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Presbytery of San Francisco Votes to Divest from Fossil Fuels!!!

The Presbytery of San Francisco, which is the PCUSA presence in Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo and San Francisco counties of the Bay area, has voted to immediately make the movement away from fossil fuel investments as well as other environmentally harmful investments.

The PC(USA), as a denomination, took a fossil fuel divestment vote (regarding the national Presbyterian foundation) at General Assembly (GA) last June, and it narrowly did not pass on this go-round. This was the third time that the General Assembly considered divestment from fossil fuels. Before each of these votes at GA considerations, The Presbytery of San Francisco had supported the move away from all fossil fuel investments. Divestment was seen as a crucial issue of the stewardship responsibility that God’s people have for all of creation (the effects of climate change in particular), as well as a moral response to placing the demands for present shareholder profits above the need to create a safe and healthy future for our children.

And so, the Presbytery of San Francisco decided to start an immediate movement away from investments that harm our environment.

Rev. Talitha Aho, Associate Pastor of Montclair Presbyterian Church in Oakland, CA, and the originator of the motion to divest from fossil fuels, said: “In the September 2018 meeting of the Presbytery of San Francisco, PCUSA co-moderator Cindy Kohlmann was there to speak with us and she laid down a challenge. All these presbyteries have been voting to divest- but have they done the work of divesting their own funds? We took that challenge and it went far easier than we could have hoped. Thanks be to God for a willing and eager presbytery!”

On the recommendation of the Finance and Property Committee of the Presbytery of San Francisco (who act as the Board of Trustees), after quite a bit of study and evaluation with our two primary investment account advisors, we voted on Feb. 12th to move our investment portfolios away from fossil fuels by Summer 2019 if possible, and to bring the final proposal of how to do that back for discussion and a vote at our May 14 plenary meeting. There were no dissenting votes.

We discussed at length the fiduciary responsibility that we have as trustees for the PCUSA of funds that belong to the denomination but which are controlled by our Presbytery, and we came to the conclusion that our fiduciary responsibility includes the wise use and investment of these funds for mission as well as the wise and compassionate use of these funds for investment in the stewardship of the earth, and that we feel called to consider both. We did not vote (at that time) to divest for the purposes of any other so-called “socially responsible investing” per se.

In May, we brought the final proposal for the actual strategy of how to move toward fossil fuel divestment (which investments, how, etc.) and the time frame for execution, to a final vote at the plenary meeting of the Presbytery of San Francisco. The motion passed unanimously. But the strategies proposed also widened the mandate to consider all forms of environmental damage, including present environmental damage and the potential for future environmental damage (such as untapped carbon based fuel reserves and environmental business practices in general). We are on track to have all of this completed by the end of June.