Church’s socially responsible investing leads PC(USA) environmental efforts
by Erin Dunagin | Presbyterian Foundation
LOUISVILLE — After two attempts to encourage the General Assembly to go “fossil free” did not go as they hoped, First Presbyterian Church of Tallahassee, Florida, decided to take matters into their own hands, or, more specifically, their own footprint.
“We realized that we couldn’t ask the Assembly to do what we as a congregation hadn’t done, so we were very pleased when the Presbyterian Foundation offered to help us meet our investment criteria to go fossil free with our investments,” said the Rev. Dr. Brant Copeland, pastor of First Presbyterian Tallahassee.
This move follows a pattern of environmental stewardship for the congregation. When the congregation renovated its buildings some years back, they installed solar panels on the roof as well as making changes to the facility to make it more energy efficient.
“We have long been a congregation that is really committed to environmental stewardship,” Copeland shared. “We see our environmental stewardship as part of our calling as a downtown congregation just a few blocks from the state capitol – to express our commitment to take care of creation.”
Copeland admits that some people have legitimate questions regarding fossil free investments, and that often there can be misconceptions. “For us it is really a question of, ‘How do we put the gifts of God, through the money given to the church, to the best benefit of God’s creation?’”
The congregation was excited to work with the Foundation to create an investment strategy that might express this commitment to be fossil free.
Tim Clark, Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer of the Foundation’s subsidiary New Covenant Trust Company, was eager to help First Pres Tallahassee meet their objectives. “We can work with any of our partners, churches, or constituents to customize strategies that meet their particular social screens or environmental screens,” Clark said.
So, following the 2014 General Assembly, the church and the Foundation began conversations to see what might be done. After a year of beta testing, which produced satisfactory returns, First Pres Tallahassee asked New Covenant Trust Company to move forward with the fossil free investment strategy in a way that would allow other churches or investors to participate as well. After the first year, returns met expectations, but Clark is quick to note that one year’s data, while encouraging, is insufficient to draw long-term conclusions about the strategy, and that past results are not an indication of future performance.
Pam McVety, a member of First Pres Tallahassee, has been involved in the fossil free movement for quite some time. “We are very concerned about climate change, as we feel that it disproportionately hurts the poor, causing more people to be hungry, thirsty, and homeless,” McVety said. “In response to Jesus’ call to take care of the least of these, we have done everything we can think of to address reducing our energy usage so that we can lower our carbon emissions.”
The church also felt an obligation to invest the money wisely, so returns would be adequate to fund future mission. “We know that there are risks associated with fossil free, but we did our homework before we undertook it,” McVety said. In 2016, the congregation moved its entire endowment into the investment strategy created by the Foundation. “We trusted the people at the Foundation. They are wise and smart and know what they are doing, and the fund is doing well.”
McVety has advice for other congregations who are considering making the commitment to be fossil free. “Please do it!” McVety said. “It is really not that hard, and the Foundation is there to help you.”
If you’d like to talk to a member of the Presbyterian Foundation staff about investing your church’s funds, you can reach us at ClientServices@PresbyterianFoundation.org or 800-858-6127, and choose option 6.
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