Thursday, January 15, 2009

January 15, 2009 - Retirement Planning

Yesterday, Claire and I returned from Princeton Theological Seminary, where we attended a two-and-a-half-day Pre-Retirement Seminar sponsored by the Presbyterian Church’s Board of Pensions. Not that we have plans to retire anytime soon. That, God-willing-and-the-cancer-don’t-flare-up, is 15 years off at least. We went because the Board of Pensions encourages ministers over 50 to attend one of these conferences, and to bring their spouses with them. The idea is to get a head start on long-term financial planning.

The Presbyterian Church has a mighty good pension plan. It’s fully funded, and conservatively run – something we plan members surely appreciate in uncertain times like these. The sticky wicket, for those of us pastors who live in manses, is where we’ll live in retirement. The Board’s encouraging us to start thinking about the answer to that question now.

Claire and I found it a positive experience. The leadership – especially the financial-planning speaker – was excellent. Just what we budget-challenged liberal-arts graduates needed, even if it did feel odd to be thinking about retirement in our prime working years.

There were 20 or so participants, all told. Ages ranged from people in their early 50s, like us, to one man who’s just a few months from the proverbial gold watch.

My active cancer diagnosis sets me apart from my fellow participants. Will I make it to age 66 and 4 months – the threshold when Americans in my birth year can collect full Social Security benefits? Or, will disability be staring me down sometime before then, as a stem-cell transplant or some other treatment looms? If disability is in my future, will I recover fully after treatment and return to full-time ministry? So many unanswerable questions...

The more time I put between myself and the aggressive large B-cell lymphoma I once had, the more retirement planning makes sense. Indolent NHL is kinder, that way. When Dr. Lerner assures me I could still be doing the watch-and-wait thing years from now, I take him at his word - which is why I can even go to a conference like this in the first place.

Questions like these are, of course, imponderable. The only thing to do is to plan for the best-case scenario, and hope I’m prepared for anything worse that may come my way.

The conference program also included a presentation on maintaining personal health. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve got a long way to go in that area. I’m vigilant about anything cancer-related, of course, but anyone who knows me knows the diet-and-exercise thing is a tough sell. The spirit is willing on that one, but the flesh is weak.

So, Claire and I left Princeton with a lot to think about. One of the benefits of this particular meeting was that it encouraged us in ministry – that most other-directed of occupations – to try thinking about ourselves, and taking care of ourselves, for a change.

Point well taken, Board of Pensions. I’ll try to do better.


Chris Brundage said...

Good post. I loved the careful way your pictures and text go togther. (Seeing Alexander Hall brought back memories, too.) Retirement is longer off for me, but it's on my mind sometimes. I wish you well on your planning.

Carl said...

Thanks, Chris!