As we watch this astounding legislative day unfold before us in which the future of health care for many Americans may well be determined, those of us who are clergy of the Episcopal Church might well pause in gratitude for the committed lay people and church leadership over the years who have worked so hard to provide amazing health insurance coverage to say nothing of an extremely generous pension program which is virtually impossible to disappear as so many have in corporate America in the last decades.
“The seed for CPF (the Church Pension Fund) was planted by the Rt. Rev. William Lawrence of Massachusetts when, in 1910, he brought before the General Convention of The Episcopal Church a resolution to create a Joint Commission on the Support of Clergy because he was appalled by the ‘suffering and poverty of the aged servants of the Church’.”
“In 1913, the General Convention voted to establish CPF to provide retirement and disability benefits to eligible clergy…Initial funding for CPF was raised by a committee working with Bishop Lawrence that was led by J. P. Morgan, Adolph Ochs (owner and publisher of the New York Times, and Newcomb Carlton (president of Western Union Telegraph)). More than $8.5 million was collected by March 1, 1917 … the value of that $8.5 million raised to start the fund is over $159 million in today’s dollars.” (Church Pension Group web site — http://www.cpg.org)
Today, the Church Pension Group has expanded to include other products and services and to cover lay employees so critical to the Church’s ability to carry out its mission. In 1978, The Episcopal Church Medical Trust was formed to provide health benefits to eligible clergy and lay employees. And in 2009 the Denominational Health Care Plan was established to provide equal access for lay persons as well as clergy for health care benefits. The DHP has not been without its difficulties in implementation, but is a much-needed attempt to be just and fair to lay as well as clergy employees of the Episcopal Church.
I have been the beneficiary of fine health insurance since my ordination in 1972 and now continue to count on its benefits in retirement as well as enjoying the security of a rock-solid pension. Having served congregations large and small as a parish priest for sixteen years and walking with similar congregations as a bishop for nearly forty more, I am well aware of the struggles many congregations have had to go through to provide such health insurance and pension payments for their clergy.
In a time of declining church attendance and participation, it has become increasingly difficult for smaller congregations to provide this health coverage and various attempts at premium cost-sharing with clergy and lay employees and other cost-saving measures are being discussed all across the church. Whatever the solutions are, I have confidence that my church will be there for its clergy and lay professionals and will do all in its power to keep us healthy as we serve and financially secure in retirement. I am so grateful for that.
Perhaps because Episcopalians have worked so hard to address this issue and we clergy realize how very fortunate we are, we continue to advocate for universal coverage, for health care seen as a right and not as a commodity, and — many of us, at least — eventually for a single-payer, “Medicare For All” type of national health insurance such as that which much of the developed world enjoys.
Let us continue to advocate for those whose health insurance coverage and long term retirement security are at risk in the modern world and specifically in today’s debates.
And let us do so, motivated at least in part, by our mindfulness of how very blessed we are and how grateful we must always be!