We prepared for this time!
The entirety of the Pension Boards is operating remotely and has been for 9 weeks!
During this time:
We prepared for this time!
Last year’s annual report and annual address theme was Imagine Abundance. Our theme this year is Fruitful Ministries for Generations.
Ironically, this year’s theme is especially appropriate; although not in the ways we originally imagined. We have worked hard over the past 5 years to build a solid base of preparedness that will allow us to operate for the next 50 years or more—for generations. While we could not have foreseen it, this preparation is precisely what has enabled us to respond appropriately and immediately to the COVID-19 pandemic. We had the programs and dollars securely in place to respond to the variety of needs presented by this emergency.
For example, the stewardship of our health benefits program has allowed us to make appropriate COVID-related changes in our coverages.
Our Business Continuity Plan, prepared over the past 5 years and tested in the 3 weeks leading up to our office closure, is working extremely well, thanks to all of our colleagues; especially those in both our Human Resources and Information Technology areas.
Our Communications Team has increased and accelerated its outreach, creating new communications vehicles and messaging for all of our stakeholders—ranging from colleagues through all of our members, employers, contributors, and more.
Our Human Resources team has stepped up to take care of our colleagues who in turn take care of our membership. They have focused on our single most important resource, our people, and have provided the support we need to function and stay mentally, physically, and emotionally healthy.
Given our office location in New York City, our staff and their families have been and continue to be significantly affected by the coronavirus. Over the past weeks, several of our colleagues have tested positive for the coronavirus, and I am happy to report that all have recovered and returned to work. Sadly, however, others have lost family members and friends to the virus. We are keeping all in our prayers.
Amidst all of this, I would like to welcome you to the first virtual Annual Meeting of the Pension Boards. I am grateful to have this opportunity to be with you today, even if from a distance. And while I would much prefer to be greeting you in person, I am thankful for the technology that allows us to be together and conduct our business as the Pension Boards-United Church of Christ in this way. I am mindful of the need we all have at this time for connection with one another and thankful for your willingness to be here today to participate.
As I have mentioned, our staff has been working remotely since March 16th, and the systems we put in place have allowed us to continue our work without disruption to our ministry. We went into this new way of working without knowing ahead of time all the ways in which we would be affected. What we have discovered is that our “offices” do not close at 5:00, or 6:00, or even 6:30. The pandemic has changed the contours of our workday and we are being sensitive to that. While our remote work plans were designed to protect both our people and our productivity, colleagues often find themselves working late into the night. They get tired, worn out, and sometimes overwhelmed.
All of the accomplishments and successes I have mentioned thus far are the result of the dedicated work of our staff. They are the reason we are succeeding at this point. We need to thank them all. And I truly do thank them all! The health, safety, and well-being of each of our colleagues is our highest priority today and will continue to be as we go forward.
While all of us are understandably focused on the present and the future, we do not want to lose sight of the great progress and accomplishments of 2019. As we look back, particularly in relation to market performance, last year may at times seem a distant memory. However, as you know, while we have had unusual volatility and a weak start to 2020, it is important to remember that our assets grew 12% in 2019 and all of our accumulation funds generated positive returns.
Last year, I reported to you that a series of changes we made to meet the goals we had set for ourselves had evolved into more than the sum of their parts. We experienced a transformation. Looking back, it is clear that this transformation was the result of long-sustained thought and persistent work. We began with certain aspirational ideas about where we wanted to go and who we wanted to be.
Paraphrasing Nikola Tesla, we found that pursuing our aspirational ideas felt a great deal like climbing to dizzying heights. At first, contemplating truly new and challenging ideas causes discomfort. We are anxious to descend from the heights and return to familiar terrain. We are distrustful of our own abilities to handle the new and unfamiliar. However, soon the remoteness of the turmoil of life and the inspiring influence of the altitude calm our anxiety.
Our hope is that our steps get firm and sure, and that we will begin to look for yet more dizzying heights in 2020 and beyond.
This has been our experience with the transformative work we accomplished last year. While remaining realistic, we have not held back on our aspirations. We continue to scan the horizon from that high altitude—a vantage point that allows us to see a much bigger picture and envision a far greater role for the Pension Boards in that picture.
In 2019, we took a leap forward into two exciting new faith and finance ventures that will meet longstanding needs in the United Church of Christ.
The first, Generations Financial Resources, is a lending corporation that will help alleviate the crushing burden of clergy indebtedness. Operating in lock-step with the Minister’s Financial Vitality Initiative launched by the Pension Boards in 2017, it will combine personal finance education, need-based grants to reduce debt levels, and most significantly: low interest rate refinancing to substantially reduce the rates that our clergy are paying on their educational debt. Generations Resource’s loan refinance strategy is compelling and, our hope is that this first effort will be the catalyst for our denomination to offer this and other debt relief services to its clergy.
The second new venture, created in 2019, is Generations Investment Services. As a controlled affiliate of the Pension Boards, it provides investment management services for UCC-related endowment funds, offering UCC Conferences, churches and affiliated organizations a unique opportunity to strategically sustain their investments for future generations, mission, and ministry.
At the same time, and just as importantly, UCC ministries will be able to see their endowment funds grow in alignment with the faith values of the United Church of Christ. Just as with the Pension Boards Annuity Plan investments, Generations Investment Services will align with investment principles that incorporate Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) criteria in its investment practices so that those investments bring about social justice and change.
These bold and innovative approaches are just two examples of the strategically-aligned streams shaping and strengthening our identity and relevancy to the United Church of Christ.
In 2019, we welcomed the United Evangelical Church of Puerto Rico (IEUPR) into our programs. We are very pleased to have the partnership of the IEUPR and we look forward to building our relationship with them in 2020.
In 2019, we also welcomed the Rev. Dr. Jim Moos, a respected leader in our church and in the global ecumenical community, to the newly-created role of Executive Director of the Pension Boards’ Faith and Finance Ministries.
In a recent statement on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy, Rev. Moos offered the observation that there is another understanding of the word “economy”.
In its original usage, Jim wrote, “being ‘economical’ meant ensuring that the needs of all household members were provided for equitably. This applied to both individual households and the collective community. Such an economic understanding is consistent with the Pension Boards’ vision of providing ‘benefits and services from the intersection of faith and finance.’
Our 2019 Annual Report drew its theme from Psalm 1, verse 3, which speaks of “trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.” People of faith have a continual source of life. The Pension Boards, in its more than 105 years of service to the United Church of Christ and its predecessor bodies, has drawn its life and mission from the intersecting streams of faith and finance. Together, we can support the lifespan and fruit-bearing work of the Pension Boards for our church and for generations to come.