SKIP A MONTH
In June, the UCC Pension Boards announced a one-month "premium holiday" for many participants in the UCC Medical Benefi ts Plan. The fi rst round of health premium credits for participants in the UCC (Non-Medicare) Health Plan was reflected in the third-quarter 2008 invoices sent to UCC employers and selfpaying employees on May 30. Participants in the UCC Medicare Supplement Plan, who normally pay for their own health coverage, were to receive a check reimbursing them for one month's premium near the end of June.
"We are glad to be able to share this good experience with the church," said Michael A. Downs, CEO and President. "This is a one-time opportunity, which refl ects the benefits of being part of a self-insured plan, and of our working together to control and reduce costs. We are grateful for the church's support of the UCC Medical Plan and of the Pension Boards' many initiatives to improve service." The total amount credited back to employers and employees is $4.4 million, and is the result of better-than-anticipated claims experience, Downs said.
OUR NEWSPAPER FOREBEARS
September 1 marks the 200-year anniversary of the founding of the "Herald of Gospel Liberty," a forebear publication of United Church News.
Founded by two Congregationalist pastors, one in Vermont and one in New Hampshire, it is remembered by many historians as the first general-interest religious periodical in the United States. "This is widely regarded as the fi rst religious newspaper," said the Rev. Richard Taylor, chair of the UCC Historical Council. "Some say there were earlier periodicals. However, this was unique in trying to be like a secular newspaper to carry news as well as opinion." The Rev. Barbara Brown Zikmund, church historian, said that, in 1908, the Herald of Gospel Liberty celebrated its 100th Anniversary by publishing a 656-page book called "The Centennial of Religious Journalism." "Let's not let the 'bicentennial of religious journalism' go unnoticed," Zikmund said. Other remembrances from the Herald of Gospel Liberty are being planned during the coming months. Look for more at <ucc.org>.
THE 'BINDING' OF BALAAM'S
"Balaam's Courier," a widely-distributed General Synod digest known for its witty and independent commentary, has just published a book — "unoffi cially," of course. Hot off the presses is "Balaam's Unoffi cial Handbook of the United Church of Christ" (ironically published by the very "official" Pilgrim Press, $16). Written by the same bright and bodacious writers that staff their "underground" GS operations, the book is fi lled with "pithy insights and historical information" that translates into a "well-organized and compelling resource," says the Rev. Dale A. Hempen, an associate conference minister in Massachusetts.
In its ever-unique way, the handbook takes its own look at UCC history; Jesus; the Bible; UCC structure, worship and witness; and the denomination's future. "It's all here, narrated with the humor and light touch we've eagerly awaited at General Synods," says the Rev. Clyde J. Steckel, emeritus professor of theology at UCC-related United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. Order at <thepilgrimpress.com> or by calling 800/537-3394
With the average price of gasoline anticipated to reach $5 a gallon by the end of summer, the UCC's Pension Boards is providing some extra assistance to its low-income annuitants. "Low-income annuitants have been hit especially hard," said the Rev. M. Douglas Borko, director for ministerial assistance. "The ripple effect of soaring energy costs affects what consumers pay for food, utilities and other necessities as well."
In an effort to provide some relief for those in greatest need, the United Church Board for Ministerial Assistance — one of the corporations that comprises the UCC Pension Boards — will provide $200 one-time energy assistance grants to 1,000 low income retirees selected by the board. Checks were to be issued in July. "These grants represent one form of the assistance provided
to clergy and lay employees throughout their careers," Borko
The grants are made possible by the income generated by contributions to the "Reserve Fund for Ministerial Assistance," which is the endowment fund of the United Church Board for Ministerial Assistance. Contributions to the annual Christmas Fund special mission
offering — in addition to the income from the Reserve Fund for Ministerial Assistance — support an annual assistance budget of nearly $5 million.