Press Release: UMC Clergy Financial Literacy Summit Supported by Lilly Endowment Grant

May 10, 2017


For Immediate Release

Contact: Colette Nies, Managing Director, Communications
(847) 866-4296 or

Glenview, IL—Wespath Benefits and Investments (Wespath), in partnership with the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) and the National Association of United Methodist Foundations (NAUMF), held the first Clergy Financial Literacy Summit (April 4-6, 2017) to focus on addressing the need for ministers to develop stronger financial skills. This event was supported in part by a Lilly Endowment Inc. grant.

Keynote speaker John Wimmer, program director in Lilly Endowment’s Religion Division and an ordained United Methodist elder, said, “This initiative is about how we address issues of clergy debt and how we help pastors talk to their congregations about a life of giving, generosity and faithfulness. Through congregational generosity, missionaries are funded, ministries are funded, seminary scholarships are funded, and more. Our challenges are not unique to our denomination or our times. But by keeping laser-focused on clergy financial health, we can help improve clergy’s financial well-being while also encouraging a laity culture of generosity. Lilly Endowment support can help organizations like the UMC enable change.”

Wespath was among 28 religious organizations from diverse denominations awarded Lilly Endowment grants in 2015 to address clergy financial literacy and well-being, including relieving the burden of seminary debt and training pastoral leaders to provide fiscal leadership for the ministries under their care. Sixty attendees met at Wespath’s headquarters to collaborate and share wisdom, exploring the need for financial literacy to increase and expand vital church leadership. This event is another step toward helping clergy and other church workers who have church-related financial responsibilities understand the role money and financial acumen play in effecting local and global mission.

UMC Financial Perspective
Several studies have shown that many clergy lack the financial training necessary to lead their congregations' financial management as well as manage their own personal finances. Many clergy also suffer a significant burden due to seminary education costs and other expenses.

Wespath General Secretary Barbara Boigegrain said, “Our clergy have told us they are carrying significant burdens of seminary debt, and it impedes their personal and service effectiveness. But they also carry consumer debt and other debt. Too much debt can be financially devastating not only for clergy and their families, but for the churches they lead, and ultimately for their conferences.”

The Lilly Grant partners’ research identified consistent themes of clergy financial preparedness:

  • The UMC needs to better support clergy financial training.
  • The Church cannot afford to let cultural fears and outdated attitudes keep it from equipping leaders to create a sustainable future—for clergy and for the UMC.

Reliable Data
As the Lilly Grant partners came together, they received data obtained by GBHEM and Wespath. The data showed:

  • 85% of the respondents with loans agree that they would not have been able to complete seminary education without incurring student loan debt. (Wespath Survey)
  • 49% of the respondents with loans disagree that the UMC provides adequate financial planning resources. (Wespath Survey)
  • 10% of respondents with loans opted out of Social Security. (Wespath Survey)
  • 54% agreed that the debt they owe is a constant source of anxiety. (GBHEM Survey)

Choosing to “opt-out” of Social Security can be financially devastating for clergy. The surveys substantiated that approximately 10% of clergy opt out even though it is not aligned with United Methodist values and can result in a loss of crucial disability, Medicare and retirement benefits.

In addition, the GBHEM Young Adult Survey found:

  • 43% had “little or no confidence” in their grasp of local church finances
  • 70% had “not received” training in managing church finances
  • 72% said there have been “disagreements or conflicts” around their church budget or finances
  • 54% described their congregations' financial health as “tight or seriously difficult”

GBHEM General Secretary Kim Cape said, “The Clergy Financial Literacy Initiative is a wonderful partnership that moves us forward exploring innovative ways to address the particular financial challenges of clergy. Together we are expanding our efforts to reduce the burden of seminary debt, as well as developing financial literacy across the connection. We recognize that our clergy cannot lead their churches in sound financial practice if they don't know what it is. Not only will financial literacy help our clergy out of a financial morass, it will also help our churches who rely on their leadership.”

Summit Attendees
The Clergy Financial Literacy Summit drew clergy and laity from local churches, annual conferences, foundations, seminaries and general agencies—representing all five UMC jurisdictions and a cross-section of service and leadership experiences.

Participant Faith Lewis (Baltimore-Washington Conference) expressed appreciation for the opportunity to learn about additional support systems such as EY Financial Planning Services from Wespath and to interact and build relationships with participants from diverse positions in the denomination.

Attendees had the opportunity for:

  • Interactive dialogue about clergy personal financial well-being, with frank discussion about seminary debt and other financial burdens facing young clergy
  • Exploration of individual and institutional patterns that reinforce phobias about money and can be obstacles to the generous giving necessary to fulfill the Church’s mission
  • Testimonials from three young clergy about their personal financial struggles and transformative accomplishments within the UMC
  • Opportunities for positive change in thinking and attitudes
  • Motivation to continue the financial conversation across the Connection to help pastors and Church leaders become advocates for clergy financial health and literacy and further the congregational culture of generosity

Tom Marston, executive director of NAUMF, commented, “Local churches and pastors often struggle to create a healthy working relationship regarding finance and stewardship ministries. A code of silence and assumptions regarding finances can impair ministry. This financial literacy initiative can help clergy feel empowered to say what they couldn’t say before regarding finances, which can help effective financial leadership and pastoral care occur.”

Clergy Financial Literacy Summit—Purpose Statement
Stimulating learning among church leaders in order to address the financial challenges facing pastors so that pastors sustain high levels of well-being, congregations thrive and the mission of the Church is furthered.


About Wespath Benefits and Investments
Wespath Benefits and Investments (Wespath) is a not-for-profit administrative agency of The United Methodist Church, with Church-authorized fiduciary responsibility for the benefit plans it administers and the assets it invests. Prudent investment management decisions are an ongoing, long-term priority, supporting benefit plans for over 100,000 participants and approximately $21 billion in assets managed on their behalf, and for many United Methodist-affiliated endowments, foundations and other institutions. Wespath is the largest reporting faith-based pension fund in the world and among the top 100 pension funds in the United States. Its sustainable investment activities are carried out by Wespath Investment Management, the agency’s investments division.

About the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry
As the leadership development agency of The United Methodist Church, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry’s mission is to lead and connect the educational and ministerial life of the church. Every elder, deacon and licensed local pastor benefits from GBHEM’s training and candidacy programs. Many young adults find help in clarifying their vocation and God’s call on their lives through the agency’s leadership and discernment programs. With support from the Lilly Endowment grant, GBHEM launched the Excellence in Clergy Leadership Scholarship in 2016 as a debt-avoidance opportunity for seminary students who complete a personal finance component. Matching partners include conferences, foundations and seminaries.

About National Association of United Methodist Foundations
NAUMF is a network of United Methodist foundations across the U.S. organized to help each other accomplish goals related to stewardship, planned giving, and securing the future funding of United Methodist churches, agencies and ministries.

About Lilly Endowment Inc.
Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by three members of the Lilly family through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly & Company. The endowment exists to support the causes of religion, education and community development. Lilly Endowment has made grants totaling more than $40 million to 40 organizations participating in its National Initiative to Address Economic Challenges Facing Pastoral Leaders; more than $20 million to 67 theological schools; and more than $20 million to 16 Indiana judicatories in related ”economic challenges” initiatives to benefit present and future pastoral leaders.



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