by Kathy Merkle-Raymond
A sermon by Kathy Merkle-Raymond, Director of Communal Care (preaching texts: Leviticus 19: 1-2, 9-18 and Matthew 5: 38-48)....Download
FFPCUSA and GA 2016
Cool Planet Community Forum 9/25/16
NOTE: This is a compilation of notes from the various speakers and sometimes what
we actually said deviated a bit from what we’d planned.
NOTE also that Melissa had prepared a slide show of various moments in Cool
Planet/FFPCUSA history, and it played in a loop as the speakers presented.
Click here for the text of the FFPCUSA Overture and for what was passed by GA2016.
*Thank congregation for your support of our efforts to get PCUSA to divest from
fossil fuel companies. Support came in many forms.
1.Early in the process our Session voted to divest our own congregation’s holdings
from FF companies. This set an example and indicated our congregation’s full
2. There were expenses as we took on educating and publicizing fossil fuel
Social Justice Ministry allocated money for FFPCUSA, Session has been generous to
Cool Planet, some Sacred Gathering groups chose to put money into this effort and
individuals made donations
3. Most important: Individuals gave us words of encouragement and comfort and
prayers. We have felt your support and we are grateful.
Informational information from our booth at GA
Resources for Individual Divestment
Two sign-up sheets: FFPCUSA email list, Cool Planet Yahoo Group
Both are “keep me in the loop” emails…If you would like to be more involved, see us
History leading up to GA2016 (Pat and Susan)
Hi, I’m Pat Kinney, and Susan Chamberlain and I are going to give you a brief history of the involvement of our Cool Planet Working Group with the Overture for Divestment from Fossil Fuels that was debated at GA 2016 in Portland.
Cool Planet began almost 10 years ago, and for our first years we focused on education, lowering the carbon footprint of our community, and building relationships with like-minded groups locally and in our denomination
Despite all this important work, the global climate-change situation continued to worsen, and we were seeking more effective means to address this challenge.
In 2012 Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, led a nation-wide “Do the Math” tour to explain the urgency of leaving the vast majority of fossil fuel reserves in the ground and to launch a mass movement of institutions divesting from fossil fuel companies, with the moral imperative that it is wrong to profit from wrecking God’s creation.
We encouraged our session, staff, and congregation, to attend his Palo Alto event, and almost 20 of us heard him speak. We hosted two follow-up discussions, from which evolved both the divestment team of 350 Silicon Valley and the understanding that getting our denomination to divest was the project that we’d been looking for.
Winter and Spring, 2013 Susan
• Cool Planet decides on two goals regarding divestment
1. Get the PCUSA to divest from fossil fuels
2. Educate Presbyterians all over the country about climate change,
climate justice, and divestment
• We begin to learn about Presbyterian polity, history of environmental policy
in PCUSA and what an overture is.
• Cool Planet writes the overture to divest from fossil fuels – 23 drafts
• Fossil Free PCUSA is born-
1. we connect with Jim Antal UCC who wrote the UCC resolution on fossil fuel
divestment. He allows us to use his resolution as template. He also refers us
to Dan Terpstra and Rob Mark who are interested in divestment. I remember
being thrilled to know that spirit was moving in the PCUSA, in TN and Boston
2. Through Rebecca Barnes of Environmental Ministries, we connect with
others in the PCUSA who are interested in divestment, Diane Waddell, Wil
Howie, Gary Payton, Robin Blakeman, Peter Anderson, Pam McVety, Holly
3. First meeting (conference call) of Fossil Free PCUSA 4/15/13.
• 2 part Adult Study on divestment at First Pres, April 7 and 14
• In May we present overture to session. In June they vote to approve.
Back to Pat
In the summer of 2013 we distributed the overture to presbyteries around the country. Locally we organized teams of Cool Planet members and other congregants to reach out to about 10 churches in San Jose Presbytery, offering to lead study sessions on divestment and urging them to support the overture when it came up for a vote in Presbytery.
In September, we heard the great news that the Presbytery of Boston had approved our
overture, and in November, after a long discussion, San Jose Presbytery decided to concur,
which meant that it would go to GA. Ten more presbyteries around the country concurred in the next few months.
We spent the spring preparing for GA in Detroit. With the help of 1st Pres congregants, on
Earth Day we mailed a letter and brochure to every commissioner. Six Cool Planet members attended GA, joining many others from Fossil Free PCUSA and 11 Overture Advocates from the concurring Presbyteries. We planned for and staffed a booth, and organized a Meet and Greet, where most of us met in person for the first time, and were treated to the “Cool Planettes” rendition of “We’re Breaking up with Fossil Fuels”! We were so encouraged that national figures like Fletcher Harper, of Green Faith, and Tom van Dyck, a financial advisor who had talked about divestment on the Bill Moyers show, showed up to support us.
At the Committee meeting, the Presbytery Advocates started with a half hour of beautifully
orchestrated presentations on the impacts of Climate Change and reasons that PC(USA) should divest. However, before any discussion on the overture began, a motion was made to refer the overture to MRTI, the Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee. All further discussion was only about wording of the referral, and our expert witness was not allowed to speak. [Due to some unfortunate timing, in the middle of this debate, we raced through downtown Detroit to a historic church for the Presbyterians for EarthCare lunch, where Cool Planet graciously received their Restoring Creation award, then we excused ourselves and ran back to the convention center.] Eventually the referral passed by one vote. We were especially upset that one of our main goals, to have a substantive discussion about climate change and the church’s role in dealing with it, had not been allowed to happen. We were not alone, and 11 committee members wrote a minority report, which was reported in plenary and finally sparked about an hour’s worth of debate. The advisory delegates, such as the Young Adults and Seminary Students, passed it 2-1, but the commissioners defeated it soundly, and so the issue of divestment was referred to MRTI for 2 years of study.
Fall, 2014 susan
FFPCUSA is “down but not out”. We mourn the loss but come roaring back with
enthusiasm to learn from our experience and go for divestment passage in 2016.
We have 5 goals:
1. Educate Presbyterians about climate justice
2. Outreach – get 25-50 presbyteries to pass our overture (we got 31)
3. Inside game – work with MRTI to educate about importance of divestment
4. Form partnerships with other Presbyterian organizations – PPF, PEC,
5. Pass the overture
Winter and Spring 2015 susan
• We get organized!!!! We grow up as an ad hoc group.
• Form a steering committee with functions assigned to each member – media
and communication, grassroots organizing, fundraising, alliances with other
Presbyterian groups, MRTI liaison, curriculum development. We meet
monthly at 7:00 am
• Dan T attends quarterly MRTI meetings (define MRTI) to build relationships
and educate about divestment.
• A 4 part (section on climate chance science, theology, why divestment, action
plans) adult study curriculum is developed on Climate Justice and
• Fundraising efforts for FFPCUSA
• We fundraise $8000 dollars
• Overture is written with changes based on input from 2014 GA
• GROW is organized with Presbyterian organizers all over the country. We
have a conference call monthly.
• GROW begins growing our connections with other Presbyterians around the
country, setting up talks and workshops on Divestment in churches and
• GROW sends out overture to presbyteries to get concurrences.
• Our 15 organizers work with 100 presbyteries around the country to get the
overture passed. Help them with educational efforts, develop their leadership
and advocacy skills, help with presentations of the overture to presbyteries,
strategize, praying for them and celebrating with them when it passed. clean
up the mess when things go wrong. Example – Des Moines, Margaret Vernon,
wrong overture an F/A overture calling for no divestment.
• Begin a monthly newsletter to our supporters and contacts.
• Outreach to Earth Care Congregations and Interfaith Power and Light
• In September, San Francisco Presbytery passes the overture, becoming the
• In the Fall, Cool Planet does outreach to churches in San Jose Presbytery and
the overture passes in November of 2015.
• Momentum grows through the winter months of 2016 as positive votes from
Presbyteries start piling up – Northwest Coast, Muskingum Valley, Central
Nebraska and East Iowa to name a few.
• Some statistics, of our outreach to 100 presbyteries, 37 presbyteries brought
the overture to a vote.
• By the deadline of May 1, our overture is passed by 31 presbyteries!
• Inspiring to see the Spirit moving through the many people who did this
outreach work. Close relationships developed through shared passion and
common effort with a defining feature being that many of us had never laid
eyes on each other.
Faithful Alternatives susan
In 2014, Fossil Free PCUSA was an upstart grassroots group no one ever heard of.
This time around we were a political force, and there was well organized opposition.
It came to our awareness in Fall of 2015 when a weekend conference for
Presbyterians was held in Houston at the Marriot, called “Faithful Alternatives to
Divestment”. Big clue that we were in for a bumpy ride, with opposition to our
overtures which had lots of money, while we were scraping together our nickels for
postage money. This group wrote 3 overtures calling for actions to address various
climate change issues (like lowering individual carbon footprint and carbon tax) and
in each of the 3 called for “no divestment”. The authors of the overtures were largely
current and retired employees of Exxon in Houston and the sponsoring presbyteries
were in Synod of the Sun.
In the spirit of Presbyterian détente, Abby M spent about one year meeting with
Mike Cole of F/A and Rob Fohr of MRTI to diminish the likelihood of polarization
with these opposing views. And it was very successful. We did not experience the
extra layer of animosity and vilification with these groups. And felt that with her
leadership on this we were able to model for the larger group what it looks like for
Christians to disagree and still have a relationship with each other.
Back to Pat
In the spring of 2016 the Steering Committee shifted assignments and our monthly 7am
conference calls became weekly. We wrote a letter and a postcard to all commissioners and
another one to just those 60 on the Immigration and Environment Committee 9. Once again on Earth Day, 1st Pres stuffed, sealed and stamped 600 envelopes and also made substantial contributions to FossilFreePCUSA. Thank you so much!
Through individual contacts by our GROW committee, we came into GA with a spreadsheet of contact info and rankings of 130 Commissioners, including almost a third of those on Committee 9. We held conference calls with Overture Advocates to get to know their special skills and interests, learned about Robert’s Rules, and prepared talking points for commissioners. We arranged for most of the 7 Cool Planet members and other Fossil Free leaders and Overture Advocates to stay in a hotel in downtown Portland where we could hold early morning and late night meetings. We planned a Meet and Greet supper for about 100 people, complete with speakers and a musical rendition of “Bye Bye to this Ridiculous Lie”. We ordered T-shirts and pins and pens, figured out how to get all this stuff up to Portland, and scheduled people to staff our booth. I was in spreadsheet heaven!!
Susan and David Leith on GA2016
Susan: Booth – you didn’t have to hunt for the Fossil Free PCUSA booth at GA
Exhibit Hall, you just had to look for the “sea of orange” (see photo and see replica
of booth at rear) There were Buttons, bookmarks, stickers, t shirts, talking points and other materials. But most importantly, there was a cadre of passionate people staffing the booth (mostly Cool Planet) engaging commissioners, delegates, and observers on the
critical importance of PCUSA divesting from fossil fuel. For example, Shirley talked
with a commissioner on Committee 9, answering questions and building the case.
This commissioner ended up being one of our strongest advocates on Committee 9
when our overture was discussed.
In the days leading up to Monday when the committee meetings began
We held several briefings for our 21 Overture Advocates and rest of our team to:
• plan our strategy
• deploy personpower,
• report on activity
• announce events coming up.
Held briefings of our supportive commissioners and delegates on Committee 9
• went over parliamentary rules relevant to promotion of the overture
• talking points
• compared the 3 F/A overtures with ours
• outlined ideal scenario which was to combine all 4 overtures into one
eliminating the “no divestment”
Overture Advocate training –
Issue of time.
We were given 10 minutes for our 20 overture advocates to speak. Though we
implored the committee leadership we were unsuccessful in getting more time. We
selected three – Hannah, 21 year old college student from Portland, Abby M, and
David, a republican looking guy from National Capital Presbytery in D.C. to be our
official advocates in the committee hearing
Then we asked if we could have preference in the Open Hearings sign up for these
20 people whose Presbyteries had sent them to advocate for the overture. This was
declined. So Evan and I and a few others, (trained in getting tickets to Rolling Stones
concerts, I Phone 7’s and what have you) camped out at 7:00 am on the day of sign
ups and waited two hours to be the first on the list (and we were). We were able to
sign up all of our overture advocates. Each had 90 seconds so they had to be
carefully orchestrated to cover all the important talking points without duplication.
FFPCUSA Meet and Greet-
Led by Pat Kinney, Cool Planet members put on a beautiful light dinner for all
partners, and supporters on Sunday evening Speakers Acknowledged work of all
Abby Brockway –Presbyterian elder from Seattle, member of the Delta 5,
arrested tried and convicted for blocking a coal train. Gave inspirational speech
about her passion to address climate change, her decision to engage in civil
disobedience, and her fervent support of divestment by the PCUSA
Other speakers inspired us and there was and a particularly brilliant musical
By by to that ridiculous lie
That we have to keep on drilling til the wellheads run dry
If we do we know the planet will fry
And that would be a dumb way to die
The Meet and Greet did its job of inspiring all of our team and supporters for the
work that lay ahead.
On Monday morning as commissioners were entering the Convention Center for the
first committee meetings, we place a green pathway, about 40 feet long in front of
the doors. On either side of the green walk, we stood with posters ( you can see a
few of them in the back)
“change investments, not our climate”,
keep the garden
Commissioners were invited to walk the “green path” as a symbolic act of
commitment to creation.
Going into committee meetings we had
• 31 presbyteries supporting the overture (by far a historical record)
• Letter from 9 former moderators (only 11 or 12 are living)
• Press conference with former moderators Susan Andrews, John Fife, Bruce
Reyes Chow and Marta Munoz Moderator of Presbytery in Colombia, South
• Flyering – our organizers handed out flyers before meetings or in the am.
• Trained our friendly commissioners in strategy and talking points.
• Strategized an substitute motion in case ours didn’t pass
• Strategized what amendments to our overture would be acceptable
• Developed a Comparison chart of the 4 overtures related to divestment
• 21 Overture Advocates
• We were Prepared
Committee 9 on Immigration and Environment began its deliberations, with our
overture being first up, on Monday afternoon.
Docketing our overture first was a bad idea because the committee was still learning
the process and to debate a complicated and contentious issue with 4 competing
overtures was difficult. The entire afternoon was spent spinning wheels. The motion
for our overture was made and seconded, then followed substitute motions and
amendments, one after another until everyone was completely confused about what
they were dealing with. Finally, it was time for dinner and the chair announced a
break and, as a “hail Mary pass”, essentially tasked the committee to think of a way
out of this mess over dinner. At the break, one of our supportive commissioners
came up to us with an idea. “We need to start over”. Back to square one with a vote
on our overture. After dinner there was a change in leadership, the vice chair took
over, took our friend’s advice and with a steady hand guided the process “decently
and in order”. Within less than hour, a vote was called for and with a deafening
silence in which the only thing you could hear was prayers being lifted, the vote was
taken. 31-25, the overture passed unamended. The next sound was a stunned
silence followed by a huge exhale. We were all in a state of shock. It had passed
unamended. We won!!!!
Now you might be wondering what happened next with such strong support of:
unamended passage of our overture. And here to tell you is our commissioner to GA,
David: From the sidelines, watching the Cool Planet activity within our
congregation, I saw a very committed, passionate, energetic community who
have worked for over four years to do all they thought they could to save planet
earth, as part of their stewardship of creation. I watched as they prepared for
the 2014 G A in Detroit, and then came back disappointed, but ever-more
determined to carry the day in Portland in 2016. They built more bridges to
other congregations and presbyteries;were excited to be part of the leadership of
a 31 presbytery collaboration submitting a proposal to the G A 222, with a
deeper organization, and renewed enthusiasm.
Susan asked me, I think sometime after the spring of 2016 if I would be a
Commissioner to the 2016 G A, and repeated the invitation several times, as I
initially declined. Then there is a long story on how this changed, and I
eventually became a Commissioner and was recruited to help in Portland. (that
will have to wait for another occasion).
This was the second G A that our presbytery sent me to as a Commissioner. The
first was in 2008, which was held in San Jose, where I worked for a better
inclusion of the LGBTQ community within our national church. My ‘PCUSA job’ for
Portland was to work on the national church organization at the synod level. This
sounds pretty boring, but there was actually a serious financial threat to our
presbytery. But that is yet another story for another day. It worked out well for
our presbytery and our synod !
The Cool Planet group worked hard for months to revise the 2014 overture to
reflect the concerns it heard at the Detroit GA, and over the next two years, 31
presbyteries—a total of 400,000 members of the church—approved the 2016
overture. Twenty presbytery representatives traveled to Portland and came
forward to advocate for it at GA. They were interconnected, focused, organized,
producing position papers, talking points, meeting with parties across the country
to develop the best possible presentation in Portland.
When I sat in on the two detailed briefing meetings in Portland it was joining an
elated group that had seen their overture sail through the committee process
with no amendments, and even gathering three other associated, like-minded
proposals under the same wing all of which wanted a much better stewardship of
God’s creation than we had been doing recently. The committee vote had been
~ 35 for to ~ 25 against.
The group was very well organized, and after many years of working together
had the well-oiled feel of a ‘family’ – trust, respect, well defined roles – and
although tired and weary from all of the long months they had put in, ready for
the last la ! I was astonished at the detailed structure they had evolved to and
the mutual trust and respect that they all had for each other. [Their leadership
comes from a small a core group – with a Moderator, two Co-Coordinators of the
grass-roots organizations, Communications, Outreach, Strategist,
Parliamentarian, Treasurer and Grants – it was really very remarkable.
They asked me to use my privilege as a Commissioner to speak from the floor to
tell our G A of the Church of Scotland overture passed just a few weeks earlier,
which had very similar goals and strategy as ours.
In early June the Church of Scotland (during its General Assembly) received a
report calling for divestment from companies whose major business depends on
the extraction and sale of the most unclean energy sources. The church could
play the role of pointing the way forward, on this, just as we hoped the G A
might do for the US. By being proactive in its response, the Church of Scotland
recognized the opportunity to add not only their voice but also their economic and
The Scottish General Assembly agreed not to invest in the most harmful forms of
fossil fuels. They also agreed to work with others to put pressure on fossil fuel
companies to divest and to encourage positive investment (in green
Janet helped me write a summary that could be given in the two minutes
assigned for the floor presentations. We had made arrangements with the
manager of the microphone and the stage chairperson such that when our
committee report was next on the agenda. I would be recognized. All this
planning was of no avail. The planned schedule of events had the committee
taking over early Friday afternoon, and their first item would be our FFPCUSA
overture. However the beginning of the discussion came only at 8 pm, with very
tired participants, with floor speaking time reduced first to 90 seconds, and then
to 60 seconds, and still a very long night ahead to complete the very full
calendar still in place. I was moved out to the microphone, waiting, but my
chance to share the good news from Scotland did not go well, and was cut off
There was a great deal of parliamentary maneuvering, G A staff games and
confused committee members all contributing, such that the FossilFuelFree
proposal was never heard by G A Commissioners ,but two 10 minute talks were
given for the new substitute motion, and a supporting speech on the MRTI
proposal. Confusion abounded; dismay and depression too; the leadership of the
Fossil Fuel Free PCUSA gathered their team in a circle out in the hallway to
quietly pray, and gather themselves to a place where they could move out from
that Conference Center.
It was clear that while commissioners were confused about the substance and
import of the overture, the process neither recognized the confusion nor allowed
for any clarification by the many divestment proponents present in the hall.
Following GA it seems that many commissioners thought they were voting for
divestment, when in fact they voted for two more years of study and
“shareholder engagement” by MRTI, in lieu of action to address climate change.
A much smaller victory than we had all hoped for, a much less effective action to
save our planet, and a great disappointment for a large committed and hardworking
team. Members of the team are in discussion with GA on ways to
improve the process for future years.
In summary, we failed in our first goal which was to get the Presbyterian
denomination to divest from fossil fuels, but succeeded beyond our wildest hopes at
the second goal – to educate Presbyterians all over the country about climate
change, climate justice, our responsibility as stewards of creation, and that
divestment is a moral and prophetic act the church should take to address climate
For example, the difference between the 2014 GA and 2016 GA was enormous. By
2016, everyone was interested in taking action on climate change, (even the Texas
folks), though we didn’t all agree on what action to take. And, in the end, because of
this extensive groundwork by the Fossil Free PCUSA team, “divestment” was the
most talked about and visible issue at GA. Clearly, we had achieved our goal of
raising awareness and concern about climate change at the church, presbytery and
Where do we go from here? (Shirley)
**We have built a great network: 81 people who want to be active on divestment
efforts going forward. 96 people who want to be “in the loop” via email list.
total of 177 supporters with contact info
After GA 2014, FFPCUSA drew up a list of goals, a path forward
Now, in 2016, we need a new path forward and we want your input.
1. Keep the conversation going with MRTI (Abby will attend quarterly meeting
2. FFPCUSA, MRTI and Faithful Alternatives are planning a gathering in October
to discuss how the three communities can work together to diminish the PCUSA’s
dependency on fossil fuels
3. Synod of the Northeast is considering divesting their funds. Another area is
to encourage Synods, Presbyteries and individual congregations to divest.
Q & A followed along with brainstorm session (with ideas recorded on flip chart).
**Keep working with MRTI
**Encourage Synods, Presbyteries, and individual congregations to
**Get PCUSA Board of Pensions to offer fossil free investment
options that pastors and employees of PCUSA could choose within
their retirement plan
**Keep in touch with the Church of Scotland about their
**Form a Mission Network for Creation within PCUSA
**Send out resources to help individuals divest their own
**Consider strategies that could work well for the next GA,
including demonstrations on the floor, call for prayer, advance
strategizing around concurring Presbyteries– geographically
**Address needs, including career transition, for fossil fuel
–Mobilize existing PCUSA resource agencies to get involved in
–Pressure the government to create programs to help workers
transition (perhaps through Office of Social Witness