By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
HARRISON — On Oct. 2, 1997, God called Charlie Brown (a Baptist layman, not the Peanuts cartoon version) home to heaven, leaving behind a widow and two small children, not to mention a mortgage on a house he and his wife had recently purchased.
Though it has been almost 24 years ago, his widow, Angie Fielden (since remarried), still gets emotional as she remembers how God provided for her family when her first husband died in an automobile accident at the age of 35.
At the time, Brown was the maintenance director for Bayside Baptist Church in Harrison. By God’s providence, the church had enrolled Brown in the protection benefits program offered by GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention and supported by the Tennessee Baptist Convention.
In Tennessee, when a church employee or the church makes a $50 monthly contribution to the employee’s retirement account and meets the eligibility requirements established by the state convention, the TBMB provides a survivor protection benefit to the participant.
As it turned out, Brown was in the program.
“I didn’t even know he had the coverage,” she said. Fielden later learned that the church’s former pastor, Bob Stitts and his wife, Lillian, attended an early morning insurance meeting during an annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Fielden noted that Stitt’s wife informed her that was a meeting they often skipped but decided to attend that one. As they listened, they began to wonder if Charlie had been enrolled in the insurance program and met the necessary requirements for the benefit, she related.
“Bro. Bob came over to my house and shared the blessing I was about to receive. God had provided for his faithful servant’s family,” she recalled.
The benefit enabled Fielden to provide for her children and go back to college where she earned a degree that led to a good paying career. “It was a God thing,” she affirmed. “Everything that fell in place for us (after her husband’s death) was His provision.”
The unexpected benefit also helped her to fulfill and give even more to a pledge she and her husband had made to Bayside’s new youth building before his death.
Art Tennille, regional relationship manager for GuideStone Financial Services, learned of Fielden’s story last fall when he was at Bayside Baptist in Harrison, consulting with them about the church’s retirement plan.
Laura Highlander, Bayside’s executive administrator, did not have to be convinced. She had grown up in the church and knew Charlie Brown’s story and shared it with Tennille.
“We (the church) have seen the value of having every employee participate in the GuideStone program,” Highlander said.
Highlander added that she has told the story of Charlie Brown and how his family was provided for after his death many times.
Tennille noted that Highlander “is a firsthand believer in the fact that these benefits are very real and tangible and are such a meaningful way that the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board comes alongside and gives back to the team members of the cooperating churches throughout the state of Tennessee.
“I imagine that Bayside Baptist would say to churches all across the state that saving for retirement is important, and that in Tennessee, it can have a major financial impact on a church staff member beyond just their vital retirement savings,” Tennille said
Gary Rickman, minister relations and financial support specialist for the TBMB, said he has heard similar testimonies almost annually.
“Many of our church staff people are not aware of the survivor and disability benefits they receive by planning for retirement through the Church Retirement Plan,” Rickman said.
He added that when the TBC made changes to the plan several years ago to move dollars toward the SBC portion of the Cooperative Program that they kept the survivor and disability plans in place for church staff.
“In working with pastors over the last 30 years in compensation planning issues I discovered that many are not adequately insured in these two areas,” Rickman said.
For more information, call the GuideStone Retirement’s Customer Solutions team at 1-888-984-8433. B&R