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Finding a fossil free strategy for church investments

Foundation helps Florida church design investment plan that reflects environmental commitment

June 28, 2018

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.

First Presbyterian Church of Tallahassee WAVE garden project. (Photo from First Presbyterian website)

This move follows a pattern of environmental stewardship for the congregation. When the congregation renovated their buildings some years back, they installed solar panels on the roof as well as making other changes to make the facility more energy efficient.

“We have long been a congregation that is really committed to environmental stewardship,” Copeland said. “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 acknowledges that some people have 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 reflected a 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, after 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 results, while encouraging, are 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 a commitment to be fossil free. “Please do it!” McVety said. “It is really not that hard, and the Foundation is there to help you.”

Erin Dunagin, Presbyterian Foundation

Today’s Focus: Fossil Free Strategy for Church Investments

Let us join in prayer for:

First Presbyterian Church of Tallahassee Staff

Brant S. Copeland, pastor
Christy Williams, director of Christian education
Michael Corzine, organist and choirmaster
Julia Simmons, housekeeper
Dolores Ingraham, parish associate
Emory Hingst, parish associate
Leo Sandon, parish associate
Andra J. W. Copeland, director of First Presbyterian preschool

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Katie Rhodes, PMA
Monique Rhodes, PMA

Let us pray:

God of grace, we thank you for your provision for us and all creatures. Bless our efforts to be good stewards of your creation and good stewards of the other resources with which we have been entrusted. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Daily Readings

Morning Psalms 36; 147:12-20
First Reading Numbers 17:1-11
Second Reading Romans 5:1-11
Gospel Reading Matthew 20:17-28
Evening Psalms 80; 27

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