To put this resource together, we reflected on the challenges we faced, as well as the questions we asked ourselves and those we heard from others, as we moved towards divestment.
Are any of these questions also YOUR questions? We’ve described the actions we took and the lessons we learned, with the hope that you can adapt our learnings to your own context.
Learn how TSP’s Climate Justice Group spread tasks among ourselves to ease the load.
We share how we drew on numerous external resources to build our knowledge.
Learn more about the key stages in TSP’s divestment and reinvestment process.
”We are a busy congregation and everyone who is able to volunteer is working at capacity already. How do we take on the big question of climate justice and the call to divest from fossil fuels? This is too big an issue for us to work on; in fact, it is impossible….sorry!
If leadership is a key block to getting work done, how about changing the whole concept of leadership from one leader who takes it on to many people sharing it? How could that happen and what would it look like? The Climate Justice Group at TSP had this same issue. Once we “fell into” a new model of leadership, we were all surprised at the energy that was released and the expertise we developed. “It only takes a spark to get a fire going”, as the song says. Read on and discover how your group, no matter its size, can take on a big issue and surprise everyone at your success!
Following a “lull” of almost two years with no work on climate justice (one of the congregation’s agreed priorities), the Church Board contracted Greg Powell, a theological student with a background in climate issues to see if the congregation could summon the energy to do more work on this. He issued a general invitation to anyone in our congregation interested in climate change/justice issues. The first questions he asked were: “Why are you here? What is your key concern about climate justice? Do you have time to do anything about it?” While all 13 of us shared a deep concern to act and quickly, most of us felt already very busy or over-committed, and no one wanted to “be the leader”. What to do?
Leadership emerged almost without our recognizing it! What were some of the steps we took that helped us overcome this block?
Whenever we identified a gap in our individual or collective knowledge, we looked for sources of wisdom:
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.”
Our next focus was to build a Climate Justice section of our website and compile lists of relevant organizations and resources.
Members of the CJG made our activities visible in the community and participated in solidarity actions locally and internationally by:
Another way we engaged with the public was through media. Sharing our story in newspapers and magazines made our commitment to climate justice visible and potentially inspired others to act.
Some strategies that we found useful in attracting media attention:
Other articles followed.
Our public outreach and engagement with other groups meant that we were often asked to share our experience with other congregations and organizations interested in divestment. We eagerly volunteered to meet with these groups, eventually referring to our visits within and outside of Toronto as our “travelling roadshow.”
Typically, these visits would consist of sharing details of how we had built support for our work and had accomplished our divestment actions, responding to requests on how to work with the trustees of our congregational funds, and how to answer tough financial questions that always emerge.
Throughout 2014 and 2015, we took our roadshow to over a dozen groups, including churches from multiple denominations, church governing bodies, and university and community groups.
We also contributed to national online resources, including webinars on Building Support for Action and Addressing Trustee Concerns, and our own Climate Justice page on the TSP website.
Why this worked: Sharing our work with others was a great way to consolidate our learning and experiences, requiring us to reflect on what we’d done and what we’d recommend to others. The places we visited on our travelling roadshow became some of our closest strategic allies, and we were thrilled to watch congregations and organizations we’d visited divest!