Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Investing in a Green Future: A Vision for a Renewed Creation


Investing in a Green Future: A Vision for a Renewed Creation

by Rev. Sue Smith


From The Power to Speak Truth to Power (1981) to Restoring Creation for Ecology and Justice (1990) to The Power to Save (2008), the PCUSA has a long history of environmental policy providing us with guidance in caring for all of God’s creation. The 223rd General Assembly (2018) directed the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) to develop a policy to respond to the increasing impacts of climate change. Building on our existing policies, Investing in a Green Future: A Vision for a Renewed Creation lifts up the intersection of environmental, economic and racial justice, to ensure that actions address how a warming planet affects all creation.


This paper was recommended to the 224th General Assembly (2020). In 2020 we were celebrating the 30th anniversary of Restoring Creation for Ecology and Justice and designed a poster celebrating over 50 years of environmental advocacy in the PCUSA. In an in-person Assembly, we would have celebrated in style. But it was not an in-person Assembly and the paper was referred to this year’s 225th General Assembly.


Restoring Creation for Ecology and Justice called for the 1990’s to be the turnaround decade for ecological restoration. We did not respond to the cry of creation then – we need to recommit to a turnaround decade now. It is not enough to be the turnaround decade outlined in 1990. Today we need to be intentional about addressing the intersection of environmental, economic and racial justice, aligning with the Church’s focus on Matthew 25 and dismantling systemic racism.


Overtures to General Assembly tend to recognize that we need to keep the needs of “the least of these” as a focus in our work and then go on to promote market solutions that favor those that profit from capitalism. We know that BIPOC folx (black, Indigenous and people of color) and women are most vulnerable to climate change and the least likely to profit from capitalism. How might the Church address these needs? Here are some of the recommendations:


·         Support policies and regulations that rigorously reduce air pollution, not only carbon pollution, but also particulate matter and other carcinogenic air pollutants that disproportionately affect low-income, vulnerable communities of color living near regulated facilities and power plants. (8B)

·         Ensure that communities affected by environmental racism are included at the table and have the opportunity to provide leadership in the movement to find solutions to the current ecological crisis. (8Ca)

·         Affirm those who suffer most have the strongest moral claim in shaping restorative policy and practice. (8Cc)

·         Reiterate that the goal of a “green economy” cannot be limited strictly to ecological concerns or environmental policy, but must address concerns of racial and economic justice in the marketplace, including a living wage; access to safe, affordable housing, health care, and food; rigorous regulation of high-polluting sectors and industries; programs to replace and retrofit aging buildings and infrastructure; access to jobs and job training in sustainable industries; and workforce development programs for workers who will transition from the fossil fuel industry to sectors with renewable and sustainable practices. Recognize that economic justice is important especially for women, who bear the brunt of many climate impacts. (8F)


Will the recommendations made be easy? No. One of the final recommendations: Recognize that transitioning to a more just, restored, and sustainable world will be difficult, but possible. While it is hard for us to imagine a low-carbon / zero-carbon economy without fossil fuels, where environmental care comes before profit, in which racism and poverty are functionally eliminated, we must do all of these things. Instead of focusing on the difficulties or expense, we must lift up our vision and actions to create a revived environment, better health outcomes, employment opportunities that provide a living wage, clean air and water, wilderness preserved for its own sake, universal access to healthy food, and the reconciliation of broken relationships. (9)

May it be so.


Sue Smith put her MBA to work in the global financial services industry for 30 years. She is an ordained minister and Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of the Coastlands (NJ). She is the co-chair of the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy. She serves on the boards of Clean Water Action (NJ) and Waterspirit and was a former steering committee member of Presbyterians for Earth Care.

The Time is Now to Cherish Creation


The Time is Now to Cherish Creation

by Rev. Bruce Gillette

“The Time is Now to Cherish Creation, Cut Carbon and Speak Up” overture (shorthand “Cherish Creation”) to our PCUSA 225th (2022) General Assembly gives a hint about the origins of the overture in its title. A reader needs to go to the final sentence of the overture to realize that the title comes from a webinar led by an Anglican bishop at COP 26: “…Bishop Hugh Nelson of the Church of England who so aptly put it in his address to the COP 26 (2021 meeting in Glasgow, Scotland).”

Two of the PEC representatives to the COP26 reported after the meeting on a number of climate change-related concerns from that recent international meeting that they hoped American Presbyterians would consider and act on. The draft of the overture went through a variety of revisions involving many people, with ideas being exchanged over emails, phone calls and Zoom meetings. Some Zoom meetings included people in nine time zones, from the European continent to the American West Coast. The hope is not only that the General Assembly will approve the overture, but also that as many sessions and presbyteries as possible will discuss climate change as they consider the overture. Such discussions can move more people to action.

Presbyterians for Earth Care supports many of the overtures on creation care coming to this General Assembly (see list in “Cherish Creation”). Some of the unique things contained in “Cherish Creation” are the biblical support for it provided by Dr. William Brown, an outstanding biblical scholar at Columbia Seminary, and the latest scientific findings of Dr. Mark Eakin, an award-winning oceanographer, contributor to past IPCC reports, and a Presbyterian ruling elder. The overture also calls on the Church, congregations and church-related educational institutions to be more faithful in creation care. Other overtures focus on businesses and governmental policies, which “Cherish Creation” also supports.

The overture calls on the church to take a variety of actions: First, repent of our role in driving the “planetary ecosystem to the tipping point of unsustainability for humans and mass extinction of other species.”

Second, “direct that all financial investments of the PC(USA) be withdrawn from industries that contribute to the production of the two major greenhouse gasses (CO2 and methane); this broader list (“all”) will accelerate the timeline of the MRTI proposal as well as effectively end our investment in the production and use of plastics.

The third action directs the Board of Pensions and the Presbyterian Foundation to increase investment in sources of low-carbon renewable energy, energy efficiency, and energy storage, and it sensitively supports “policies that transition workers in our present fossil fuel industry into employment in green and sustainable energy sectors.”

Fourth, members and congregations are encouraged to study past GA papers and current overtures.

Fifth, churches, educational institutions and individuals are urged to “walk the talk” by doing “the needed, faithful change we seek by being carbon neutral, net-zero, or even climate positive by 2030.”

Sixth, our advocacy offices (OPW in DC and UN) are called to work in partnership with ecumenical and international groups, to “assist economically developing and emerging countries* with carbon use mitigation and adaptation.”

The seventh action item is related, recognizing “climate debt.”

The eighth action item calls on the church to support the carbon dividend (as the 2018 GA did). Finally, the overture urges all major church offices and ecumenical partners to develop a 10-year coordinating strategy for accompaniment and advocacy before, during, and after major governmental and ecumenical meetings, and to collaborate with PEC and other creation care groups.

PEC’s webinar on the “Cherish Now” overture is now posted on YouTube and was reported on by the Presbyterian News Service. https://presbyearthcare.org/climate-overture/


Bruce Gillette is the current PEC Moderator, pastor of the First Presbyterian Union Church in Owego, NY, and author of the overture approved by the 2016 PC(USA) General Assembly and Presbyteries to amend the Book of Order (G-1.0304), by adding the phrase caring for Gods creationas a responsibility of all church members.

Going Carbon Neutral


Westminster’s Eco-Justice Team on the church’s green roof

Going Carbon Neutral

by Eric Diekhans

 In 2006 the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly adopted a policy urging all Presbyterians to “…take the results of our energy consumption seriously, to pray asking for Gods forgiveness and guidance, to reduce energy consumption, and to calculate carbon emissions and offset their negative impact.

 Two Minnesota Presbyterians churches have fully embraced this call to action and offer a shining example of how faith and determination can lead to big changes in a churchs carbon footprint.

 At Westminster Church, located in downtown Minneapolis, discussion of carbon neutrality began in 2011, when the church was planning a new addition. Carbon neutrality occurs when emissions of carbon dioxide, in this case by a church building, are offset by its removal (often through carbon offsetting), or by eliminating emissions.

 Carbon neutrality is probably the most important aspect of environmental justice these days,says Jeff Hill, a member of Westminsters Eco-Justice Ministry Team.

 Oak Grove Presbyterian Church in Bloomington, Minnesota began having the same discussions in 2013. “We came up with a long-range plan to sequester as much carbon as we could either through what we do with our building and grounds, or through our investments,” says John Crampton, part of the church’s Green Committee.

 Both churches began to make changes most casual church-goers wouldnt notice, but that made a big difference in their carbon footprint.

 We cut our energy by a third just by converting to LED lights,says Crampton. We got rooftop solar that generates 20 kilowatts, and a membership in a community solar garden that provides about 50 kilowatts. In addition we get 100 kilowatts from wind power, so we actually produce more renewable electricity than we consume.

 Oak Grove also targets emissions produced by people driving to church. We've sponsored annual EV expos at our church,says Crampton. The expos have drawn people from throughout the community, where they learn about the personal and environmental benefits of electric vehicles and bikes.

 Oak Grove served as a model and inspiration for Westminsters efforts. Westminster Church also looked at how their efforts towards sustainability could inspire and serve the wider community.

 “Westminster is a large downtown congregation,” says Sandy Wolfe Wood, Chair of the church’s Eco-Justice Ministry Team. “We draw from all over the twin cities, so we have the opportunity to become advocates as people start taking what they've learned at church and enacting it in their different communities. We would also love to take the extra energy we generate and and provide some of it to our local non-profits.”

 Oak Grove has also challenged its members to take sustainability home with them, asking them to take a family carbon pledge to cut their carbon footprint with small actions like using LED lights, driving less, and eating a more sustainable diet.

 For congregations who fear going carbon neutral might be expensive, Hill says Westminster has actually found they’ve saved some money. “We obtained partial ownership of a solar garden that will actually pay us back over time. Every year electric rates are going up, but our rates are fixed.”

 “The 20 kilowatts of solar that we have on Oak Grove’s rooftop will pay for themselves in 18 years,” adds Crampton. “They have a life of 30 years, so that's 12 years of free electricity from those panels.”

 But for Wood, the main reason to go carbon neutral isn’t about money. “If in a church you can’t lead with a moral imperative,” she says, “where can you do it?”

 For environmental activists in other churches wanting to create a carbon neutral plan, Crampton suggests getting other church committees involved. “Get their ideas,” he says. “ Our mission committee actually paid for the two level-two electric vehicle chargers we’ve installed.”

 Westminster and Oak Grove are two of ten churches in the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area that are certified Earth Care Congregations. Rick Person, another member of the Eco-Justice Ministry Team at Westminster encourages other churches to get certified in this Presbyterian Church (USA) program. “As soon as you start certification, you’re going to be involved in improving your facilities carbon footprint as part of the program.”

Eric Diekhans is a fiction writer, a video producer with the Greater Chicago Broadcast Ministries, and Editor of Earth News. He is a member of Lake View Presbyterian Church in Chicago.