During the 2018 Annual Conference session, South Georgia delegates approved a conference arrearage policy to help stem the tide of clergy benefit debt.
An arrearage is something unpaid or overdue. South Georgia congregations that are in arrears to the conference are, for the most part, in debt because they haven’t paid their clergy health insurance premiums or the church’s share of pension costs, said Dr. Derek McAleer, conference treasurer. An arrearage can occur, however, anytime a church or charge is unable to pay in full the approved compensation or support to or for its pastor. This includes base compensation, housing allowance, accountable reimbursements, and direct billing payments.
When a church fails to pay their HeathFlex (health insurance) or Wespath (pension) bills, the clergyperson continues to receive their salary and benefits, but the Conference has paid the bill.
“Clergy compensation is one more area in which we live out a covenant relationship,” said Rev. Robert Greene, chair of the Conference’s Equitable Compensation Committee. “Our clergy ‘go where sent’ by the bishop, and ministers are compensated as committed to by each church's charge conference in the fall. When a church fails to pay the full compensation, including benefits, it's a breakdown of our covenant. Furthermore, the obligations for our annual conference don't go away. We still have to pay HealthFlex or Wespath, whatever was committed to at charge conference. Our team, the Equitable Compensation Committee, saw this as a challenge that the Conference needed to address right away.”
The approved arrearage policy, proposed by the Equitable Compensation Committee to help stop the increase of arrearages – accumulated debts that have now exceeded $1,000,000 – includes a process for notification when compensation is in arrears, courses of action when an arrearage occurs, a statute of limitations for claims against the Annual Conference, and provisions for reporting churches whose arrearages have required disbursement from conference funds to compensate pastors.
“To borrow from Dave Ramsey, we need ‘gazelle-like intensity’ to stop the growing problem of arrearages in the South Georgia Conference,” Rev. Greene said. “We are thankful the Conference has voted to approve this policy, which we see as an essential first step.”
It’s not the intent of the committee to embarrass churches for failure to pay, Dr. McAleer said.
“But the burden on the other churches of our conference, most of whom are small and medium-sized, has grown to more than $1 million. It is not appropriate to shove that kind of debt burden on other churches.”