Early in her ministry, the Rev. Julia Proctor felt called to serve small churches. She did just that for years – until her health forced her to retire on a small pension. Now she is grateful for the help she receives because of an offering many United Church of Christ congregations will gather this month.
Sunday, Dec. 22, is the suggested 2019 date for gifts to the Christmas Fund for the Veterans of the Cross and the Emergency Fund, one of four special mission offerings of the UCC. As always, local churches are encouraged to pick an Advent or Christmas date that works best for them.
"Gifts are needed more than ever to help the growing number of retirees whose low-income annuities make it difficult to meet increasing living costs," said the Rev. Krista Betz, director of ministerial assistance for The Pension Boards, which administers the Christmas Fund. "As UCC members and congregations, this is your opportunity to participate in God’s promise of renewal by enabling this ministry of compassion and care."
Small churches often mean small pensions
"The only reason I retired was my health — it's not the greatest, and right now I'm unable to walk," said Proctor, a graduate of UCC-related Bangor Theological Seminary in Maine. Ordained in 1989, she primarily served small-membership churches in Maine and New York. "I loved working in small churches. I remember a day in seminary when I overheard a couple of students talking, saying that the thing to do was get a small church to start and then that's your stepping stone to a bigger church. That's when I decided I would always serve small churches. They deserve people with experience."
A small-church career is a common reason pastors have insufficient retirement income. "I didn’t stop to think about the tiny annuity I would have at the time I made the decision to work with small congregations," Proctor said.
Gifts to the Christmas Fund are the source of the pension supplementation Julia and many other retired pastors and lay workers receive monthly—and depend upon. "Since I am disabled," Julia told The Pension Boards' staff, "your help with the money you are sending me means more to me than you know."
Christmas Fund gifts provide direct financial assistance to individual UCC clergy and lay church employees—the funds do not support programs or institutions, but people. In 2018, the Christmas Fund provided assistance to retired clergy and lay workers and their surviving spouses in the following categories:
- Monthly pension supplementation for 379 retirees, totaling $1,453,050
- Health benefits supplementation for 174 retirees, totaling $429,903
- Christmas "thank you" gift checks to 401 retirees, totaling $214,000
- Emergency grants for 49 active and retired UCC clergy and lay employees in urgent need, totaling $60,526
'Easing the anxiety of financial worries'
One longtime Christmas Fund contributor – a well-known professor and theologian – can relate to stories like Proctor's because of his family's own experience.
The Rev. Walter Brueggemann – an Old Testament scholar who served on the faculties of Eden Theological Seminary in Missouri and Columbia Theological Seminary in Georgia and authored several widely read books – watched his father pastor a German Evangelical church in Tilden, Neb., for many years.
"There are many poorly paid pastors in the UCC, not unlike my father was," Brueggemann said. "When they retire, often with a spouse, they are left in some considerable need. When my dad died, my mother was left with the results of his low salaries.
"For that reason, I am a regular contributor to the Christmas Fund and deeply committed to it. The Christmas Fund is a great boon for such folk who have served the church long, well and faithfully. I commend the Christmas Fund and hope that many others will sign on to support this concrete gesture of generosity and gratitude."
Interested churches can get promotional and worship materials online at christmasfund.org and order additional offering envelopes and other supplies from UCC Resources, 800-537-3394 or uccresources.com.
"Year after year, the Christmas Fund makes a difference in the lives of our United Church of Christ retired pastors and their surviving spouses," Betz said, "easing the anxiety of constant financial worries."