Statement from Selkirk Parish Church for Good Money Week 2019
Eco-Congregation Scotland supported the Good Money Week event organised by the Church of Scotland on Saturday 5th October 2019 and provided this statement as a divestment example for local churches to consider.
Selkirk Parish Church is a typical small town parish church, with around 400 members, and 60-70 regular attenders at Sunday services. For a number of years, members of the congregation have become increasingly concerned about the damage being done to the environment and, in particular, the growing threat of runaway climate change.
The congregation registered as an eco-congregation back in 2013, and achieved its first eco-award in 2015. Care for creation has become an integral part of the congregation’s life, impacting its spiritual life through worship and study groups, and showing itself in practical actions to reduce environmental impact, at both individual and congregational level.
In early 2018, a congregational 1/2 day conference was arranged by the eco-group, with most office bearers and many of the congregation in attendance. The title of the conference was “Caring for Creation – asking the difficult questions”, and through presentations and interactive group activities, many issues were addressed. These included considering the environmental impact of our financial decisions (what we buy, where we bank, and our investments).
One outcome of this discussion was to consider whether the congregation’s investments were compatible with our environmental policy. We ascertained that we had around £14K invested in the Church of Scotland’s Growth Fund, and became aware that this fund held investments on our behalf in three major oil and gas companies, Shell, BP and Total. This was discussed by the Congregational Board and the Kirk Session, who resolved to withdraw the invested funds.
The following letter was sent to the Church of Scotland’s Investors Trust on 21st June 2018:
In the light of our concerns about climate change driven by the continued burning of fossil fuels, most recently highlighted by Pope Francis in his meeting with oil executives, and the failure of the Church of Scotland’s policy of engagement to bring about significant change in the policies and practices of Shell, BP and Total over the last 2 years, Selkirk Parish Church has decided to withdraw its funds invested in the Church of Scotland Growth Fund.
As an eco-congregation, we do not believe it is ethically acceptable to invest in, and gain profit from, companies whose main aim is to continue to explore for, and to extract, fossil fuels. For example, BP states on its website that its strategy is to “invest in more gas and oil, producing both with increasing efficiency”. In fact, we believe that these investments are contrary to the Investors Trust’s current policy not to invest in companies whose “activities … are felt to harm society more than they benefit it”. The activities of Shell, BP and Total (and other similar companies) are driving the whole world towards dangerous and potentially uncontrollable climate change, already causing harm to people across many parts of the planet.
We disagree with the Church of Scotland’s policy to continue to “engage” with these companies as being impractical and ineffective. Many large institutions, including cities, universities, some pension funds, the British Medical Association, the Church of Ireland and the United Reformed Church in Scotland have already agreed to fully divest from all fossil fuel exploration and extraction. We believe that the Church of Scotland should be leading the way for others, and should fully divest now from all companies involved in fossil fuel exploration and extraction; this would give a stronger signal to these companies than any engagement is ever likely to do.
Within Selkirk Parish Church, we are committed to caring for God’s creation. We can no longer wait for the Church or Scotland to act in this matter, so we are taking our own small steps to make ourselves “fossil free”. Withdrawing our funds is one step in this journey that we are able to make now, and therefore we are doing so. We hope that other congregations may follow our example.
The funds withdrawn may be either reinvested in an ethical fund or used to part-fund a children and families worker; we consider this to be a much better way to invest for growth in God’s Kingdom.
This was a small, but significant practical action that we could readily take. Other congregations may lack the confidence to take this step, and so it is important that we continue to campaign for total disinvestment by the Church of Scotland from all fossil fuel companies, and reinvestment into other areas that are compatible with the church’s care for creation.
Selkirk Parish Church still has other investments held by the Church of Scotland in its “consolidated fabric fund”, but we have no information about whether this fund includes fossil fuel investments. As we are not able to withdraw these funds, we hope that the 2020 General Assembly will resolve to divest completely from fossil fuels across all its investments.
Elder, Selkirk Parish Church