An Interview with PBUCC Trustee Leslie Schenk

You entered ministry after a successful career in the corporate sector. Can you share a little about that journey?

I feel blessed to have been able to engage in satisfying and enjoyable work previously as an economist, and now in the church. After earning my Ph.D. in economics from Michigan State University, for nine years I worked as an economic consultant, primarily doing cost and productivity analysis and statistical studies for a major U.S. company in a regulated industry. The technical work was interesting, but the greatest fulfillment I got in my work was in helping clients to see how the technical analysis could be used to better their everyday operations, and so help provide better service to their clients.

To some people it seemed like a big shift for me to quit this work that I loved, enter seminary (Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis), and become a pastor. But those who know me well saw that in both vocational paths there are aspects of working with people, teaching, and helping to mentor others that I have an affinity for. What I like best about my work in the church is helping people to see how faith is about everyday life, that is, how we are called to live as God’s people, journeying together in ministry and mission to all creation. We have good news to share, and people who are hungry to hear it. The world needs the passionate and compassionate faith of those I have encountered in the UCC!

How does your professional background and experience – both in the business world and in the church – inform your work as a Trustee?

Certainly my comfort level with numbers, statistical analysis, and the general workings of U.S. and international economies has come in handy. Having served small rural churches for over seven years, and now an urban church for almost a year, and through conversations with many colleagues in a multiple of settings, I have been privileged to get a wide perspective on the needs and concerns of Pension Boards members – as well as those serving the church but not currently members that I know PBUCC can benefit. I have also been privileged since becoming a Trustee in 2008 to have served with talented, wise, and dedicated Trustees and staff whom I have learned from, and who I have found to be open to new perspectives and ideas and deeply caring about the future of the UCC and those who serve it in various settings.

You also serve as a Director of the United Church Board for Ministerial Assistance (UCBMA). What do you see as the challenges for authorized ministry in the 21st century? How is the Pension Boards providing assistance that furthers the mission of the Church?

The challenges for authorized ministry in the 21st century – we could talk about those for a long time! The Pension Boards staff and UCBMA are well informed on the changing landscape of paths to ministry, and are strategically seeking new ways to respond, working with national UCC staff. In my years in rural ministry, where the effects of changing demographics, family life, and other social patterns on the church were evident, it became important to work together ecumenically. It was there that I got some firsthand experience in a new possibility for strengthening rural ministry, because for a time while serving my UCC congregations I was also serving an ELCA missional church. The emerging landscape of Christ’s church and God’s people going forward calls for working together where commonalities exist to help facilitate the work of the church and the faith journeys of its people. It is part of our identity in the UCC – united and uniting. PBUCC and UCBMA staff engage with their ecumenical and interfaith colleagues to find and share the best resources, methods, and models for the good of their members.

Both UCBMA and PBUCC address complex needs of the church – taking care of those who have finished their service to the church who need financial assistance, helping the next generation of church leadership to respond to the changing needs of the church, helping the UCC plant new churches in growing and diverse areas, strengthening the ministry of mid-career pastors and denominational leaders, and responding to changing health and investment needs. It is a challenging time in the life of the church, but PBUCC and UCBMA’s staff and Boards are hopeful about our future, in part because they get to know those who have laid the path and those who are helping lead us into that future.

The new Pension Boards mission statement focuses on “the intersection of faith and finance” as a differentiator in the way we deliver benefits to members. What are some of the things you see as important differentiators between the Pension Boards plans and similar benefits offerings in the commercial marketplace?

I am not UCC from the cradle. After being baptized and confirmed in another part of Christ’s church, I spent over 20 years unchurched. When I felt God’s Spirit calling me back to participating in a church community, I did some research to find out what part of the church would feel most like home to me and would help me grow in faith. It was during that research that I found out about the United Church of Christ, and part of what spoke to me most about the UCC was its sense of call to help people live out a life of compassion and caring, not just on Sunday mornings, but integrating faith and life fully. I feel that the new Pension Boards mission statement reflects this UCC ethos: if we are truly living out our faith, then of course that should impact what we do with our finances, whenever possible, and having those choices reflect our values as informed by the gospel.

The Pension Boards has long been active in this area through corporate social responsibility, proxy voting, socially responsible investing, and shareholder coalitions. The new Northern Trust Global Sustainability Index Fund investment option is another exciting step in helping us integrate faith and finance. I also see this work in integrating faith and finance manifested long ago in the Pension Boards’ continuing effort to provide quality benefits and services to their members while also being cost effective, always aware that it is answerable to its members and the church.

Anything else you’d like to add?

One thing I find most exciting about the Pension Boards and UCBMA is that they are strategically moving forward to find new ways to serve their members and strengthen the church, including initiatives like the New Generation Leadership Initiative (NGLI), the financial planning services now offered through Ernst & Young, and the CREDO pilot program for mid-career clergy. The Pension Boards and UCBMA are responsive to member needs and the changing needs of the church, and it is exciting and fulfilling to be a part of this effort.