While a core Climate Justice Group led the divestment process at TSP, a key to our success was the shared commitment of the whole congregation to climate justice and to divestment. We had a head start as our congregation had already identified climate justice as a priority before we started talking about divestment, but our job was to keep the momentum going – by including our congregation in our work, by integrating climate justice themes into worship services, and by responding to their questions.
The energy from this connection flowed both ways – it supported the work of the Climate Justice Group, and gave the congregation as a whole a shared project and shared success.
The strategies we used to foster this ongoing and reciprocal engagement are below.
What we did: In 2010, following a discussion about our shared priorities, the TSP congregation identified climate justice as one of several priority areas for the next 5 years. Shortly thereafter, the Board approved a policy statement on TSP’s Commitment to Climate Justice and Environmental Sustainability summarizing congregational discussions and commitments to greening our congregation, and outlining how we would move forward with implementing these commitments.
This policy statement sowed early seeds for the decision that emerged towards the end of our five-year strategic planning period to pursue divestment.
If you’d like to explore whether there is interest in climate justice issues within your congregation, you might wish to use this Guide for Organizing a Climate Justice Discussion Group developed by Laura Sacks, Group leader Nelson-West Kootenay Chapter Citizens’ Climate Lobby and David Boyd, Minister Nelson United Church for the United Church of Canada B.C. Conference to discover and build commitment among members of your congregation.
Why this worked: Our climate justice work proceeded from the foundation of a shared commitment on the part of our congregation, which gave us both motivation and mandate.
What we did: Through congregational events, we invited all members of the TSP community to learn more about Climate Justice. These included:
- screenings of “Do the Math” and “Disruption”;
- walking down Bloor Street – as a group of 65! – ringing the church bells to “sound the alarm” about climate change;
- potluck dinner with the TSP participants in the New York City People’s Climate March;
- post-service “Global Gossip” discussion sessions on actions taken in support of Climate Justice by members of the TSP community, from co-founding “For Our Grandchildren” to building information about fossil-free investing and shareholder engagement for institutions and individual; and
- Lenten workshop series, with evening study sessions focused on climate justice
At every event and through the regular church bulletin, we extended an open invitation to all interested members of the congregation to join our Climate Justice Group meetings and future activities.
We also shared regular updates on our work and on climate justice news more generally through our congregational newsletter, ensuring that we included at least one item in each quarterly issue.
Why this worked: Sustaining a broad congregational discussion about climate justice kept energy and support throughout the congregation high. Regular events helped recruit new participants to our Climate Justice Group.
Building an understanding of climate change and possible responses also inspired members of our congregation to take individual action against climate change, whether through their own personal divestment and reinvestment or by greening their homes or lifestyles.
What we did: Working with the Minister and the TSP Worship Planning Team, the Climate Justice Group arranged for several services addressing Climate Justice topics: one led by Christine Boyle, a community organizer and environmental activist; another led by CJG member and minister Jim Kirkwood featuring two skits he had written: “Bertha’s persistent high temperature” and “Mother Earth’s persistent high temperature”; and yet another led by members of the CJG sharing the voices of women of the Global South about the impact of climate change and environmental issues on their communities.
CJG members also shared a video at TSP’s annual Blessing of the Bikes.
Why this worked: Integrating climate justice issues into worship highlighted our common faith commitment to these concerns, and emphasized the link between climate justice and other faith-based justice work.
What we did: As we considered formal motions on divestment for presentation to the congregational Annual General Meeting (AGM), we developed resources for the congregation on the faith and justice rationales of divestment for discussion before the AGM.
Our first step was to develop a divestment primer: a 14-page document, including links and resources, outlining the critical faith and justice rationale for divestment, details about the divestment process, and an overview of common questions and concerns.
We also created a single-page version of this primer . This included the wording of the proposed divestment motions for our congregational AGM and the abridged one included the motions directed to the United Church of Canada General Council.
Two weeks before the AGM, during a worship service, we invited congregational members to read the above documents and then join us for a Q&A session the following week after worship.
Our discussion allowed concerns to surface, and allowed us as a congregation to identify potential approaches to addressing these concerns that we were all comfortable with before proceeding with a commitment to divest. In particular, we discussed:
- Why we had decided to pursue divestment rather than continue our existing practice of shareholder engagement.
- Acknowledging our ongoing complicity in participating in an economy and society that relies on fossil fuels.
- Ways to offer pastoral care for those negatively affected by divestment.
Following a lively discussion, the members present affirmed their support for taking action. The following week, the AGM unanimously approved the motions after adding the phrase “take active steps.”
Why this worked: These educational resources and information sessions allowed all of us together to discuss divestment, to seek further information on our questions, and to address any concerns that emerged before bringing the motions to a vote.
|We’re a small congregation. Can we do this?
Learn how TSP’s Climate Justice Group spread tasks among ourselves to ease the load.
|We’re committed to helping our congregation take a stand, but we’re not experts in divestment. How do we build the knowledge we need?
We share how we drew on numerous external resources to build our knowledge.
|How can we help our congregation understand the faith and justice rationales for divestment?
Explore TSP’s engagement of our broader congregational community to address climate justice.
|What is a realistic timeline for the divestment process? What do our Board and financial officers need to know?
Learn more about the key stages in TSP’s divestment and reinvestment process.
|The church across town has asked us for advice. How should we respond?
What is our role in the global climate movement?
|What are some other climate actions we can take as individuals? As a congregation?
Learn about other green initiatives at TSP.