Fifteen church plants receive a subsidy from the fair balance fund
By Laurie Oswald Robinson
Mennonite Church USA—When Jerry and Lori Acosta of Mathias, Texas, came to Wichita, Kan., in August to help launch a Hispanic church plant, Manos de Cristo (Hands of Christ), they did not have health insurance for themselves or their four sons.
But today they are in the process of enrolling in The Corinthian Plan—a Mennonite Church USA-sponsored health coverage and life insurance program based on mutual care practices. And as a result of their family’s participation in the plan, the Acostas will be able to focus on ministry without worrying about how to pay for medical costs.
“Being part of the plan helps me to be more at ease and at peace, knowing that my family is taken care of in emergencies,” said Jerry Acosta, who is working with a partnership of three Mennonite Church USA congregations in Wichita to launch the church plant on behalf of Western District Conference (WDC).
This reassurance and support is precisely what The Corinthian Plan is geared to provide, with its emphasis on mutual care across the church, said Keith Harder, director of the plan for Mennonite Church USA. The plan was created in response to a request made by the denomination’s delegate assembly to the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board during the 2007 churchwide convention in San José, Calif., and was launched in January 2010.
Today, the plan provides benefits for pastors and staff members in 450 congregations within Mennonite Church USA. It also provides benefits for employees of some area conferences and church agencies.
At the end of the plan’s second year, 50 of 450 participating congregations are receiving assistance from the fair balance fund—a feature that shapes the mutual care aspect of the program.
“Each participating congregation provides $10 per average attendance each year, a facet of the plan inspired by 2 Corinthians 8, which encourages believers to generously support one another in times of need,” Harder said. “It’s exciting to see people pooling resources and sharing risks. The plan addresses the injustice of some people not being able to have health coverage because they cannot afford it as well as facilitates the church spreading the gospel and planting new Mennonite churches.”
Church plants such as the new Manos de Cristo recognize how the plan helps them to build upon a stronger foundation, Harder said. Many of the church plants are in urban areas, and often their budgets are minimal and their pastors bivocational.
Of the 50 congregations receiving a subsidy from the fair balance fund, 15 are relatively new church plants, Harder said. And just within the past several weeks, he’s received eight new calls from church plants inquiring about the plan.
Warren Tyson, conference minister for Atlantic Coast and Eastern District area conferences, recently helped to enroll Hiwet Legeta (Life for the Lord Church), a new Ethiopian church plant led by Pastor Redeat Abebe and consisting of two house groups from Lancaster, Pa., and Philadelphia. And Tyson is working with Solidarity and Harmony Church, a Haitian church plant in Philadelphia led by Pastor Bernard Sejour, to discern whether this church plant will join the plan.
One congregation in each of the area conferences Tyson serves as conference minister is receiving a subsidy from the fair balance fund, he said. In total, 13 of Atlantic Coast’s 34 congregations participate, as do six of Eastern District’s 17 congregations.
“The amount of subsidy a congregation receives to cover their pastor’s health premium is determined by the size of the church budget,” he said. “And even though the cost of the premium for each congregation receiving subsidy can be a concern, the mutual care still lowers those premiums considerably.”
An additional concern is how pastors can meet the $3,000 individual or $6,000 family high deductible if the pastor or his/her family has health care expenses, he said. This may require conference leaders to secure additional support to assist a pastor family in a time of need.
The plan may not seem “equitable” from a worldly perspective. But it is “fair” from a churchly viewpoint shaped by the Anabaptist focus on peace- and justice-making and mutual care on a variety of fronts, said Nita Nikkel, chair of the support team for Manos de Cristo and a member of Mennonite Church of the Servant in Wichita.
“It’s a plan that also ties into immigration issues, since many of our church plants consist of recent immigrants,” said Nikkel, who is a member of WDC’s new church plant task force and who chairs WDC’s immigration task force. “It helps us to share in God’s mission right here at home by taking care of our pastors.
“In the end, this plan helps everyone in the church, no matter what the level of their resources. Since establishing this plan, we are all learning a lot more about Jesus, as all parts of the church practice giving and receiving together in unity.”
To learn more about The Corinthian Plan, see http://mennoniteusa.org/the-corinthian-plan/.
Worshipers at Manos de Cristo, a Hispanic church plant in Wichita, Kan., pray for Jerry and Lori Acosta and their family during their Oct. 9 installation service. (Photo by Vada Snider)
Jerry and Lori Acosta with their four children and Lori’s sister, Lucy (in back). (Photo provided)