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hen more than 320 Adventist administrators, pastors, lay members, and teachers, gathered for the North American Division Executive Committee�s year-end meetings October 29-November 1, committee members faced some of the same issues that confronted them one year ago�-wages for pastors and teachers, and denominational retirement.

Additional Resources
Convening at the Adventist world headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, this year�s council was the first meeting chaired by the division�s new president Donald Schneider, who was elected at the General Conference session in Toronto this past July. During year-end meeting division leaders vote church policies, elect departmental leaders, hear reports, and approve the division�s annual budget.

Salary Update
The executive committee was updated on many wage-related challenges facing educational institutions and local conferences. According to church leaders, faculty members on Adventist campuses are leaving their positions in large numbers. Some officials report that it�s much more difficult to attract K-12 and higher education teachers because of the growing wage gap between Adventist institutions and public colleges and schools. NAD vice president Richard Osborn reported that there is also a serious shortage of Adventist professors with doctoral degrees.

On the other hand, some local conferences have had a difficult time in paying pastors� salaries at the official denominational wage scale. Meanwhile, several church entities including church-related health care institutions, Adventist Risk Management, some colleges and universities, and one publishing house, have already departed from the denominational wage system.

Pacific Union president Tom Mostert, who had chaired the division�s Remuneration Strategy Taskforce for more than a year before resigning that post, told the executive committee that some taskforce members, mostly administrators, felt they were in a serious conflict of interest in discussing wage scale. �The committee thought it might be good to reconfigure the group, bringing in more lay members, perhaps even a majority of lay members and a lay chair.�

One major complication in the wage issue is the fact that the denomination�s salary structure is very compressed, with only about 12 percent difference between the average ordained pastor and General Conference president (excluding cost of living adjustments for living expenses in different regions of North America). At the same time, many Adventist college professors who are paid within the denominational range often incur thousands of dollars in debt to earn advanced degrees, making it difficult to live on denominational salaries.

Higher Ed High Wire
Some educational administrators say that faculty salaries should not be tied to ministerial wages. �It seems to me that the problem is not just how much one is paid but how one is paid,� said Malcolm Maxwell, retiring Pacific Union College president.�� �The effort to tie everybody�s salary close to the pastor�s wage sometimes leads to a distortion in the process.�

�Virtually all pastors rise to the top level of pay in five or six years after being employed by the conference,� Maxwell explained. �On the other hand, only 30 percent of college and university teachers ever get top pay. One reason is that you must have a doctorate. The average time for a doctorate in the United States is five-and-a-half years following college. When you get right down to it, is the thing that holds us together an identical pay scale, or is what holds us together a common commitment to Jesus Christ and the mission He has given us?�

College and university administrators had prepared a proposal that would have moved to put faculty salaries in line with other regional Christian schools. However, this proposal was delayed so the remuneration taskforce could study it.

Sounding a note of concern over the length of the process, Garland Dulan, an associate director of the General Conference Education Department, told the committee, �The problem I see is that there seems to be no sunset on when these discussions will end. If the decisions regarding education need to wait until the decisions regarding ministry are resolved, is there any indication as to when the discussions will end so a decision can be made and both can move forward?�

Despite the lengthy process, Southern California Conference president Larry Caviness expressed appreciation for the dialogue. �I appreciate the fact that we are keeping the remuneration discussion on the table,� he said. �Our pastors and teachers are eagerly awaiting some word. They know this discussion is happening and they are awaiting some response on this.�

Central California Conference president Jerry Page underscored the need for flexibility in the church�s pay scale.� �We need more differentials within the wage scale, but my appeal is for a cap somewhere. We need a cap that we build our differentials under.

�I think we are getting to [a place] in the church where the word on the street is that the only way to make change in the church is to ignore policies voted in this room. I don�t think that�s how we are going to go forward in Jesus� work in North America. We have to stick together. Have the discussions here. Have our task forces follow it through and then make decisions that we stick with.�

Retirement Alternative
One day before the discussion on salaries, the presidents of eight of the division�s nine predominantly Black (or Regional) conferences presented the group�s intention to pull out of the church�s retirement program and establish an alternative retirement plan for their employees.�

The town-hall-style dialogue was opened with an overview of the church�s retirement plan by Don Schneider (see adjacent article, �A Defining Moment�). After the selected speakers made their presentations, questions were entertained from the floor. However, no actions were voted.

Central States president Alex Bryant pointed out that several Regional conferences were paying into the church�s retirement plan at a much higher rate than they should have, given the number of Regional employees deriving benefits from the plan. The Regional presidents decided to press the issue last year when the North American Division voted to change from its defined benefits pension plan to a defined contribution plan. The changeover took effect January 1. Church retirees are drawing benefits from the old �frozen� plan while denominational employees are accruing benefits under the new plan.

Since the beginning of the year, the eight Regional conferences have withheld approximately $7 million from the new plan. Under church policy, each conference sends nine percent of tithe to the retirement fund regardless of the number of retired employees it has. In 1999, according to information shared with the committee, Lake Region Conference paid in $900,000 while its retirees drew out less than $300,000 in the same period. And Central States Conference recently paid in $300,000 while its retirees drew out only $60,000.

All conferences pay more than the actual costs to fund their own employees. The overage helps to pay benefits for expatriate employees and institutional workers. However, Regional presidents believe their overpayments have been extreme, considering that only four percent of denominational retirees on the plan come from Regional conferences and Oakwood College.

�In the 1940s, Frank Jones, Northeastern Conference treasurer, registered concerns about the inequities of the retirement plan,� Bryant said. �For years we were providing retirement dollars for jobs that Blacks had no access to. For 54 years we�ve made appeals and requests. We�ve come to a point that we cannot go down this path any longer.�

Lake Region Conference president Norman Miles, who also chairs the Regional presidents' caucus, said the Black presidents turned thumbs down on the new plan because it shifts the responsibility of investment to the employee. �We believe the church has the responsibility of providing retirement as an employee benefit. Also it is difficult for Regional workers to� accumulate enough money for an adequate retirement under the new plan.�

In addition to the Regional presidents� objections to the church�s defined contribution plan, Miles said that the old �frozen� plan did not provide an adequate income level for retirees who have given 40 years of continual service. He also noted that the �frozen� plan was not fully funded and required continued contributions.

Miles outlined an alternative plan that the Regional conferences are working on. Once this plan takes effect, Regional conferences would not continue contributing to the old plan at the nine percent rate as called for under church policy. However, they have requested a study to determine an equitable share of the liability of the �frozen� plan. �Once we determine what is an equitable portion, the Regional conferences will assume our share,� Miles said.

Mardian Blair, a retired health system administrator who set up the church�s health care retirement plan, told the committee that determining the fair share for each church entity is extremely complex. �The problem is that there are other conferences that are in the same exact position as the Regional conferences.�

NAD president Donald Schneider stated that the issue of retirement was probably the single most troubling issue that he has faced since elected to the presidency back in July. However, he emphasized that division officials and the Regional presidents will continue to dialogue.

New Growth
In his secretary�s report Harold Baptiste declared that membership in the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America surpassed the 900,000 mark with total members at 914,106 as of December 31, 1999. The 914,106 membership total is up four percent over the previous year. In the first six months of 2000, membership reached 922,917. These members worship in 4,766 churches and 444 companies.

During 1999 the division added more than 41,000 new members, the largest total within the past five years, Baptiste said. The total number of new members for the past five years reached nearly 188,000.

Baptiste told the committee that the General Conference had reduced the tithe percentage it required local conferences to remit, which will free more money for local initiatives. He said the greatest benefit derived from increased funds would be the revitalization of evangelism. �Growth in evangelism justifies all other growth,� he said.

Dollars and Sense
NAD treasurer Juan Prestol reported that gross tithe for 1999 totaled $610,215,571, an increase of $40,501,497 or 7.1 and 24.1 percent over the past five years. The gain represents a new record high for tithe and the sixth consecutive annual increase.

For the first nine months of this year North American tithe totaled $437,986,160, up 4.5 percent from the same period in 1999.

Prestol said that 30 local conferences reported tithe gains of seven percent or more. Southern Union led the division in total tithe with $124,319,932 while Southwestern Union led division in membership and tithe growth.

Along with an increase in members, per capita tithe in 1999 also increased to $693.56, up from the previous year. The figure is the highest within the past five years.

Next year�s division budget will total $68,170,278, a nine percent decrease compared with this year�s budget. Prestol says the decreased budget occurred because local conferences will be keeping a larger percentage of their tithe.

Carlos Medley is the Adventist Review news and online editor.

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