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Sacred, secular converge when churches consider coverage

Although churches deal with matters not of this world, their insurance coverage must include a wide range of down-to-earth business issues along with some special things such as pipe organs and stained glass windows. Two of the state’s insurance executives outline some issues confronting churches and faith-based organizations.

Dudley Wooley, president of the Ross & Yerger agency in Jackson, feels that on one level churches share the same types of exposure with buildings and contents of other organizations.

“On the other hand, churches are not making or selling a product but they might incur extra expenses due to a loss,” he said. “Churches need to be on the lookout for some certain things when they meet with insurance agents.”

Those extras may include valuable artifacts, fine art, pipe organs, stained glass windows and Baptisteries. He recommends that churches don’t assume that everything is covered in a standard policy.

“Churches should make sure their appraisals are updated and covered for losses of the broadest range possible. Don’t assume that stained glass windows are part of structure coverage,” he said. “A large church may be subject to spoilage if the air conditioning goes out. A church may need flood insurance for a Baptistery because it’s not included in regular coverage. Coverage may be needed for outdoor fencing and playgrounds; outdoor fountains and gardens — some are elaborate. There also needs to be coverage for debris cleanup of gardens and grounds.”

In his 28 years with Stewart Sneed Hewes Insurance in the Hattiesburg office, Pat Causey has written quite a bit of coverage for churches. Sometimes it can be a challenge for the revolving members of churches’ insurance committees to keep up with changing values and limitations. He has a checklist that he suggests committee members review on a regular basis.

“There are things I make them aware of that include such things as limitations on the belongings of staff members. Some pastors may have libraries valued at $30,000 or a minister of music with expensive musical instruments,” he said. “There may be fine arts given by someone, and the policy may not cover those. They may be better off writing a policy for specialty items.”

Causey points out that churches need to be cautious about new construction, including signs. “They may be in a city that’s updated building codes and be grandfathered in, but have higher replacement costs for construction,” he said. “Some churches are going to lighted, computerized signs that must be covered, too.”

Storms of recent years have necessitated that some churches have the extra expense of renting spaces while rebuilding permanent facilities.

“More and more churches have day care and extended care that creates business expense and exposure,” Causey said. “They should make sure they have adequate coverage for liabilities, including molestation and abuse. Another factor for churches is having professional liability for pastoral counseling. General coverage doesn’t include that.”

Other concerns that Causey says churches must address include equipment breakdown coverage, workers’ compensation, business automobile coverage for employees while using their vehicles for church matters and coverage for church-owned vans and buses.

“They are not immune from issues that affect businesses, and they have to look at it that way,” he said. “They must make sure they have accident coverage for all facilities, including camps and other grounds. If the church owns it, we make sure it is part of the coverage. Some are buying umbrella or excess liability coverage. They have to look at it for all possible exposure. We don’t like to think about it, but that includes exposure to crime.”

For churches owning outdoor facilities, Wooley says playground equipment and ropes courses must be adequately insured, too.

“Most churches use direct agents and there are some companies that deal just with churches,” he said.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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