CEO Blog: Committed to You in a Changing Methodist Ecosystem
By Andy Hendren
General Secretary and Chief Executive Officer
In times of turmoil, I am reminded by Psalm 46:1 that God is our refuge and strength and an ever-present help.
Wespath’s mission for more than a century has been to care for those who serve. We’ve adhered to our mission of caring through turbulent times and historic changes. We remain steadfast in our ongoing commitment to care for our participants, especially in these current uncertain times.
The last couple years have been traumatic. We’ve endured waves of the pandemic, racial and social justice struggles, and division in the U.S. Now there’s a major war in Europe for the first time in generations, and we pray for its victims and for peace.
We also pray for The United Methodist Church (UMC), which has postponed its General Conference until 2024. A new Methodist denomination called the Global Methodist Church (GMC) will launch May 1. We realize some of you and some local churches may be deciding whether to remain part of the UMC, join the GMC or take another path. Wespath is ready to support you through any changes.
Wespath is positioning itself to serve a future that will look different than today. Foremost amidst change, we are focused unwaveringly on the security and continuity of service to our participants.
Second, and importantly, Wespath remains committed to the continuing UMC for generations to come, as one of its core administrative agencies providing investment and benefit services that honor UMC values.
And third, Wespath is prepared to provide services to related Methodist faith communities.
I thought it might be helpful to explain how we will continue to support your retirement benefits amid the changes facing the UMC:
Lay employees and other individuals with an account balance in a defined contribution retirement plan – Changes in the UMC will have no impact on your relationship with Wespath or your retirement account. That might be the only sentence you need to read in this entire blog post.
Retired clergy (and survivors/beneficiaries) receiving pension benefits from Wespath – You will continue to receive your benefit from Wespath just as you always have, regardless of where you or the churches you’ve served end up.
Active clergy who remain part of the UMC – Your pension will continue to work as it does today.
Active clergy who leave the UMC (to join the GMC or otherwise) – For elders and deacons, your pension benefit will be converted to an account balance in a Wespath defined contribution retirement plan. For local pastors, you will no longer earn new pension benefits in the UMC clergy plan, but the pension benefits you’ve earned prior to changing affiliation will be there for you at retirement.
Local churches changing their affiliation (GMC or separately Methodist) – In many circumstances, they may be able to continue to sponsor Wespath’s voluntary retirement and benefit plans for their clergy and lay workers—and I’m pleased that some local churches have continued to partner with us in their new Methodist context.
We understand there are heightened anxieties across the Connection with this latest delay of the General Conference. Yet, be assured that the benefits you receive from Wespath are secure.
We’re operating in a rapidly changing environment where new information emerges day by day. We’re providing accurate and up-to-date information related to pension and benefits questions by publishing FAQs and information for clergy weighing whether to change their relationship with the UMC.
As the Church navigates this transition, we encourage all stakeholders to keep the support of pension benefits as a core priority, even where local realities require some adaptability. Caring for those who’ve served is a covenant that must be maintained in the face of change.
While I lament the loss of a united Church, I’m hopeful those who stay in the UMC can remain brothers and sisters with those who leave, tethered by shared Wesleyan principles and heritage. Methodism has a long history of division and re-merger, and diverse varieties of Methodism stay connected and amplify mission through ecumenical efforts.
It is in the spirit of Methodist and Christian unity—embodied in ¶6 of The Book of Discipline—that Wespath seeks to serve a broader family of Methodists alongside the continuing UMC, benefiting all participants with plans designed for folks who serve the Methodist mission.
Rest assured that we’ll continue steadfastly supporting those who serve the continuing UMC, while also being ready to provide services to those serving new Methodist expressions that emerge.
May God’s grace and peace be with all of us through this journey.