Written by Emily Mullins
The Rev. Emily Goldthwaite Fries and her congregation are ready to make a real difference in the world. That's why the foundation of Mayflower Church United Church of Christ in Minneapolis has signed on as one of the founding investors in a domestic core equity fund free of investments in U.S. companies extracting or producing fossil fuels. An initiative of United Church Funds, the Beyond Fossil Fuels Fund is gaining momentum with UCC churches, conferences and agencies like Mayflower UCC that are eager to put the phrase "money talks" into action by using their investments to advocate for the good of the earth.
"Our church is excited to be a pioneer church that is enabling this fund to get off the ground," said Mayflower UCC's associate pastor, adding that the amount of the church's contribution has yet to be determined. "I think in the church this is part of a very uphill movement to empower people to have a just relationship with their money and to know that they can do something about it if they feel that their finances are out of whack with their values."
Since announcing the Oct. 1 launch date of its fossil-fuel-free investment fund, United Church Funds, one of the UCC's main investment vehicles, has received commitments from several UCC congregations, conferences and agencies, putting it closer to its kick-off goal of $20 million. With a commitment of $10 million in seed money from the United Church of Christ Board, UCF was able to offer a fund based on the S&P 500 index, free of fossil fuel companies and inclusive of UCF's traditional set of exclusionary screens. Once UCF reaches the $20 million goal, it can offer an enhanced index fund that provides an opportunity for higher investment returns.
"We are closing in on $16 million committed from UCC-affiliated groups," said Katie McCloskey, director of social responsibility for UCF. "That is heartening for us."
While some have had questions about whether investing in a fossil-fuel-free fund will really make oil and gas companies change their ways, McCloskey said overall feedback to the fund has been positive, and more UCC groups are showing interest as details solidify. She adds that the commitments from the fund's founding investors, including the Southwest, New York, Minnesota and Central Atlantic conferences of the UCC, and the UCC Church Building and Loan Fund, will establish the solid base for the fund that will allow smaller churches with smaller allocations to get involved in the future. Large congregations in Chicago and Long Beach, Calif., are also considering becoming founding investors.
"I think it's exactly what we expected in that people are reacting better to something more solid now that we can put a description to the fund and explain what it is, what type of assets will be in it, and what type of diversification people will be able to see," McCloskey said. "Church endowment committees can say, 'This fits in with our beliefs and we can figure out how to slot it in to the rest of our portfolio.'"
The Beyond Fossil Fuels Fund is another step toward meeting the goals of the UCC resolution passed last July during General Synod 29 calling for a move toward divestment from fossil fuel companies as one strategy to address climate change. The Central Atlantic Conference of the UCC was one of the initial sponsors of the resolution, so the Rev. John Deckenback, conference minister, said it was only natural for the conference to also be an early supporter of the UCF fund. The conference has pledged a portion of $5 million, and Deckenback is appreciative and supportive of UCF for its determination to show that the principles of the General Synod resolution can be implemented if the leadership sets their minds to it.
"We are committed to the principles under the resolution, which most obviously include caring for the environment, which we feel is being desecrated by our insatiable appetite for the consumption of fossil fuels," Deckenback said. "If we can support our principles by not investing in fossil fuels and still be good stewards of our money, it makes no sense not to invest."
Goldthwaite Fries says it's important for individual churches and groups to know they can make a difference, especially when they work together. While Mayflower UCC has long been committed to protecting the environment – the church is on track to be carbon neutral by 2030 and installed one of the largest solar panel arrays in the Twin Cities last year – taking the plunge into fossil-fuel-free investing is new territory that takes specific knowledge, access and expertise that many organizations lack. Through the Beyond Fossil Fuels Fund, Goldthwaite Fries says UCF and the UCC are building a more powerful movement together in a very visible and tangible way.
"As a church, we have to resist being told that we don't have a choice," she said. "This can be done. The churches are doing it as a very public example that this is the direction we need to be moving in."
For more information about the Beyond Fossil Fuels Fund, visit its website.