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: peter_speckhard on November 17, 2010, 11:57:30 AM
Yes, Pastor Kliner, there are those who wallow in conspiracy theories, assume that if it comes from "the ELCA," there is something wrong with it, knows before they read the posting that Pastor Stoffregen has bazooka-ed another key doctrine of the faith, are sure that the ELCA is out to destroy their personal ministry and sanity, believe ecumenism is aiming at the dreaded "one world government", think that our presiding bishop is a reincarnation of Karl Marx or Saul Alinsky, and believe the pages of the ELW are coated with a mind control drug.  We get that.
Happy shakin' and quakin' all.  ::)
And then there are those who, confronted with a website apparently full of such idiots, can't help but incessantly post about the the shortcomings of the other posters rather than the topic. Isn't there some other fringe "one world government conspiracy" website you could grace with your 24-7 vigilance?
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: A Catholic Lutheran on November 17, 2010, 12:01:40 PM
Yes, Pastor Kliner, there are those who wallow in conspiracy theories, assume that if it comes from "the ELCA," there is something wrong with it, knows before they read the posting that Pastor Stoffregen has bazooka-ed another key doctrine of the faith, are sure that the ELCA is out to destroy their personal ministry and sanity, believe ecumenism is aiming at the dreaded "one world government", think that our presiding bishop is a reincarnation of Karl Marx or Saul Alinsky, and believe the pages of the ELW are coated with a mind control drug.  We get that.
Happy shakin' and quakin' all.  ::)
And then there are those who, confronted with a website apparently full of such idiots, can't help but incessantly post about the the shortcomings of the other posters rather than the topic. Isn't there some other fringe "one world government conspiracy" website you could grace with your 24-7 vigilance?

Hey! Did you just call me an idiot?

Pax Christi;
Pr. Jerry Kliner, STS
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: GoCubsGo on November 17, 2010, 02:43:05 PM
Yes, Pastor Kliner, there are those who wallow in conspiracy theories, assume that if it comes from "the ELCA," there is something wrong with it, knows before they read the posting that Pastor Stoffregen has bazooka-ed another key doctrine of the faith, are sure that the ELCA is out to destroy their personal ministry and sanity, believe ecumenism is aiming at the dreaded "one world government", think that our presiding bishop is a reincarnation of Karl Marx or Saul Alinsky, and believe the pages of the ELW are coated with a mind control drug.  We get that.
Happy shakin' and quakin' all.  ::)
And then there are those who, confronted with a website apparently full of such idiots, can't help but incessantly post about the the shortcomings of the other posters rather than the topic. Isn't there some other fringe "one world government conspiracy" website you could grace with your 24-7 vigilance?

Hey! Did you just call me an idiot?

Pax Christi;
Pr. Jerry Kliner, STS
Well, if the shoe fits... ;D
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Charles_Austin on November 17, 2010, 03:15:27 PM
On another thread, I am warned by our moderator about noting the characteristics of the posters, rather than the cold, disconnected, impersonal words of their comments. I am told only to comment on the subject, not the people.
Got that.

So here, someone questions my health (presumably my mental health), and the moderator comments - not on the subject, but on this humble correspondent, with the suggestion that I go somewhere else.
Don't get that. At all.

Oh, and regarding pensions. We have been notified that the cut in our pensions next year will not be nine percent but about six percent.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: jeric on November 17, 2010, 09:28:45 PM
Oh, and regarding pensions. We have been notified that the cut in our pensions next year will not be nine percent but about six percent.
[/quote]


Thank you for this info, Charles.  May I ask how you received it?  I have not heard this, yet.

John Ericksen
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Bergs on November 17, 2010, 10:21:27 PM
Oh, and regarding pensions. We have been notified that the cut in our pensions next year will not be nine percent but about six percent.

Yes, my sincere sympathies to you and all others affected.  This includes my father-in-law, a distinguished, retired ELCA pastor.  This really stinks and I pray that funding may be restored to all former servants of the church.  It may color the discussions though in ELCA corporate on what can be done for the Augsburg Fortress retirees.

Brian J. Bergs
Minneapolis, MN
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Charles_Austin on November 17, 2010, 10:37:55 PM
I said far upstream or in another thread that I "blame" no one for the 9 percent cut in my pension this year and the prospect of cuts for two more years. I am sort of honked off that at the formation of the ELCA we did not follow the advice of some financially-savvy people like the late Reuben Swanson and make sure that our pension plans were fully funded. But this would have required a hefty up front "contribution" from merger partners and it just wasn't going to happen. So, given the markets for the past couple of years, we take the hit now.
Word is, it's getting better; but I don't understand all the financial dynamics.
My retirement income has been adequate and can take the hit, but still; air fare to visit the grandchildren aren't going down. But we found a good deal on a trip to Dubai and a cruise to some of the United Arab Emirates early next year.
Those really suffering are pastors who were underpaid for 40 years or who tapped pension funds to buy a retirement home after enduring parsonages for decades.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: shrimp on November 17, 2010, 10:47:33 PM

Oh, and regarding pensions. We have been notified that the cut in our pensions next year will not be nine percent but about six percent.


ELCA News reported last Friday (http://www.elca.org/Who-We-Are/Our-Three-Expressions/Churchwide-Organization/Communication-Services/News/Releases.aspx?a=4672),

Quote
ELCA NEWS SERVICE
November 12, 2010

ELCA Board of Pensions Trustees Announce Annuity Adjustment for 2011
10-285-JB

     MINNEAPOLIS (ELCA) -- Trustees of the Board of Pensions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) announced smaller-than-anticipated reductions in annuity payments for plan members in its Participating Annuity and Bridge Fund and in the interest crediting rate for bridge accounts.
     The Board of Pensions is an incorporated, self-supporting unit of the ELCA.  The trustees made the decisions here at their Nov. 5-7 meeting. 
     The trustees reduced annuity payments for 2011 by 6 percent for plan members in its Participating Annuity and Bridge Fund and set the interest crediting rate for 2011 at -0.3 percent for bridge accounts.

There's more here. (http://www.elca.org/Who-We-Are/Our-Three-Expressions/Churchwide-Organization/Communication-Services/News/Releases.aspx?a=4672)


Then today (http://www.elca.org/Who-We-Are/Our-Three-Expressions/Churchwide-Organization/Communication-Services/News/Releases.aspx?a=4678),

Quote
ELCA NEWS SERVICE
November 17, 2010

ELCA Council Acts on Annuity Payment Reduction Recommendations
10-290-JB

     CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) authorized one-time payments from the ELCA Special Needs Retirement Fund "as soon as realistically possible in 2011" to help people most adversely affected by reductions in ELCA Board of Pensions annuity payments caused by the crisis in financial markets in late 2008 and early 2009.
     The council action was among a series of recommendations it approved from a report presented by an Ad Hoc Committee the council appointed in August....
     In addition the council asked the Board of Pensions and the management committee of the ELCA Special Needs Retirement Fund to "develop criteria based on need and a process for distribution of available funds" to those with the greatest need. It asked for more frequent reviews of eligibility, including periodic comprehensive reviews to address plan members' needs in light of economic realities, and requested more information about the implementation of the recommendations at the council's April 2011 meeting....
     In response to resolutions from nine synods, the council formed the Ad Hoc Committee in August to consult with the Board of Pensions to learn more about the decisions it made regarding the annuity and bridge fund. It asked the committee to explore ways to restore fund losses, increase payments to annuitants and explore ways to mitigate the adverse effects of fund losses.

Read it all here (http://www.elca.org/Who-We-Are/Our-Three-Expressions/Churchwide-Organization/Communication-Services/News/Releases.aspx?a=4678).

Shrimp
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: G.Edward on November 21, 2010, 08:12:00 PM
Full disclosure:  I am one of the AF pensioners.  I only worked there 5 years, but that was the plan I was on.  Others, who worked their entire careers at AF in what they understood to be a ministry of publishing, are losing much more; and I feel for them.

As I understand it, part of the problem is that the money simply is not there.  

I would like to see the ELCA say, "Even though we have no financial responsibility in this case and nothing forces us to do so, we choose to help as we are able," and then undertake a fund-raising campaign to assist the pensioners.  

Thus far, that is not the route they have chosen and I confess I am disappointed in the ELCA because of it.  I know time are hard for everyone but it seems to me we might be pleasantly surprised what can happen if we just asked.

As James says, we will have to wait and see what comes of the situation.

I'd like the ELCA to say that, too.  Taking responsibility for "the least of these," and for the promises that were made, maybe even "bearing one another's burdens" would be painful and difficult in the short term, but like Paul says in Romans 5, "suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us." 

The money is not there because the AF pension program was underfunded for years based on overly optimistic forecasts of future returns and increasing life-span.  The ELCA is facing the same problem with it's pension.  Everyone tacitly agreed not to fix the underfunded pension plans of the predecessor church bodies, hoping the market would magically erase the deficit without additional contributions.  Compound interest is a powerful mechanism, but it needs money to work.

Over 20-30 years the additional annual contributions would have been relatively small.  Now, when more and more folks need the money that was supposed to be there for their retirement years our best answer is "sorry, you'll just have to make do with less because we mismanaged the fund?"  That answer would be ethically deficient coming from any human organization, but especially from the church.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Mike Bennett on November 22, 2010, 04:27:34 PM
Oh, and regarding pensions. We have been notified that the cut in our pensions next year will not be nine percent but about six percent.

Yes, my sincere sympathies to you and all others affected.  This includes my father-in-law, a distinguished, retired ELCA pastor.  This really stinks and I pray that funding may be restored to all former servants of the church.  It may color the discussions though in ELCA corporate on what can be done for the Augsburg Fortress retirees.

Brian J. Bergs
Minneapolis, MN

Apples and oranges.

A. The "pension" to which Pr. Austin refers is a DEFINED CONTRIBUTION plan which never promised a specific return but offered one option that estimated a particular return but had always been subject to investment returns on the contributions invested.

B. The AF pension plan is a DEFINED BENEFIT plan which promised a specific return to its participants, the function of a forumula stated in the plan, and not subject to investment returns.

The sponsor of Plan B has made a promise of a certain pension to its participants.  the sponsor of plan A has not.

Mike Bennett
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: G.Edward on November 24, 2010, 01:22:54 AM
Oh, and regarding pensions. We have been notified that the cut in our pensions next year will not be nine percent but about six percent.

Yes, my sincere sympathies to you and all others affected.  This includes my father-in-law, a distinguished, retired ELCA pastor.  This really stinks and I pray that funding may be restored to all former servants of the church.  It may color the discussions though in ELCA corporate on what can be done for the Augsburg Fortress retirees.

Brian J. Bergs
Minneapolis, MN

Apples and oranges.

A. The "pension" to which Pr. Austin refers is a DEFINED CONTRIBUTION plan which never promised a specific return but offered one option that estimated a particular return but had always been subject to investment returns on the contributions invested.

B. The AF pension plan is a DEFINED BENEFIT plan which promised a specific return to its participants, the function of a forumula stated in the plan, and not subject to investment returns.

The sponsor of Plan B has made a promise of a certain pension to its participants.  the sponsor of plan A has not.

Mike Bennett

Right.  And it is precisely that abandonment of the "defined benefit" feature of the pension plan of the publishing house of the ELCA (a shirking of responsibility) that I raised before the 2010 Upper Susquehanna Synod Assembly only to be told (in oh so clinical parlimentarian language) that it was none of our business how AF handled their relationships and would not be discussed by the Synod Assembly.
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Bergs on January 12, 2011, 01:28:30 PM
Well, fruit discussions aside, it appears that this unfortunate situation is now entering the legal phase.  David Barnhart links this item:

Pastors sue Lutheran church over pensions

http://www.twincities.com/ci_17066631?source=most_emailed&click_check=1&nclick_check=1

Brian J. Bergs
Minneapolis, MN
Title: Re: Perils of Church-Related Pensions
Post by: Keith Falk on January 28, 2011, 07:07:21 PM
Update on A-F Pensions Lawsuit (http://www.elca.org/Who-We-Are/Our-Three-Expressions/Churchwide-Organization/Communication-Services/News/Releases.aspx?a=4703)

ELCA News Service Press Release... some quotes from the article:

"Seven of the nine claims against the ELCA were dismissed. Seven of the 12 claims against Augsburg Fortress were dismissed."

"However, without making any judgment on the truth or legal sufficiency of the allegations, the district court judge let stand other state law allegations involving breach of contract and other matters against the ELCA and Augsburg Fortress Publishers.
     Among those claims, the federal court ruling allowed allegations to go forward that the ELCA is an "alter ego" of Augsburg Fortress, saying that the plaintiffs "asserted sufficient factual allegations" to support such a theory."