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Award recipient helps Church invest responsibly

By Stuart Mann

Bob Boeckner decided to stay in Toronto in his retirement so he could continue to help the various organizations he was involved in. “I wasn’t one of those folks who decides to go to Florida for six months to play golf,” he says.

Anglicans in Canada should be glad he made that choice. As a trustee of the General Synod Pension Plan and a member of the national church’s Responsible Investing Task Force, Mr. Boeckner has helped the Church and Anglican-affiliated organizations to invest not only wisely but responsibly.

Bob Boeckner, a churchwarden at St. Clement, Eglinton, has been chosen to receive the Anglican Award of Merit.

In recognition of his efforts, Mr. Boeckner has been chosen to receive the Anglican Award of Merit, which honours lay people for their contributions to the Anglican Church of Canada. Five other people across the country have also been named.

The new Primate, who will be elected this summer at General Synod, will present the award to Mr. Boeckner at his home church of St. Clement, Eglinton at a mutually agreeable time.

Mr. Boeckner, who is a churchwarden at St. Clement’s, says the award came as a surprise. “I hadn’t expected it. I don’t do what I do to gain recognition, but I was thrilled that it happened.”

An actuary by profession, Mr. Boeckner worked as a pension and benefits consultant for the second half of his career before retiring. He joined the General Synod Pension Plan’s board of trustees in 2008 at the invitation of a colleague.

“I thought that was great,” he recalls. “It would give me a chance to use my experience for the benefit of the Church.” The pension plan has a membership of more than 5,000 retired and active clergy and lay employees of the Anglican Church of Canada.

Mr. Boeckner chaired the board’s ESG (environmental, social and governance) Subcommittee, which sought to ensure that the plan’s funds were invested responsibly. “As stewards of God’s creation, we’re required to take care of it, so those of us who are involved with investing want to be sure that the organizations we’re investing in are doing the right thing,” he says.

In addition to being a trustee, Mr. Boeckner became a member of the national church’s Responsible Investing Task Force, created in 2016. The group’s mandate was to review and, if deemed appropriate, recommend changes to the investment portfolio and the investment policies of the national church and the General Synod Pension Plan in relation to ESG concerns.

Soon after it began its work, the task force discovered there were about 30 other Anglican groups in Canada that were also investing funds, including dioceses, theological colleges and foundations. The task force expanded its work to include those other organizations.

Mr. Boeckner says listening to Anglicans from across the country was a valuable learning experience. “Initially, many people were focussed on a low-carbon economy, and therefore any church-related fund should not be investing in any oil and gas stock. But that’s kind of a simplistic way to tackle it. As we moved along, we came to understand that it’s a complex issue and as a Church we might be more effective in staying engaged in what’s going on in the wider world.”

A good example of how staying engaged can be effective, he says, was when the Church of England went to the annual general meeting of ExxonMobil a couple of years ago and, along with other shareholders, forced the company to start reporting to shareholders what the impact on its business would likely be if the world’s average temperature rose by 2 degrees. “If the Church of England had not held those shares, they wouldn’t have been entitled to go to the AGM and make that case,” he says.

The task force delivered a report to the Council of General Synod last year. It included theological foundations, highlights of current investing practices, and recommendations for increased engagement and updated practices by the General Synod Consolidated Trust Fund, the General Synod Pension Plan, and other funds associated with the Anglican Church of Canada.

In addition to the report, the task force produced a booklet called Investing with a Mission: A Guide to Responsible Investment and Church Funds. The booklet, which contains the task force’s research and findings, is a valuable tool for organizations wishing to further their engagement on ESG issues.

Mr. Boeckner says the task force plans to survey Anglican-affiliated groups across Canada, to see if any of the recommendations have been implemented. In the meantime, the pension plan has already taken action, he says.

“We’ve been able to work with our investment managers to get them to implement responsible investing,” he says. “Instead of taking our money away from them, we kept saying, what are you doing on ESG? Eventually they were prepared to become signatories to the UN-supported Principles for Responsible Investment. Now they’ll be responsibly investing not only our money but all the other money they’ve got as well.”  

In addition to his work for the Church at the national level, Mr. Boeckner has been very involved at St. Clement’s, where he is a reader, greeter, sidesperson and a former Synod member. Outside of his church-related activities, he is a member of the University of Toronto’s business board and its audit committee. He also chaired a mentorship program at U of T’s University College, helping students learn from professionals in their field of interest.

He says his faith is one of the main reasons why he has been involved in so many activities over the years. “My religion has two major aspects. One is my relationship with God, and because of my relationship with God I’m called upon to serve others or serve the wider world. You can’t have one without the other.”