Monday, May 6, 2013

Barbara Boigegrain: How I came to be a United Methodist


There are two choices you cannot make: you cannot choose your parents or your siblings. Some of us are very lucky and really blessed when those choices turn out well, because the quality of our lives depends on them.

Before I was even aware of the choices life had made for me, The United Methodist Church became my family and, in many ways, became me.  When I was born I had a severe blood disorder and the doctors gave me a very low chance for survival.  As my parents dealt with the realities of a newborn, let alone the array of blood exchanges and transfusions I required, the word went out to my father’s new church start of about 80 adults that I needed blood –over 70 reported to the hospital within hours to donate blood. For a new pastor and his wife, this unfortunate situation had a silver lining—it also helped connect my parents to their new congregation.

Over the years, as I ran about the church, played in the nursery, climbed in and out of the pews and generally grew up, everyone saw something of themselves in me—I had become “everyone’s child!”  Those who provided my life’s blood saw personality traits and physical characteristics that were parsed and attributed widely to many of them—I quickly found that I couldn’t get away with anything!  My ongoing interactions and developing relationships subtly formed lifelong values which, I came to understand over time, were in fact the values of the Church.  I developed a deep appreciation for them and the ways in which we, as United Methodists, continually strive to be Christ in the world.

And the world entered our small parsonage.  We had Cuban refugees living with us for several months, as they assimilated, became acclimated to the United States, found jobs and eventually set-up a home.  In the early seventies at the height of the Black Power movement, my siblings and I were repeatedly sent to help the Black Panther organization in Denver collect and wrap toys for children who otherwise would not have any.  The strong values of equality, inclusivity and acts of mercy stayed with me as I completed my education in the late seventies and entered the business world with many other women for the first time.

In my entry level consulting position at an international consulting firm, I tried to bring a gender-neutral perspective to the documents I drafted and was told to “stop messing around and get back to the correct” male-only language that was the accepted norm.  Situations like this made me realize the true benefit and deep appreciation that I held for a Church family that went to such great lengths to ensure that everyone feels welcome and valued in the language we use, in our commitment to inclusivity and through our shared understanding of Social Holiness.

Over my 16 year corporate career, I never expected I would be called in a most unusual way to serve the Church myself by helping support its ministers.  I have served as general secretary of the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits for 18 years.  Those deeply-held values, instilled in me by a church family I did not know and one that my parents barely knew, remain essential in my life’s purpose to this day.  The Church spreads Hope to a torn world and broken lives.  It is my honor and privilege to serve those who serve God in all places by helping assure that they, their spouses and family members have a measure of financial and benefits security when their careers in ministry end.  For me, being a United Methodist provides a foundation for a life of caring service.  Something that was literally infused in me early-on by many, many who cared for someone they did not know.


Barbara Boigegrain has served as chief executive of 
General Board of Pension and Health Benefits since 1994. Under her leadership, strategies have been established to secure the long-term viability of pension plans, retirement savings programs, and benefit plans for over 74,000 employees of the UMC.