The Best Kept Secret in The United Methodist Church

The best kept secret in The United Methodist Church? The answer is Wespath. For most of my ministry, I knew it as the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits. When I started out in ministry, I was given this sage advice, “You won’t get rich as a United Methodist pastor, but you will have always have some form of health insurance and a pension when you retire.” Last month, when my husband, Gary, received his first pension check from Wespath after retirement, all I could say was, “Hallelujah!”

In these days of economic uncertainty, I am grateful that our retired United Methodist clergy receive a monthly pension payment, at the same time acknowledging that many other workers do not have that guarantee when they retire. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was a great health advocate and gave practical advice to others in his book, Primitive Physick (London, 1747), from which the quotes in red that follow are taken.

“The air we breathe is of great consequence to our health. Those who have been long abroad in easterly or northerly winds should drink some warm pepper tea on going to bed, or a draught of toast and water.”

 

Last December, I had the opportunity to spend a day at Wespath in the Chicago suburb of Glenview. Wespath became the new name of the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits in the summer of 2016 in order to distinguish itself from all the other “General Boards” of The United Methodist Church and provide a simpler name. Wespath has two parts. “Wes” honors the legacy of John Wesley, and “Path” reminds us of the path Wespath provides to serve the retirement, health, and investment objectives of its clients.

“Everyone that would preserve health should be as clean and sweet as possible in their houses, clothes, and furniture.”

  • Wespath is the largest reporting faith-based investor in the world.
  • Wespath is among the top 100 pensions funds in the US and the top 150 in the world.
  • Wespath manages $22 billion in assets as of June 30, 2017.
  • The formal mission of Wespath is, “We care for those who serve by providing investment and benefit services that honor the mission and principles of The United Methodist Church.”

“For studious persons, about eight ounces of animal food and twelve of vegetable, in twenty hours, is sufficient.”

Wespath provides services in several different areas. Pension and Health Benefits administers the pension plans that protect the retirement futures of 91,000 clergy and lay workers.

The Central Conference Pension Initiative provides pension payments for clergy and surviving spouses in annual conferences outside the US. This is done through investment earnings on a challenge goal of $25 million donated and pledged by individuals and conferences across the denomination.

“Walking is the best exercise for those who are able to bear it; riding for those who are not. The open air, when the weather is fair, contributes much to the benefit of exercise.”

The Center for Health promotes wellness and provides health and welfare benefits to 28,000 participants through thirty-one HealthFlex plans sponsored on their behalf. Annual conferences and other UMC-affiliated organizations can sponsor these programs and services for their clergy and lay employees. These services include HealthFlex/WebMD, Virgin Pulse Physical Activity Program, Blueprint for Wellness, United Methodist Church Health Ministry Network, HealthQuotient Health Risk Assessment, Employee Assistance Program (EAP), and WebMD Health Coaching.

The wellness programs offered through the Center for Health have been recognized with the Best Employers for Healthy Lifestyles award from the National Business Group on Health. Click here to read the 2015 clergy health survey report.

“Water is the wholesomest of all drinks; it quickens the appetite and strengthens the digestion most.”

 

Wespath’s Investment Management Division is the fiduciary and steward of assets that support current and future pension benefits, investing in a socially responsible manner aligned with our United Methodist Social Principles. This division is active in shareholder advocacy, proxy voting, portfolio screening, and community investing.

What impresses me the most about Wespath is that its sustainable investment strategies attempt to align with the words of John Wesley, “Do all the good you can by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”

“Those who read or write much, should learn to do it standing; otherwise, it will impair their health.”

Wespath’s board of directors also determines specific guidelines around portfolio screening based on The Book of Discipline 2016 (¶717), which instructs all boards and agencies to “seek investments in institutions, companies, corporations, or funds that promote racial and gender justice, protect human rights, prevent the use of sweatshop or forced labor, avoid human suffering, and preserve the natural world, including mitigating the effects of climate change…”

Wespath employs ethical exclusions that generally exclude companies that derive 10% or more of their revenue from gambling or from the sale of alcohol, adult entertainment, tobacco, weapons and operating private prison facilities. For nuclear weapons, the threshold is 3%.

“Strong, and more especially, spirituous liquors, are a certain, though slow poison.”

In addition to portfolio screening, Wespath participates in active ownership by engaging companies directly to address social, environmental, and governance issues of concern. Wespath writes letters to companies, seeking additional disclosure of important information, meets with companies to discuss issues and opportunities for improved corporate performance, and files shareholder resolutions that are voted on by all shareholders at a company’s annual meeting.

“Tender persons should eat very light suppers, and that two or three hours before going to bed. They ought constantly go to bed about nine, and rise at four or five.”

Wespath also has a significant positive social purpose program that promotes affordable housing and community development throughout the country, supports important community facilities like rehabilitation centers, and funds microfinance investments that improve the lives of people in developing countries around the world. From the Wespath website, “Investments are made according to values that create a healthy financial bottom line as well as positive social and environmental returns. Wespath remains the largest denominational investor in affordable housing programs for low- and moderate-income families in the nation. To date, we have allocated nearly $1.8 billion to affordable housing and community development investments.”

“The love of God, as it is the sovereign remedy of all miseries, so in particular it effectually prevents all the bodily disorders the passions introduce, by keeping the passions themselves within due bounds; and by the unspeakable joy and perfect calm serenity and tranquility it gives the mind; it becomes the most powerful of all the means of health and long life.”

One thing is no longer a secret. As it seeks to be an advocate for health and wholeness for clergy as well as for our world, Wespath is making a difference in areas that go far beyond clergy health and pension benefits. Thank you, Wespath!

4 thoughts on “The Best Kept Secret in The United Methodist Church

  1. My favorite John Wesley “remedy” was to ward off colds in the winter, one should put cloves of garlic in one’s armpits. I suppose that would also keep people away from you, so you wouldn’t be getting germs from others. In England last fall, I bought his book on health and medicine. There are some very interesting things in it–not too much that I plan to use, however.

  2. I absolute agree! From help when David died to my present retirement, Wespath has been so wonderful! Thanks for sharing more info about this great agency. Blessings!

  3. Thank you for the information on pension management and health benefits. With declining church membership overall, with increasing health/pension expenses that eventually are paid for by each church, I would encourage a fresh look at health and pension benefits for clergy.

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