Pension plan anniversary celebrated

WELS pension plan for called workers reached its 30th anniversary of service to WELS workers on Jan. 1, 1996. The pension plan for synod-employed lay members began in 1981.

The pension plan's growth is dramatic.

Begun in 1966, the first benefits went to 11 retirees on Feb. 1, 1966. Today, over 1,300 retirees and former workers will either be receiving benefits or eligible to receive benefits at age 65.

In 1966, $470,000 was held in trust to pay the benefits to retirees. Now, there is $40 million in trust to pay benefits.

But until 1974, different levels of benefits were provided to men and women. Men received $4 per month for each year of service--$160 a month if they served for 40 years. Women received $2.75 per month for each year of service--$110 a month if they served for 40 years. Now, if a worker retires after serving 40 years, he or she could receive more than $525 a month.

Although benefits have increased dramatically over the last 30 years, they are not at the level they should be.

Compare WELS retirement benefits to those of two other major Lutheran church bodies: For every $1 those church bodies pay retirees, WELS pays, respectively, 75 cents and 41 cents to its retirees.

WELS pension commission has tried to make benefits more equitable, but even though the plan began in 1966, benefits are provided for service dating back to 1946. Not receiving funding for those 20 years has produced an unfunded burden of approximately $11 million.

Greater retiree benefits require greater contributions from churches--all at a time when budgets are tight. Increasing a congregation's pension contribution may jeopardize the congregation's ability to meet their expenses or to contribute to synodical work.

The 1993 synod convention recognized this problem and encouraged the use of nonbudget funds to help cover costs. However, so far, undesignated funds have not become available.

Yet, with continued support from congregations, organizations, and individuals, the pension plan will be able to provide meaningful benefits for retired called and lay workers. For information on supporting the benefits for these workers, contact WELS Benefit Plans, 2949 N Mayfair Rd #116, Milwaukee WI 53222-4392; 414/256-3860.