Regional Stewardship Meetings Garner Church Support

January 6, 2017 | | News

Last fall, representatives from Wespath held three informational group meetings in GNJ for prospective clients. A broad representation of churches attended the gatherings at Haddonfield UMC, Chatham UMC and at the Mission and Resource Center to hear more about Wespath, The United Methodist Stewardship Foundation of GNJ’s investment management company.

One of the perspective clients was The First UMC in Freehold. The church’s Endowment Committee Chairman Ray Ritchie noted that the Book of Discipline encourages churches to give consideration to placement of their endowment funds with their conference foundation, if such a framework exists.

“In our case, GNJ did not have an acceptable investment opportunity when we established our endowment fund a number of years ago,” said Ritchie. “But now that our conference does have such a fund, we felt we should give it serious consideration.”

That review led the church to move its endowment to the Stewardship Foundation.

“The GNJ Stewardship Foundation offered us an opportunity for lowering our management fees from about 1.45% per annum to 1% per annum,” Ritchie said. “Since The Stewardship Foundation uses Wespath to manage most of its funds, we felt we would benefit from an investment diversity and security standpoint, as Wespath manages about $21 billion in assets and uses dozens of independent fund management firms as contractors in handling portions of its portfolio.”

In 2015, Wespath Investment Management emerged as the best option aligned with the strategic plan goals of GNJ from an investment return and administrative support perspective and was chosen by The Stewardship Foundation to help it become best in class, keeping the commitment to grow GNJ church assets for ministry.

“We resonated with the intent of Wespath and the GNJ Stewardship Foundation to manage our assets in accordance with the social principles of the United Methodist Church,” said Ritchie. He added, “By investing in our own conference Foundation, we will have more access to expert help in setting up programs for our church in such areas as planned giving.”

As the investment management division of the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits of The United Methodist Church, now officially known as Wespath Benefits and Investments, and the largest faith-based investor in the U.S., Wespath invests solely using United Methodist social principles in compliance with the Book of Discipline. That means the organization withholds investing in companies that produce alcohol and tobacco, operate sweat shops or give executives large bonuses while employees are laid off. Their aim is to avoid ethical exclusions, engage policy makers and corporations, proxy voting, management of excessive sustainability risk and invest in positive social purpose lending and low-carbon energy solutions.

Additionally, Wespath values transparency and provides access to a full record of the company’s holdings and proxy voting, their investment philosophy, shareholder investment stories and a comprehensive list of ethical exclusions that’s frequently maintained and can be downloaded.

“Wespath prides itself on socially responsible investing that’s not just a ‘thou shalt not’” said Sue Goodman, Interim Executive Director of The United Methodist Stewardship Foundation of GNJ. “Their engagement differentiates them from other foundations. They seek to be an agent for change.”

Some of that change includes becoming the only faith-based bounding signatory to the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (UNPRI), which Wespath helped co-author. Additionally, Wespath makes market-based loans for low-income housing and social needs, promoting affordable housing and community development for disadvantaged communities, and microfinancing in developing countries. The company has specifically invested in New Jersey through loans to the North Star Academy charter school in Newark and an affordable housing project in Merchantville.

In addition to the three informational gatherings Wespath held last fall, six other one on one meetings were had with current and perspective churches as well as The Centenary Fund and Preachers’ Aid Society which has moved their investments to Wespath. The Stewardship Foundation currently serves more than 55 churches with their long-term investments including Mount Pleasant UMC in Millville, Denville Community Church, and Island Heights UMC. One of the latest churches to consider Wespath is North Wildwood UMC which is in the process of merging with First UMC in Wildwood Crest.

“The foundation doesn’t just offer the investment management side of things, we want to work with member churches on stewardship education, managing existing resources well, and being good stewards of what we already have,” said Goodman. “We want to work with churches on financial management education as well as financial literacy education for their community members.”

The larger the foundation grows, the better for GNJ which, according to Goodman, begs the question to churches: “Who are you supporting and are you ethically aligned?”

For more information about how your congregation can invest through the United Methodist Stewardship Foundation of Greater New Jersey, strengthen your congregation’s stewardship, or hear more about the Wespath story, contact Sue Goodman at sgoodman@gnjumc.org