​Susan is a minister who serves as full-time executive leader of a large programmatic presbytery with three ministers on staff. She has 32 years of experience as a pastor and mid council staff. Her salary is $118,200, twice the national median. She is 58 years old and single with no children.

The Book of Order (G-2.0804) requires that installed pastors of congregations (pastors, associate pastors, and co-pastors) be enrolled in the Benefits Plan of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). This constitutional requirement, however, does not apply to ministers who serve in validated ministries, including those who serve a mid council. Unless otherwise required by presbytery policy, a minister who is not an installed pastor of a congregation may be enrolled in the Benefits Plan through either Pastor’s Participation or menu options. The Board of Pensions requires, however, that an employer who employs more than one non-installed minister must enroll all of them in the same manner, i.e., through either Pastor’s Participation or menu options.

The Board of Pensions recommends, generally, that a minister in church employment be enrolled in Pastor’s Participation. Over the course of a career, a minister may serve in a variety of calls, some requiring enrollment in Pastor’s Participation and some not. Portable benefits, including family medical coverage, a commercially unavailable death and disability program, and long-term participation in the defined benefit pension, will be extremely beneficial.

In this case, dues for Pastor’s Participation include 25% ($29,550) for family medical coverage (although Susan needs employee coverage only), 11% ($13,002) for pension, and 1% ($1,182) for death and disability. A member of the presbytery’s Personnel Committee suggests that the presbytery save money by enrolling Susan in the Benefits Plan using menu options. He insists that the cost of medical coverage could be reduced significantly and thereby provide more money for mission.

Questions and Considerations

  1. Does the presbytery have a policy or guidelines regarding compensation for non-installed ministers, such as interim pastors, with which congregations must comply? If so, should the presbytery apply the policy or guidelines to ministers employed by the presbytery? If not, what does the presbytery want to model to its churches regarding compensation and benefits? Does making a decision based solely on the cost of medical coverage for Susan, thus abandoning a commitment to community nature, compromise the presbytery’s witness to the world and example to its member churches?
  2. What are the risks in determining benefits based on an individual employee’s need rather than sound and consistent employment practice for the position? What are the risks, in this case, of making a decision based solely on the costs of medical coverage for Susan? What if Susan’s needs change? What if Susan is succeeded by a person with more extensive and expensive needs? Is there a possibility that the presbytery leaves itself underfunded for that eventuality?
  3. What is the potential impact on other ministers employed by the presbytery?
  4. To what Board programs or resources may Susan lose access if she is not enrolled in Pastor’s Participation?

The Board's perspective

  1. It can be beneficial for presbyteries to adopt guidelines that advocate for benefits for ministers who are not required by the Book of Order to be enrolled in the Benefits Plan of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). There may, however, be situations in which the guidelines or policy are not helpful. Examples of such situations might include ministers who serve in part-time or temporary roles after retirement or tentmakers who have access to benefits through another job. In this case, the concern of the Personnel Committee member seems to be focused on cost.
  2. The Benefits Plan is rooted in a Theology of Benefits, which asserts that compensation practices, including benefits, are issues of justice. By paying a percentage of higher salaries, we all contribute to the subsidy of those who are paid less. The decisions we make say something to the world about our values. They should be taken seriously.
  3. There are inherent risks associated with determining benefits based on an individual’s need rather than sound benefits policy and practice for the position. An individual’s needs may change. The individuals in particular positions may change.
  4. Since the Board requires that all ministers employed by an organization be enrolled in the same manner, a decision to enroll Susan through menu options would require the presbytery to enroll its other ministers on staff in the same way. The needs of those individuals, as well as the associated costs, may be significantly different from Susan’s and could result in greater total cost in the final analysis.
  5. Ministers who are not enrolled in Pastor’s Participation do not have access to certain Assistance Program grants (Sabbath Sabbatical Support Grants, Minister Educational Debt Assistance Grants).