GC’s Authority Over CPF : “clear, but limited”

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The Church Pension Fund (CPF) exists to support the clergy and lay employees of the Episcopal Church in their calling to spread the gospel.  For more than 100 years, our relationship with General Convention has been critical to fulfilling that purpose. CPF was created in 1913 by an act of General Convention.  Around that time, it was separately incorporated in New York as a not for profit corporation, that is subject to examination by the New York Department of Financial Services.  This ensured that pension plan participants would have the safeguards and protections that relevant laws provide.

CPF’s primary activities are described in Canon I.8., which has been, and can be, amended by General Convention after the CPF board has been given ample opportunity to be heard. General Convention elects the CPF board and passes resolutions that guide our work.  General Convention’s influence over CPF is clear; but limited by the requirement that CPF protect the financial interests of the clergy and lay employees who rely on the benefits and services it provides.

Recently, some have questioned a statement we made in our report to the State of the Church Committee that “In this respect, CPF is independent of General Convention because the trustees are required at all times to act in the best interest of CPF.”  This statement has been taken out of context to suggest that we feel beyond the influence of General Convention, which is not the case.  I would commend the full report to those who are curious.  It describes in great detail the many ways we are tied to General Convention.  We recognize the significant role General Convention plays in our work, and we are grateful for it.

Every triennium, the CPF Board and management team participate in General Convention to be in fellowship with thousands of Episcopalians, to hear what’s in the hearts and minds of those in both houses, to learn about new needs, to provide information about our mission and work, and to see what resolutions are passed.  From the beginning, the Church Pension Group has taken cues from General Convention and incorporated its will into our work.

The CPF Board is composed of committed Episcopalians like me who bring their hopes and concerns for our church to the table whenever we meet.  Our perspectives are enriched by the insights CPF collects, and we use all of these contributions to ponder our central question, which is “How can we continue to provide pensions and other benefits to eligible clergy and lay employees for as long as they need them?”  It’s a complicated question that requires us to balance the mission and needs of the Church with the mission and financial responsibilities of CPF, one of its institutions. Still, the possibility does exist that CPF would not be able to take an action requested by General Convention if satisfying that request would compromise CPF’s financial strength and ability to pay benefits.  CPF is required by law to act in the best interest of participants in its pension and other benefits programs.  We cannot do anything that goes against our clients’ financial interest; the law doesn’t allow it.

I am an active Episcopalian, a General Convention deputy, and a member of the CPF board of trustees. Living into each of these roles requires independence of thought, exercise of reason and sound judgment.  I have always viewed the governance and structure of CPF as sources of comfort for the church, a way to ensure that our decisions are guided by the values we hold in common while protecting the benefits we provide. I know I speak for the full CPF board when I say that we look forward to continuing to steer CPF toward a future even stronger than its past.