Three centuries ago, Presbyterians established the Fund for Pious Uses at the inaugural meeting of their first synod, in 1717 in Philadelphia. They were committed to caring for pastors, many laboring in backwoods ministries, and their widows and children. In the decades that followed, Presbyterians upheld that commitment through a series of ministerial relief funds.
That legacy of commitment lives on in The Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which traces its roots to the Fund for Pious Uses and is celebrating 300 years of care for ministers and other church workers. The Board, a not-for-profit corporation under the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, administers the church Benefits Plan.
The Benefits Plan of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) was codified with the following charge from the 196th General Assembly (1984) to the Board of Pensions:
- To design and administer a comprehensive program of pension, medical, and other benefits for ministers, missionaries, and certain other church workers.
- To design and administer a program of financial assistance to help meet needs that are beyond the scope of the pension and benefits program.
- To establish and operate retirement housing for eligible retirees and their spouses.*
- To receive, invest, and disburse the funds required to support these plans and programs for the sole and exclusive benefit of members and beneficiaries of the pension and benefits plan and other beneficiaries of the assistance and homes programs.
— Minutes, Part 1, 1984, p. 549
The Board is one of six agencies of the General Assembly, the church governing body. An independent Board of Directors, nominated by the General Assembly Nominating Committee and elected by the General Assembly, oversees its management. The Board of Pensions reports biennially to the General Assembly regarding the work completed on behalf of the General Assembly.
The Board of Pensions serves teaching elders and other employees, and the congregations and other PC(USA)-affiliated institutions that employ them, as it lives into the direction that General Assembly has given it. It provides pension, healthcare, and death and disability benefits; financial assistance; and educational programs to support a ministry of wholeness, which promotes spiritual, health, financial, and vocational well-being. At its core is the belief that the well-being of church servants contributes significantly to the vitality of the Church.
*The 200th General Assembly (1988) approved changing the Homes Program from one based solely on Board-owned homes to one based on housing assistance supplements. (Minutes, Part 1, 1988, p.97)
People covered under the Benefits Plan of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) are
members. Members serve the Church or are retired from church positions. They include teaching elders and missionaries of the Church, directors of Christian education, music directors, business managers, and other employees of local churches, the six agencies, and other PC(USA)-affiliated employers.
The Board administers the benefits of approximately 20,600 pensioners and survivors, 12,900 active members, 18,300 dependents, and 8,700 inactive members (those with vested pension credits who are not actively participating in the Benefits Plan).
Approximately 185 dedicated professionals, teaching elders and other employees, work at the Board of Pensions, whose headquarters is in Philadelphia. Their backgrounds are culturally and ethnically diverse, as is the region where they work. Together, they serve, educate, listen to, and learn from the many church constituencies.
Church Consultants, who are geographically assigned, serve as the Board’s front line of service to the Church. For a look at who serves where, visit the Church Consultants page.
Board of Pensions employees, as a group, support efforts to meet needs in the community that provides them with the opportunity to earn a living and care for their families. Every year, employees take part in the United Way campaign, the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program, American Red Cross blood drives, and food drives for Philabundance, the Philadelphia region’s largest food bank and hunger-relief organization.
In recent years, the Board has forged a relationship with Broad Street Ministry (BSM), “a broad-minded Christian community that ... works for a more just world through civic engagement.” Every month, a team of employees volunteers to serve at BSM’s Breaking Bread meal, for low-income and homeless Philadelphians. The Board also donates clothing and toiletries for BSM guests year-round.
The Board of Pensions takes opportunities to extend these year-round efforts. On one such occasion, volunteers from the Board staff and Board of Directors visited Westside Food Bank in Los Angeles County, California, before a Board of Directors meeting. The food bank, which is supported by the Westwood and Brentwood Presbyterian churches in the greater Los Angeles area, provides food to local social service agencies. Its mission is to distribute as much food as possible to these agencies and to reduce food waste in Los Angeles' Westside.