Brethren Benefit Trust Makes Changes to Retiree Annuity Payments

Church of the Brethren Newsline
May 15, 2009

In order to preserve the solvency and long-term integrity of the Church of the Brethren Pension Plan’s Retirement Benefits Fund, which funds the monthly benefit payments for annuitants, the Brethren Benefit Trust (BBT) Board in April took action that will reduce annuity payments for retirees.

The board met at the Church of the Brethren General Offices the weekend of April 24-26 and wrestled with this difficult issue that will affect the lives of the Pension Plan’s annuitants.

According to an actuarial study conducted by Hewitt and Associates, as of Dec. 31, 2008, the Retirement Benefits Fund (RBF) had enough assets to meet only 68 percent of its longterm obligations. In spite of investment returns that have consistently outperformed market benchmarks, together with losses incurred due to market decline beginning in the last part of 2007, the 2008 losses in the stock and bond markets resulted in a 26 percent decline in the asset value of the RBF.

This is a $45 million shortfall and could seriously compromise the RBF’s ability to meet benefit obligations in the future. If corrective action is not taken as soon as possible, there is a high probability that the RBF will not be able to recover.

“BBT’s commitment as administrator of the Plan is to behave so that we can meet our obligations to all of our members throughout their lifetimes,” said president Nevin Dulabaum.

Effective July 1, all new annuities will be calculated using an interest assumption rate of 5 percent, and the A and B accounts of active and inactive participants will be combined into one account. Effective Aug. 1, all existing annuities will be recalculated using an interest assumption rate of 5 percent.

Some annuitants may be surprised that the benefit amount can change, but according to the Church of the Brethren Pension Plan legal document, the board has the provision to “readjust annuities or other benefits where such changes are deemed by the Benefit Trust to be necessary to protect and preserve the actuarial and financial solvency of the Plan.”

In addition, the funding of a special reserve account from the general assets of BBT (not the pension funds) will continue in an effort to bring the Retirement Benefits Fund to fully reserved status. The RBF will be considered fully reserved when the value of the RBF’s assets is at least 130 percent of the estimated liabilities. A plan will be developed for providing additional benefits to all participants when the funding status of the RBF permits such benefits without jeopardizing the RBF’s ability to meet its obligations.

The board is aware that a reduction in benefit amounts will create hardship for some annuitants. To counteract this hardship, the board and staff are implementing a simple grant program to provide relief to those annuitants who will suffer the most harm from a benefit reduction. The funding for these grants is not coming from the Pension Plan, but from BBT’s operating reserves, which are not normally used for this type of expense.

Details of the grant program and an application will be sent along with a letter to annuitants informing them of their recalculated monthly benefit–prior to the implementation of the new, reduced benefit. Eligibility criteria for these grants are intentionally being kept simple.

BBT is prepared to respond to the many questions and concerns that are likely to arise from these actions. Visit to learn more about the decisions and developments as they unfold. Plan members are also encouraged to contact BBT directly at 800-746-1505.

The Church of the Brethren Newsline is produced by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of news services for the Church of the Brethren. Newsline stories may be reprinted if Newsline is cited as the source. Contact to receive Newsline by e-mail or to submit news to the editor at For more Church of the Brethren news and features, subscribe to “Messenger” magazine; call 800-323-8039 ext. 247.

Brethren in the News

“Ecumenical project rebuilds homes,” Disaster News Network (May 14, 2009). Church of the Brethren writer and Messenger magazine editor Walt Wiltschek provides this story on the ecumenical Blitz Build in New Orleans, a Hurricane Katrina rebuilding project sponsored by Church World Service and including the Church of the Brethren and Brethren Disaster Response among several denominations providing volunteers to rebuild homes.

Obituary: Mary Kidd, Salem (Ohio) News (May 13, 2009). Mary Kidd, 76, passed on May 11 at Salem (Ohio) Community Hospital. She was a homemaker and attended Zion Hill Church of the Brethren in Columbiana, Ohio, where she was a member of the Dorcas Circle and recorded and taped music for the church.

Obituary: Bertha Lester, Palladium-Item, Richmond, Ind. (May 13, 2009). Bertha (Johnson) Lester, 88, passed away on May 11. She was a longtime member of Cedar Grove Church of the Brethren in New Paris, Ohio, where she also taught adult Sunday school class. She was a homemaker, teacher’s aide for Nettle Creek School Corp. in Hagerstown, Ind., and a Township Assessor for Jefferson Township in Wayne County. She is preceded in death by her husband, Herbert Lester, whom she married in 1948.

Obituary: Charlene H. Long, News Leader, Staunton, Va. (May 13, 2009). Charlene Howdyshell Long, 79, passed away on May 13 at her home. She was a member of Briery Branch Church of the Brethren in Dayton, Va. She worked for Jordan Brothers Hatchery and in the cafeteria for Augusta County schools, and farmed with her husband, Lenford Quinton Long, whom she married in 1945.

“Hope for homeless in New Orleans,” Disaster News Network (May 12, 2009). Church of the Brethren writer and Messenger magazine editor Walt Wiltschek provides this story on a center for the homeless in New Orleans.

“Couple Heralds Brethren Center’s World ‘Embrace,’ “ Daily News Record, Harrisonburg, Va. (May 11, 2009). R. Jan and Roma Jo Thompson have written a book about what they call one of America’s best-kept secrets: the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Md. The couple co-wrote the book, “Beyond Our Means: How the Brethren Service Center Dared to Embrace the World,” which is published by Brethren Press. The 286-page soft-cover text chronicles the birth and growth of the Brethren Service Center where, for 65 years, the Church of the Brethren and other denominations have collected and shipped donated goods to the world’s needy.

“Fundraising For Global Disaster Relief: Brethren Auction Returns For 17th Year,” Daily News Record, Harrisonburg, Va. (May 9, 2009). The 102 churches that compose the Shenandoah District of the Church of the Brethren are getting the opportunity to make a big difference next weekend. The district’s most productive fundraiser returns May 15-16, with the 17th annual Disaster Ministries Auction at Rockingham County Fairgrounds. The auction features an array of locally donated items that include handmade crafts, baked goods, and livestock.

“A glimpse of Enid’s history,” Enid (Okla.) News and Eagle (May 9, 2009). Waverley Historic District will celebrate Enid Historic Preservation Month May 17 by showcasing some historic structures during its annual parlor tour, including Family Faith Fellowship Church of the Brethren. The church in the Neoclassical-style was built circa 1947. Its historic owner was First Church of Christ, and it was purchased by Family Faith Fellowship Church of the Brethren in 1995.

“A ‘grand’ donation feeds hungry,” Sentinel-Tribune, Bowling Green, Ohio (May 8, 2009). Through a joint effort, the Toledo Northwest Ohio Food Bank recently received a total of $1,000 from members of Lakewood Church of the Brethren in Millbury, Ohio. The church donated the first $500; while the donation was matched by the Church of the Brethren’s Hunger Matching Grant program.

“Homeless girl comes to grips with a hard life,” Associated Press (May 8, 2009). A homeless center at Peace Church of the Brethren in Portland, Ore., has helped house a young girl and her family, in a story told by Mary Hudetz of the Associated Press. “At first, 9-year-old Brehanna didn’t seem to understand. Her family was being evicted from their home…. Her father, Joe Ledesma, a homebuilder for 20 years, was without a job and couldn’t find another. He couldn’t pay the $800 rent on the three-bedroom house where he, his wife Heidi and daughter lived.”

Obituary: Earline S. Chapman, News Leader, Staunton, Va. (May 8, 2009). Earline Spitzer Chapman, 84, died on May 7 at Augusta Medical Center. She was a member of Middle River Church of the Brethren in Fort Defiance, Va., where she was organist and pianist for 60 years, and an associate member of Bridgewater (Va.) Church of the Brethren. She had studied organ at Bridgewater College. She was a secretary for the Virginia Employment Commission prior to her retirement in 1994. She also managed Augusta Expoland for five years, taught “The Art of Flower Arranging” at Blue Ridge Community College for 10 years, and taught piano lessons. She held a National Accredited Master Flower Show Judge certificate and a Master Landscape Design Consultant certificate. She is survived by her husband Kemper “Kelly” Chapman.

“Retirement Party Held,” Gridley (Calif.) Herald (May 6, 2009). A retirement party was held at Live Oak (Calif.) Church of the Brethren for outgoing pastor Barbara Ober. The church celebrated over 11 years of service provided by the pastor, which included work with Casa de Esperanza and the Leo Chesney Center.

Obituary: Jean A. Gray, Chillicothe Gazette (May 6, 2009). Jean A. Gray, 75, passed away on May 4. She was a member of Charleston Church of the Brethren in Chillicothe, Ohio, for more than 60 years. She worked with Head Start and at Pioneer School, and ran a catering business for a number of years. Her volunteer service included running a branch of the public library from her home, work on the charter committee of Harrison Township volunteer fire department, being the first woman to serve on the Ross County Agricultural Society Board, and service on the board of the Good Samaritan Food Network of Ross County. She is survived by her husband, William W. Gray.

“Activist pushes no-nuke policy,” Dayton (Ohio) Daily News (May 1, 2009). Ralph Dull, a man who’s always worn his politics on his sleeve, is now wearing his politics on top of his car…driving around with a sign on top of his compact hybrid car promoting, a worldwide effort to do away with nuclear weapons. It’s typical of the 80-year-old farmer that he didn’t just slap a sticker on his bumper proclaiming his latest campaign. Instead, he fashioned a 3-foot-long billboard and drove four holes through the top of his car to bolt the sign into place. Dull traces his core values to his parents who raised him in the Church of the Brethren.

“Mt. Pleasant church welcomes new pastors,” Connellsville (Pa.) Daily Courier (May 1, 2009). An article introduces the new pastors at Mt. Pleasant (Pa.) Church of the Brethren: Pastor Larry Walker, who is accompanied by his wife, Associate Pastor Judy Walker.

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