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Of abundance and wellness: Pension Fund strides traced in new book
President Emeritus Alan Blanchard outlines process leading to $1.2 billion in benefit enhancements

2/9/2006

  

 
[Episcopal News Service]  "Clergy Wellness and the Stewardship of Abundance," a new book by Church Pension Fund President Emeritus Alan Blanchard, describes a 10-year project that resulted in the Fund's commitment of more than $1.2 billion to an extraordinary series of new benefits and benefit enhancements.

During the next five weeks, the Church Pension Fund will distribute this book to selected church leaders and some 15 percent of the clergy pension plan. All other plan members will received a flyer describing how to obtain a complimentary copy. Further information may be obtained from the Church Pension Fund, www.cpg.org, or by phoning the Info Desk of Episcopal Books & Resources, 800.334.7626, ext. 6136.
            
Following is a review of this new book by the Rt. Rev. Frederick H. Borsch, bishop of the Diocese of Los Angeles from 1986 to 2002. A former seminary dean, Borsch is currently Professor of New Testament and Chair of Anglican Studies, the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.

In Review: "Clergy Wellness and the Stewardship of Abundance," by Alan F. Blanchard.  New York: The Church Pension Fund, 2006.

Reviewed by Frederick H. Borsch

[ENS] Clergy Wellness and the Stewardship of Abundance tells a remarkable, interesting and even exciting story. This might seem surprising about a book that is also replete with charts and graphs, but even they help to tell a story that is about Christians -- Episcopalians -- working thoughtfully and prayerfully together and helping and supporting others -- not least some people in considerable need.

Alan Blanchard served as President of the Church Pension Group from 1991 to 2004 and oversaw a 10-year period process during which the Fund experienced an extraordinary period of abundance through its investments, and then committed itself to use that abundance in creative and life-supporting ways. The story is both about that process and the ways clergy and others in the Episcopal Church have been served through benefit expansion and program. Blanchard then goes on to make several observations about the Pension Fund and the Church and about how what has been learned might be given consideration in and for the future.

The attractively produced book also has a couple of funny cartoons and a number of pictures.  Some of the pictures are of people benefited by the Fund. Others are of members of the Pension's Board and its Advisory Committees. One sees or hears about key staff, among them Linda Curtiss and David Hegg (to whom, along with former Board Chair John Cannon, who also died in 2002, the book is dedicated). When it comes to CREDO, there is the ever-inventive big-picture guy, Bill Craddock. There are other important colleagues of Blanchard's close working group, too numerous to name here, to whom he pays tribute in his story. Jim Fenhagen, former Dean of the General Theological Seminary, and Bishops Catherine Waynick and Peter Lee had vital leadership roles for the three Advisory Committees (Wellness Initiatives, Pension Fund Abundance, and Benefits Research), and we hear from them in this book.

Ask big questions; Establish atmosphere of candor and trust; Eliminate "Order of Ministry" distinctions; Be creative and support decisions with facts; Deeply involve these affected and those with power to decide:  these were the significant guiding principles of the discernment and advisory process.  They are also among what Blanchard offers as lessons learned that he feels can be helpful for the future of the Fund and, for that matter, the Church.  Do your homework, do all you can to get the facts and to discover what people really feel they need; listen to people; be creative and flexible; keep learning:  these are other ways to express the principles and lessons.

The process was not without challenges. The very idea of using the abundance for purposes other than increasing the pensions of those whose congregations and institutions had paid in did not go well with everybody.  Nor was a brief effort to give some of the abundance back to the churches that well received. On the other hand, some might say that the Fund has not done enough to make pensions more equitable in a Church (and its economic
culture) in which there is considerable inequality in clergy compensation. The whole area of medical insurance and benefits has been and will continue to be one with problems. But even in these areas of challenge the persistent efforts both to be creative and to care for people and the mission of the church has helped make considerable progress.

One would need to read the book to get a full sense of all the changes and additions to benefits that have been made. As a former diocesan bishop, I liked best the additions and "targeted increases" offering more equitability and taking pastorally into account those who could be or who are in a disadvantaged position: spouses of clergy who died when salaries were lower, those who had received too little compensation in the past (not least some "minority" and mission clergy), women who could not be ordained before 1976, clergy in same-sex relationships, dependent children of disabled or deceased clergy.  Ways have been found to allow married clergy to provide at their death the full pension for their spouses without disadvantaging single clergy and others. Enhanced retirement on disability and after 30 years of service have been, when well used, literally life saving for some clergy and families.
 
And all of this, believe me, has its tricky aspects.  Those, too, have had to be part of a story of a careful and even rigorous process of figuring out what could be accomplished and how it could be paid for while still doing well the Fund's major job of providing solid, secure (and in these years generously increasing with the cost-of-living) pensions for clergy and spouses. (This security continues in an economic climate in which for many other working people defined benefit pensions are more and more a thing of the past.)  Add to that what CREDO (Clergy Reflection, Education, Discernment Opportunity) has done for clergy wellness and vocations, and for some church lay leaders and ministers as well!
 
Presiding over this process and growing benefit, Alan Blanchard has been the genial steward and creative, faithfully persistent big question asker. "Individual wellness and church wellness are not the core ingredients of spiritual success," he writes in his concluding chapter, "but they are the essential preconditions."  Blanchard never loses sight of the mission of the Church and the pastoral care of people, and this is what finally makes his story not only remarkable and interesting but also exciting.

-- Reviewed by the Rt. Rev. Frederick H. Borsch, formerly Bishop of Los Angeles and seminary dean. Borsch is currently Professor of New Testament and Chair of Anglican Studies, the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.