Global Divestment Day sparks conversations about divestment strategy and climate change
On Thursday, Feb. 12, the day before Global Divestment Day, the Rev. Jim Antal will rally on the steps of the Massachusetts Statehouse to urge lawmakers to divest from fossil fuels. Alongside hundreds of other environmental activists, the conference minister of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ and leader of the denomination’s move toward fossil fuel divestment will press state leaders to stand up to fossil fuel corporations and be trailblazers in the fight against climate change.
But Antal is also sharing his message on a more localized level. Following in the footsteps of the UCC national setting, which became the first religious denomination in 2013 to vote to move toward divestment as one strategy to address climate change, UCC congregations are also exploring that possibility, and are calling on Antal’s passion and expertise to help them get started.
“I have mentioned the story of our denomination’s divestment in 20 or 30 sermons, but this is the first time a congregation has said, ‘Can you please come and preach on divestment?'” he said. “Now a second church has asked for the same thing. I expect that, over the next year, other churches will want to hear sermons on the morality of divestment as well.”
Eliot Church of Newton UCC in Newton, Mass., is working toward the possibility of divestment from fossil fuels, and invited Antal to preach and host a forum on the topic on Jan. 25. On March 1, the investment team will give a presentation to the congregation about the structure of the church’s endowment fund and how investment decisions are made, and will present an early draft of its divestment ideas. The congregation will vote on whether to move forward with the process at its annual meeting in June.
Eliot Church UCC has considered climate change an important moral issue for more than a decade and already has a percentage of its endowment invested in socially-responsible funds, so the Rev. Reebee Girash, associate pastor, thinks fossil fuel divestment is a “natural next step.” But regardless of the outcome of the vote, the church will continue to have an open dialogue about its investment strategy and its implications, and encourage everyone to be involved in the process.
“The conversation could easily go in a number of directions,” Girash said. “I can’t say that by July we will have passed a resolution about divestment, but I know [members] are going to think about it thoughtfully and prayerfully, and believe this is one of several things we should be doing next as a congregation. So we’ll see.”
First Congregational Church UCC in Williamstown, Mass., is another UCC congregation in the early stages of exploring fossil fuel divestment. The church will host a workshop on Feb. 22 led by Antal, who will speak on the issue from a faith-based perspective, and Sen. Ben Downing (D-Mass.), who will address it from a legislative view. First Congregational will host a follow-up workshop on March 1 featuring representatives from the Williams College divestment group, 350 Massachusetts, and the Green Century Fund, a mutual fund advisory company owned and managed by a partnership of nonprofit environmental organizations.
While the Rev. Mark Longhurst, pastor of First Congregational, is supportive of the divestment movement, he looks forward to initiating the conversation at church and welcomes his congregation members with different viewpoints to be part of it. First Congregational has not yet taken a stance on fossil fuel divestment, but Longhurst knows his members want to thoughtfully explore what exactly divestment is and how it impacts change, and he thinks the upcoming informational workshops are a good place to start.
“Whether people come away convinced that divestment is the best way to go or not, I hope they come away thinking about the moral response to climate change and that our money is involved in that response,” Longhurst said. “I want people to be well informed and empowered about specific things they can do in their lives and communities to respond to the climate crisis.”
On Global Divestment Day, Feb. 13 and 14, thousands of people from around the world will demand institutions and individuals take action against climate change by divesting from fossil fuels. Global Divestment Day gives fossil fuel divestment campaigns from around the world a chance to stand together and amplify their message. For more information or to participate, visit the event’s website.
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