On October 11 and 12, the Metropolitan Council of the Orthodox Church in America met in person, under the presidency of His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon, to resume the Regular Fall 2023 Session, which began on September 28 via teleconference.
Wednesday, October 11, was dedicated exclusively to a discussion of the OCA Pension Plan with the participation of the Pension Board. In the morning, and in accordance with the resolution approved at the 20th All-American Council—“That professional third party benefit plan administrative training should be provided to the Metropolitan Council and the Pension Board and the Officers of the church”—the two bodies welcomed Mr. James Heinzman, CPA, CFP, partner at Schultheis & Panettieri, LLP, who offered a presentation on defined benefit pension plans followed by general comments on the OCA Pension Plan.
In the afternoon, the Metropolitan Council resumed its Regular Fall 2023 Session welcoming His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, Episcopal Moderator, the Pension Board, and the Pension Plan Administrator, Mr. Michael Stieglitz.
The Metropolitan Council heard the report of the Pension Board on the state of the Pension Plan, its funding status, compliance levels, cash flow analysis, investments performance, and administrative expenses. From the report received, the Pension Board noted that the Plan is currently solvent and continues to pay benefits regularly. Nonetheless, there was full agreement that measures must be undertaken urgently to guarantee its future.
The Pension Board made the recommendation to continue the $9,000/month contribution from the Central Administration to the Pension Plan to offset administrative costs, which began on January 1, 2023, by the decision of the Metropolitan Council at its Regular Fall 2022 Session. Further, the Pension Board recommended an additional 2% in employer contribution in line with the decision of the Metropolitan Council at its Regular Fall 2022 Session. According to that decision, the Council resolved “To approve a 2% increase of employer contributions for participants in the OCA Pension Plan effective January 1, 2023 and an additional 2% increase effective January 1, 2024, subject to review of parish compliance of participation in the OCA Pension Plan at the regular Fall 2023 Session of the Metropolitan Council.”
Having received and considered the report and recommendation of the Pension Board, the Metropolitan Council approved its recommendation to continue the $9,000 contribution in 2024, and to raise the employer contribution level from 12% to 14% beginning on January 1, 2024.
As such, all parishes and institutions of the Orthodox Church in America in the United States are urged
to begin planning for the contribution level increase, which will go into effect in less than three months.
Extensive discussion took place between the two bodies that share the unanimous goal of providing retirement benefits for the clergy and lay workers of the Orthodox Church in America. The two bodies renewed their commitment to cooperate and further improve communication and sharing of reports and documents, including the actuarial evaluation from the new actuary firm that is expected to be received by the Pension Board in the next few months.
On the advice of Mr. Heinzman, there was mutual consent by both bodies at the need to establish a Funding Improvement Plan (FIP) geared to solve the Plan’s funding deficit. The Pension Board will work together with the actuary on the FIP once the actuarial analysis is received. It is anticipated that the Pension Board will present a draft of the Funding Improvement Plan at the Regular Fall 2024 Session of the Metropolitan Council.
The Metropolitan Council and Pension Board agreed that unstable compliance levels have had and continue to have detrimental effects on the Plan. Participation in the Pension Plan is a requirement for all eligible clergy and lay employees of the Orthodox Church in America.
Following the joint meeting with the Pension Board, on October 12, the Metropolitan Council issued the following statement:
The Metropolitan Council appreciates the renewed spirit of cooperation between the Pension Board and the Council exhibited at their joint meeting. The Council acknowledges the expediency of the mutual sharing of documents and information by the Pension Board, the Metropolitan Council Pension Committee, and the Metropolitan Council as a whole.
The Council looks forward to a Funding Improvement Plan (FIP) to be presented prior to the Regular Fall 2024 Session of the Metropolitan Council.
The Council looks forward to receiving the actuarial valuation report in early 2024 and the actuarial projection report that the Pension Board expects to receive at the conclusion of the 2023 calendar year.
Pursuant to item seven (7) of the resolution adopted at the 20th All-American Council, Mr. James Heinzman, CPA, CFP, presented benefit pension plan training to the joint meeting of the Pension Board and Metropolitan Council. The Metropolitan Council found this training, and the questions and answers associated with it, very valuable.