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Mo-Ranch: A great place to work as well as visit

The Presbyterian camp and conference center provides robust benefits and a 500-acre ‘office’ in beautiful Texas Hill Country

by Lea Sitton, Board of Pensions | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Picturesque Presbyterian Mo-Ranch Assembly sits inTexas Hill Country. (Photo courtesy of Mo-Ranch)

PHILADELPHIA — When the Rev. Dick Powell was tapped as a candidate for the job of President and CEO at Presbyterian Mo-Ranch Assembly, he had one demand: “If I can’t stay in the Board of Pensions plan, I’m not coming.” More than a decade later, Powell and every other full-time employee at the camp and conference center in the Texas Hill Country is a member of the Benefits Plan of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

“We’ve got a staff in place, you can’t run them off with a stick,” Powell said. In addition to robust benefits, they have a workplace on 500 acres at the north fork of the Guadalupe River, in Hunt. Pecan and bald cypress trees shade the limestone banks of the clear, turquoise-tinted river, and bald cypress, mesquite, and grasses cover limestone bluffs. A variety of lodging and dining choices, water fun, hiking and an extensive ropes course even now are drawing visitors, who have room to social distance. Asked about the weather, Powell, a native of coastal North Carolina, said: “It’s Texas. It’s hot.”

the Rev. Dick Powell

Powell joined Mo-Ranch from Forest Hills Presbyterian Church in Helotes, Texas, where he was pastor and head of staff. He knew firsthand the value of membership in the church Benefits Plan, administered by the Board of Pensions. Before being ordained as a minister, he was a manufacturing executive with plenty of value-adds to his coverage, such as health club memberships. “Even with all of those, our plan is better,” Powell said.

Plan members have access to Board of Pensions programs designed to foster spiritual, health, financial, and vocational well-being. Board University provides educational programs for active and retired plan members and their spouses and surviving spouses. There are assistance grants for members in need and housing and income supplements for retired plan members.

PC(USA) congregations, agencies, and affiliated organizations are eligible to provide benefits to their employees through the plan. The affiliated employers include educational institutions, retirement and senior housing communities, human services organizations — and camps and conference centers. Mo-Ranch is related by covenant to the Synod of the Sun.

Fred Gamble, chief financial officer at Mo-Ranch, said that “the best compliment I can give the Board of Pensions is that I seldom think about you. No employee complaint has reached me in three years.” The Board crosses his mind once a month, when benefits payments are due, “because I approve all the checks.”

In 2015, before the Benefits Plan was redesigned to provide more choice, Mo-Ranch was poised to switch providers. “We weren’t unhappy whatsoever with service. It was strictly pricing,” Gamble said.

Board leaders acted quickly and, effective January 1, 2016, Mo-Ranch was piloting the forerunner of the exclusive provider organization (EPO). The EPO became a coverage option, along with the preferred provider organization (PPO), in 2017, with a redesign of the Benefits Plan. In 2019, a third medical option was added, the high deductible health plan (HDHP).

“The EPO was perfect for us and probably perfect for most rural places,” Gamble said of the option, which does not cover care received from out-of-network providers except for emergency services. “Virtually all the providers are going to be part of the network.”

Mo-Ranch pays 100 percent of the cost of participating in the EPO for its approximately 60 employees and 60 percent for family coverage. This year, it also began to offer the PPO; employees who choose it pay the difference in cost between it and the EPO.

Both options include Call to Health, the Board’s well-being program. Mo-Ranch urges employees to participate in the program, which can qualify them for lower deductibles.

This year, Mo-Ranch began providing dental coverage through the Board, and in April 2019, it moved its employees from a 401(k) plan to the Retirement Savings Plan of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (RSP). The RSP is a defined contribution 403(b)(9) plan administered by Fidelity Investments. Mo-Ranch contributes 3 percent of each employee’s salary to the RSP account and then contributes 50 cents on every $1 the employee contributes, up to 12 percent.

Fred Gamble

“The fees are embarrassingly low,” Gamble said of the $3.75 administrative fee deducted quarterly from each participant’s RSP account — an amount far below the national average. “People don’t understand. … What makes a difference is the fees you pay,” he said. “My employees are benefiting big time in ways they don’t see.”

As the guy who writes the checks, Gamble also appreciates the stability of plan coverage — the predictability in rates and coverage.

“Too often, when you go and try to price shop, they take coverage away you don’t know you need until you need it,” Gamble said. Board employees “understand and preach preventive maintenance for the body and soul,” Gamble said. “It’s those kinds of things that are going to help keep my staff healthy.”

We own the plan — the Church owns the plan,” Powell said, and Board staff understand that they’re “working for us.” They “totally focused on delivering the product and taking care of people in the plan.”

Lea Sitton is agency writer at the Board of Pensions, which supports wholeness in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) community and care for Benefits Plan members. For information, contact

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