by Barbara Boigegrain
Serving as a lay leader of a United Methodist Church general agency informs the essence of who I am as a woman, business professional, and person of faith. From my earliest memories, I was a “preacher’s kid” (PK) blessed with a large extended family of caring parishioners. The Church shaped my lifelong values of connectionalism, community, inclusivity, and service to others. Years later, my role as general secretary of Wespath Benefits and Investments (Wespath) brings my journey as a PK full circle, as now I am a steward for the financial security and well-being of others who serve this Church.
My journey has taught me that while the path for each woman is unique, women share in common the important roles of advocate and leader.
From Corporate to Church—A Curved Road
My personal journey to becoming a lay leader within the Church followed an unplanned path that brought me back to my UMC roots. I was a working mother of young children, juggling the commitments of a household while navigating the corporate world.
Then I heard the calling for the unique opportunity to lead the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits (renamed Wespath Benefits and Investments in 2016). I was challenged by the opportunity to be an agent of change for the Church.
My role as general secretary blends my roots and faith as an ardent United Methodist with my business experience in consulting, insurance, and benefits. My daily work allows me to serve and make a difference in other people’s futures and in the future of this Church.
I am honored to serve as the first female general secretary of this agency. We have reshaped Wespath into a financial services institution that is a recognized leader in corporate advocacy for responsible, sustainable investment and among the top 100 pension funds in the U.S.—yet firmly grounded in values of The United Methodist Church. We are honored to secure the long-term sustainability of the pension plans and retirement savings for more than 100,000 clergy and lay employees of the UMC, and for our UMC-affiliated institutional investors.
I’m also pleased that Wespath recognizes women as valued leaders. Women comprise more than 40% of our agency’s senior leadership and management roles.
Women as Leaders in the Church
Women make up the greater share of UMC local church membership: outnumbering men 4:3[i] according to 2016 data from GCFA. By sheer numbers, laywomen have a voice in the UMC. We’re the ones who get the family to church on Sundays; who welcome families into a new church community; and yes, who cook for the infamous church potlucks.
But more noteworthy: women lead committees, community service outreach and missional initiatives in churches large and small across the country. We cultivate grace and justice. Like Susanna Wesley three centuries ago, women of the UMC bring strength and structure to today’s Church and inspire tomorrow’s leaders.
Women in History
When I think of women using their voices and positions to promote justice and positive change, I call upon history to inform the present. These strong women come quickly to mind:
- Susanna Wesley—the mother of Methodism, who inspired sons John and Charles to become spiritual leaders and launched the concept of calling on lay people to lead prayer when no minister was available. Susanna Wesley’s Bible study sessions were well-attended and well-respected.
- Georgia Harkness—ordained decades before female ordination was accepted in the Church and the first woman to teach theology in a U.S. seminary, she used her voice to condemn racism.
- Lydia Patterson—who championed the education of immigrant children who otherwise were hidden in the shadows.
- Lucy Rider Meyer—a female physician (when most medical schools banned women) and a Methodist deaconess, Meyer’s commitment to eradicating injustice through faithful connections led her to establish an orphanage, which evolved into multi-tiered advocacy for children through today’s ChildServ organization.
- Coretta Scott King—while not a Methodist, she was nonetheless a pastor’s wife. In partnership with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and after his death, she was a powerful voice for social change, human dignity, nonviolence, and protecting the needs of the poor and disenfranchised around the world.
I say to women of any age: use your voice wherever you feel called: at your church, in your local community, at your children’s school, on the political field, in the business realm, or wherever your passions lead you. My adult daughters use blogs and other social media avenues to drive change. Other women may feel more comfortable sharing their voices in small-group discussions—or in huge multi-city marches—or somewhere in between.
However you express it, you can use your voice to advocate for whatever you believe to be right and righteous. Your voice will be heard, and your actions can make a valued impact on someone else’s life.
Barbara Boigegrain has served as the chief executive of Wespath Benefits and Investments (formerly known as The General Board of Pension and Health Benefits), a general agency of The United Methodist Church since August 1994. Under her leadership, a strategic approach for the organization has been established to secure the long-term viability of pension plans, retirement savings programs, and health and welfare benefit plans for more than 100,000 clergy and lay employees of the worldwide Church. In addition, the agency added an institutional investments arm in 2011, increasing assets by $3 billion.
As general secretary, Barbara oversees all fiduciary services and administrative operations of Wespath, which has over $24 billion in assets under management.
Barbara is active with a number of professional associations including the Church Benefits Association, she is the Chair of the Church Alliance, and serves as a board member and Compensation Committee Chair with First Midwest Bancorp, Inc.
Prior to joining Wespath, Barbara spent 11 years with Towers Perrin. Earlier in her career, Barbara held positions with Dart Industries in the group insurance benefits function and with KPMG Peat Marwick tax practice. Barbara received her B.A. from Trinity University and completed graduate coursework at the University of Chicago and UCLA.