National Lutheran News

ELCA Board of Pensions gets new name, announces end to relationship with NALC congregations

The Board of Pensions (BoP) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) began doing business as Portico Benefit Services in mid-November 2011. The organization is a separately incorporated ministry of the ELCA, headquartered in Minneapolis.

The trustees of the ELCA Board of Pensions approved the name change at their November meeting and recommended that the ELCA Church Council amend Continuing Resolution 17.20.A11 at its November 11-13 meeting in Chicago. The Church Council unanimously approved the amendment.

“We believe a new name will help people better understand what we do as this church’s provider of health, retirement, disability and survivor benefits, and related services,” said the Rev. Jeffrey Thiemann, president and CEO. “Though our name is changing, our connection to this church remains strong. I look to our future together with enthusiasm.”

Portico Benefit Services President and CEO Jeffrey Thiemann; photo provided by Portico Benefit Services

ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson observed that the new name is grounded “in biblical witness” and is reflective of the organization’s commitment to expand and deepen its services.

The word portico evokes the portico of Solomon’s temple, where Jesus taught in John 10:22-28, Hanson pointed out. “It was a place of gathering and entry into God’s sacred presence at the temple.

The transition from Board of Pensions to Portico Benefit Services will occur over the next 12 to 18 months. Thiemann said the new name will appear gradually, allowing the organization to use up, rather than discard, existing benefits materials and take advantage of natural product lifecycles.

Portico Benefit Services provides health, retirement, disability and survivor benefits and related services for 50,000 active and retired ELCA pastors, rostered laypersons, lay employees, and their families.

Change in relationship between Portico and NALC

Unrelated to the name change, but occurring at the same time, Portico Benefit Services announced that the North American Lutheran Church (NALC) executive council had contracted with Hahn Financial Group, Inc., to provide benefits to NALC congregations.

The agreement for the Board of Pensions to be the NALC’s sole benefits provider became invalid when the NALC chose to offer benefits through another provider.

In December 2010, the NALC and the Board of Pensions agreed that NALC congregations could participate in the ELCA Pension and Other Benefits Program if the Board of Pensions was the sole benefits provider to pastors, rostered laypersons, and lay employees of NALC congregations.

The agreement for the Board of Pensions to be the NALC’s sole benefits provider became invalid when the NALC chose to offer benefits through another provider. Thus, NALC congregations were no longer eligible to sponsor any of their employees in the ELCA benefits program as of January 1, 2012. Current ELCA benefits ended for them effective December 31, 2011.

According to Richard O. Johnson, editor of The Lutheran Forum, the decision by NALC leaders to find a new provider was inevitable: “It appears to have been understood by all that the NALC would move toward an alternative plan eventually, in part because many in the NALC have conscientious scruples about the BOP’s coverage of elective abortions.” Thus, NALC leadership negotiated a health benefits plan with the Hahn group.

“The [BOP] governing board, as soon as they found out about the alternative source of benefits, during the November meeting, I believe, announced that we had broken the agreement, and so announced termination of services as of December 31,” explained the Rev. Mark Chavez, general secretary of NALC. “But we were able to get everyone enrolled in a plan by January.”

Thiemann said he regrets the end of the Board of Pensions partnership as the NALC’s sole benefits provider. “We valued the opportunity to serve the NALC,” he said. “Although we had hoped to continue our service to them well into the future, we respect the NALC’s decision to select a different benefits provider.”

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