Thursday, January 7, 2010

lutheran news digest # 24

This is a copy of an e-mail I got

5 January, 2010

I think Pr. Steve Shipman's idea (see below) of a "social justice resolution" for the synods, calling on the ELCA to practice what it preaches to others about moral responsibility is a great idea. I wonder if they'll accept responsibility for "the human cost" to faithful church workers, because of the decisions they have made causing loss of jobs, pensions, etc. ?

I thought you'd want to be aware of this, even if they. hypocritically, never accept responsibility for what they've done to our church and our church workers. (Lots of interesting things for the New Year.) Norm

----- Original Message -----

From: W. Stevens Shipman


Sent: Tuesday, January 05, 2010 8:44 AM

Subject: Re: [ELCF] Augsburg Fortress to terminate Retirement Plan

I regret especially the human cost of the directions the ELCA (and other oldline denominations) have been taking.

I'm toying with the idea of a social justice resolution for synod assemblies regarding our moral responsibility to AF retirees. How long will we make people suffer because of our pretensions of being a "world-class" church?

My memorial would call on the ELCA to practice what it preaches, to accept moral responsibility for AF and other retirees in similar situations, and to fund it by: immediately reducing travel budgets by 50%, banning all travel outside the 50 United States except for those living and serving in other nations, closing all lobbying offices, selling the headquarters, and instructing the presiding bishop to resign as president of LWF. I'd appreciate comments and suggestions.

The purpose would be to introduce this in as many synods as possible, knowing it will be shot down. But it may help some of the layfolk to realize what is happening, and to uplift the hypocrisy of the "public church" that refuses to do for its servants what it demands that corporations and others do for their employees.

Plus the ELCA is just plain too big and unwieldy. We never needed what CNCL created, and we need it even less today. This is a great opportunity to uplift the need to help some people to whom we made promises, and to show just what the ELCA has become.

And to shoot at a few sacred cows in the process.

Pastor W. Stevens Shipman, STS
United Evangelical Lutheran Church
Lock Haven, Pennsylvania

4 January, 2010

To answer a previous question, that was apparently answered in a Q&A statement that
accompanied the AF letter.

10. Why can't the ELCA churchwide organization make up for the funding
deficiency in the plan?
A. We thoroughly explored options for overcoming the funding deficiency,
including seeking support from the ELCA churchwide organization. However,
the ELCA churchwide organization advised us that it has no obligations or
fiduciary duties with respect to the AF (Augsburg Fortress) plan. Augsburg
Fortress is a separately incorporated program unit of the ELCA and our
retirement plan is separate from any plan sponsored by the ELCA.

As I read this, churchwide said: "Not our problem."

The part I liked in the Q&A was the admission, if AF declared bankruptcy
there still would be enough assets to cover obligations.

This has got to be *the* saddest outcome of AF's decline. Lewis blames a
congregational shift to online publishing sources and non-Lutheran sources.
Oh, I think it is more than that. The confessional reliability of AF
publications became suspect. I'm trying to think when was the last time I
bought anything AF. It's been years. Concordia Publishing handles all my
catechetical materials. Once that shift was made, other things seemed to
flow naturally. If it was only ten percent of the ELCA congregations making
similar shifts over time, and for the same reason, that's a huge loss.

Sad, sad.


Sent: Monday, January 04, 2010 11:44 AM

Subject: Re: [ELCF] Augsburg Fortress to terminate Retirement Plan

Ouch! My prayers and thoughts go out to all those impacted by this.

Now, I wonder how the ELCA would have reacted had a profit-making corporation made such a decision. Could we help retirees a little more if the presiding bishop stayed in this country instead of flying around the world lecturing politicians? Could we redirect the money spent on our lobbying offices to this purpose? Would it make sense to sell the Higgins Road building and move into rented digs in a smaller and less costly locale, and use the funds to help these people.

Just a few thoughts. This is horrible. As somebody within (distant) sight of retirement, it terrifies me.

Pastor W. Stevens Shipman, STS
United Evangelical Lutheran Church


This is truly heartbreaking news - former employees of Augsburg Publishing House now on pension have LOST THEIR PENSION. What would you or I do if t his happened to us? Retired pastors (whose pension never did amount to much do to low salaries) , are also having their pensions CUT 9% for 3 years. Some of this may be attributed to the economy, but some of it is the result of the ELCA's sell-out to our culture with losses in membership and money. Augsburg's new line of published materials was not what people wanted to buy. No sales: no business.

An excellent response will follow this email. When I put myself in the shoes of these Augsburg pensioners, I can only wonder what I will do. Pious platitudes by Mark Hanson will not pay the bills: but maybe selling off the Higgens road property to help them, would. Norm

Sent: Monday, January 04, 2010 10:52 AM

Subject: [ELCF] Augsburg Fortress to terminate Retirement Plan

(Note to readers: Below is a copy of the letter sent out by Augsburg Fortress)
Link to article:
(It has the question-and- answer document.)

Dec. 31, 2009

Dear Augsburg Fortress Retirement Plan Recipient:

It is with deep regret that we write to inform you that on December 18, 2009, the Board of Trustees of Augsburg Fortress accepted an administrative committee's recommendation to terminate the Retirement Plan II for Employees of Augsburg Fortress Publishers, Publishing House of the ELCA (the "plan") effective March 5, 2010, and to amend the plan prior to termination to provide for more equitable allocation of plan assets among plan participants. This was an extraordinarily difficult decision, reached only after thoroughly exploring other options.

If you are currently receiving retirement benefits from the plan, your monthly benefits will continue through the March 1, 2010 benefit payment. Upon termination of the plan as of March 5, 2010, most plan participants, including current retirees, will receive a lump sum benefit from the plan. The lump sum will be calculated according to the amended terms of the plan as of the date of plan termination. Because the plan is severely underfunded, there is not enough money to pay the full benefits that plan participants otherwise would have received had the plan been fully funded.

Absent plan termination, the money in the plan was projected to be totally distributed as plan benefits to retirees in approximately 5 years, leaving many participants in the plan without any retirement benefits from Augsburg Fortress.

We have decided to amend the plan terms prior to plan termination in order to ensure that the limited amount of money in the plan is spread out equally to participants and beneficiaries upon plan termination. A lump sum distribution upon plan termination under current plan terms provide that all the money in the plan would be used to fund benefits for approximately 175 plan participants who retired prior to March 5, 2007, and their beneficiaries. The plan is so underfunded that even these participants would only receive part of their benefits in a lump sum distribution. The other approximately 325 participants in the plan would receive nothing. Because Augsburg Fortress believes this would be inequitable, the Board of Trustees of Augsburg Fortress has authorized the committee administering the plan to draft a plan amendment that will take effect prior to plan termination and will provide most plan participants some portion of their plan benefits.

We expect the plan amendment to provide that any cost of living increases earned by plan participants on or after January 1, 1996, will be moved to the lowest payment priority category. This means that if part of your benefit resulted from a cost of living increase earned on or after January 1, 1996, your benefit would be reduced by the amount attributable to the cost of living increase and the cost of living amount would not be included in the calculation of the lump sum distribution. We also expect the plan amendment to provide that the limited cash of the plan will be allocated to participants based on years of service, and retiree status. In general, this would mean that those plan participants with greater years of service with Augsburg Fortress, and those currently retired, would receive a larger portion of their plan benefits. We expect to inform you in late January about the exact amount of your lump sum distribution in light of the anticipated plan amendment.

Attached are a series of questions and answers which address concerns you may have about the termination. Please review them carefully and if you have any additional questions or concerns, please add them, in writing, to Sandy Middendorf at Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 100 South Fifth Street, Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55402, as soon as possible.

These decisions and actions break our hearts and we apologize, but they are necessary. Know that you are in our hearts, our thoughts and, especially our prayers.


Beth A. Lewis, President & CEO

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