This week’s post is written by Rev. Dr. Jonathan Lee, Philanthropy Officer for the United Church Board for Ministerial Assistance with the Pension Boards UCC. His article provides some statistical highlights about the UCC’s Christmas Fund, especially in terms of impact. Enjoy!
Since 1893, the United Church Board for Ministerial Assistance (UCBMA) has provided support to UCC clergy and lay church employees, bridging financial and leadership needs of retirees, of those serving new church starts, of younger pastors beginning their ministries, and of those facing circumstantial hardships. UCBMA is separately incorporated within the Pension Boards and works closely with the UCC’s national setting, Conferences and various Boards of Aid in the Conferences.
At the core of the ministries of UCBMA is the Christmas Fund for Veterans of the Cross and the Emergency Fund. The Christmas Fund is one of the four Special Mission Offerings of the UCC, and congregations have been generously giving to the offering for more than a century. Proceeds from the offering are used to provide direct financial assistance to UCC clergy and lay employees in four areas: for retirees, monthly pension supplementation, quarterly health premium supplementation, and Christmas “thank you” checks; and emergency grants to both active and retired clergy and lay employees. Congregations across the country are currently promoting the 2015 Christmas Fund Offering; gifts can be made through one’s home church or directly online.
In 2014, of the some 10,000 Pension Board retirees, 325 qualified for small pension supplementation, totaling $1,418,105; 209 received assistance with paying health insurance premiums ($495,856), and Thank You Christmas checks totaling $203,350 were presented to 510 Veterans of the Cross in gratitude for their years of service. Also in 2014, Christmas Fund gifts were used to make 50 emergency grants to help cover costs associated with, for example, home damage from natural disasters and unexpected medical expenses. On average, in the last decade, nearly 1,500 people have been assisted each year by grants underwritten by gifts to the Christmas Fund.
In the last ten years, the Christmas Fund has grown steadily, in both congregational participation and total funds raised. According to CARD, 52.4% of all UCC congregations across the country gave to the Christmas Fund in 2014 (up 10% since 2003), and each congregation gave an average gift of $553, making the nationwide total $1,538,531. That’s a $225,070 increase from a decade before. Since 2006, the Naples United Church of Christ in Florida has been the top contributing church, giving over $28,000 in 2014. Rock Spring Congregational UCC in Arlington, Virginia and University Congregational in Seattle were the next highest contributors, at $10,435 and $8,466, respectively. The most generous per capita givers last year were Lahuiokalani Ka’anapali Congregational Church in Lahaina, Hawai’i ($200/member), First Congregational UCC in West Chicago, Illinois ($60/member), and First Congregational UCC in Pocatello, Idaho ($49.36/member).
Demographic trends in the United Church of Christ speak to the expanding need for the four assistance programs supported by the Christmas Fund, as well as for a new generation of donors to allow grants to keep pace. Last year, the Christmas Fund offering was $750,000 below what UCBMA spent in the four related assistance areas. That gap was underwritten by earnings on the permanent Ministerial Assistance Fund, which itself is a separate focus of UCBMA fundraising efforts. The Fall 2015 Statistical Profile makes clear that the active, authorized clergy pool continues to age (p. 16) and that the percentage of the population comprised by retirees is expanding. Twenty years ago, 28.3% of authorized UCC ministers were retired (or Pastor Emeriti); in 2014, that figure had risen to 38.6%. In actual numbers there was a decline of 200 ministers overall during that period, but the number of retirees increased by 1,649 (p.13). As baby boomers begin to retire in greater numbers, as well as those who delayed retirement because of the economic downturn in 2008, the population of retirees will surely increase—as, in turn, will the numbers of those servants of the church who find themselves in need of the assistance programs the Christmas Fund makes possible.
For generations, the Christmas Fund for Veterans of the Cross and the Emergency Fund has enabled the wider church to provide concrete, meaningful assistance to those clergy and lay workers who have not had enough to live securely and with dignity. One recent recipient of assistance described the support as “nothing short of a life saver.” The urgency of that mission is quickly escalating in the current generation, and broadening and deepening the generosity of the wider United Church of Christ family is a call—and an opportunity—that cannot be ignored.