Proposal would raise mandatory retirement age for Episcopal priests, deacons to 75

By David Paulsen
Posted May 31, 2024

[Episcopal News Service] The canonically mandated retirement age for Episcopal clergy has historically been 72. A proposed resolution to be considered next month by the 81st General Convention would allow priests and deacons to delay their retirements another three years, until age 75.

The change would have little practical effect on most priests’ and deacons’ ministry opportunities. Retirees already are allowed to serve congregations in various capacities well past 72, and many are doing so, helping to address a growing churchwide shortage of active clergy. But upping the mandatory retirement age could make a difference in how clergy pensions are funded.

Raymond Raney

The Rev. Raymond Raney of the Diocese of the Rio Grande testifies May 30 about the resolution he proposed that would raise the mandatory clergy retirement age to 75.

At an online hearing May 30, held by the General Convention committees tasked with reviewing proposed changes to the Title III canons on ministry, two people testified in favor of Resolution D032, including its proposer, the Rev. Raymond Raney, a deputy from the Diocese of the Rio Grande. Raney served as canon to the ordinary and transition minister for the diocese until retiring in 2019, when he turned 72.

“I’ve witnessed across the church [clergy] calls coming later in life, and I know a number of bishops I’ve worked with who said that they were not ordaining people after the age of 60 because of the retirement age,” said Raney, now 77. He argued that raising the age would improve the pension benefits for those ordained later in life.

Although priests can serve in congregations while retired, upon reaching 72 they are required by Episcopal Church Canons to resign their current positions and must request permission from a bishop if they want to serve as a retiree, for one year at a time. When priests “age out,” Raney said, the church risks losing valuable wisdom and institutional knowledge.

Raney’s resolution would not change the mandatory retirement age for bishops, which is also 72.

Another Rio Grande priest, the Rev. Daniel Cave, also testified in support of the resolution. He turned 69 this week and is now three years from being canonically required to retire from service as rector at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Anthony, New Mexico.

Cave said he doesn’t expect this resolution would take effect in time to change his own retirement date, but he thinks other priests – “those of us who have the stamina and energy” – would benefit from three extra years of pension contributions.

“We are living longer. We are more active longer,” Cave said. “We would be offering more opportunities to more folks [who were ordained] as second and third careers.”

The bishops’ and deputies’ committees on Title III also accepted written testimony from the Rev. Tyler Richards, a deputy from the Diocese of Fond du Lac, who opposes Resolution D032. Although life expectancy in the United States has increased to an average 77, Richards noted that The Episcopal Church also has congregations in other countries, and global life expectancy is lower by several years.

“To say age is not a determining factor in the effectiveness of those in [the] clerical order to minister to the people of God is to deny that as we age, we can fall ill and have our ministries affected by diseases that afflict the elderly,” Richards said. “While it is true that some can continue ministry well into their 80s, the canons provide for those people to continue to minister with appropriate episcopal oversight … which renders the arguments in this resolution somewhat moot.”

Some committee members raised questions about the financial effect of a higher retirement age on clergy, congregations and the Church Pension Group, or CPG, the agency that manages clergy pensions on behalf of The Episcopal Church.

Cave clarified that congregations contribute to the pensions of their active clergy only until those clergy reach 72. Afterward, any further retirement benefits would need to set up through secular managers.

Raney added that CPG representatives had told him they preferred not to speculate on how such changes would be implemented before the resolution passed. “Hypotheticals were not something they would like to deal with,” he said.

Episcopal News Service sought comment from a CPG spokesman and will update this story when any response is received.

After the bishops’ and deputies’ committees vote on whether to recommend the resolution, it will advance for full consideration by General Convention when it convenes June 23-28 in Louisville, Kentucky.

– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service based in Wisconsin. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.


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