by abby mohaupt
In September 2018, PCUSA co-moderator Cindy Kohlmann paid a visit to a meeting of the Presbytery of San Francisco, where I’m a minister member. Giving some remarks, she reflected on the work that the 223rd General Assembly had done in June, and she acknowledged that the church still had work to do.
Rev. Talitha Aho, Associate Pastor of Monclair Presbyterian Church in Oakland, CA, recalls that “the co-moderator laid down a challenge. All these presbyteries have been voting to divest- but have they done the work of divesting their own funds?”
The Presbytery of San Francisco has originated or concurred with every call for divestment from fossil fuels. Now was the time to move their own funds.
At this meeting, Rev. Aho was wearing a mask to protect her lungs from the smoke from the devastating Camp Fire blanketing the Bay Area. Rev. Aho made a motion to consider divestment from fossil fuels.
This motion was taken to a second discussion time at the November presbytery meeting. At that point, the motion was sent to the presbytery’s investment committee.
Members of the investment committee worked with their investment managers and leadership from Fossil Free PCUSA to determine the feasibility of divestment. Presbytery Associate for Mission and Church Assets Leonard Nielson said,"After we did the research, I am sort of surprised that the vote at GA didn't go through. We can certainly be helpful in helping others to understand that this particular divestment is not as complicated or risky as it was even 12-18 months ago. The investment market is starting to offer some really attractive products due to growing demand, and we can be a part of that demand."
Marc Jung, a member of San Francisco Presbytery, echoed this sentiment.“When we looked into fossil fuel divestment for our presbytery, we discovered that there’s a growing variety of viable investment choices available for consideration. So now it has become easier to make fossil free investments.”
At the February 2019 presbytery meeting, the committee recommended divestment from fossil fuels to the presbytery, saying that such a motion would be in line with the presbytery’s commitment to faithfully care for the earth, that divestment could be done quickly and efficiently, and that the reinvestment in renewables would not significantly affect the presbytery’s bottom line.
The recommendation was approved on the consent agenda, unanimously.
After the vote, we held an open-space conversation, where members of the presbytery could ask questions about divestment. Participants shared their worries about climate change, talked about the fossil free options offered by the Board of Pensions and the Presbyterian Foundation, and wondered how to begin organizing for categorical divestment from fossil fuels as a whole denomination. I facilitated that conversation, my head and my heart wrestling with how we help our beloved denomination see that we must love creation with our whole selves, even our investments.
The presbytery’s process was swift and is a model for other presbyteries. Here are the steps they took:
Jeff Hutcheson, Presbytery Pastor for Mission and Vision, said “Everyone was united in taking action to love our hurting planet, and work creatively towards a brighter future. The Presbytery of San Francisco is committed to realigning our resources and adjusting our lifestyles in ways that are life-giving for our planet and one another. We desire to faithfully follow Christ who said "I came so that they may have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of." (Ephesians 10:10, the Message Bible)”
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