An organic movement of faith-informed investing is growing within The Episcopal Church, according to a task force that identified and examined the practices of 15 such investors. The findings are chronicled in Investing as Doing Theology, a newly published – and acclaimed — Blue Book report for the church’s 2022 General Convention.
The 80-page report – a supplement to the principal report of the Task Force on Theology of Money — details investment practices of seven parishes and seven dioceses, as well as Episcopal Relief & Development. The task force materials can be found at https://www.generalconvention.org/bluebook2021.
“The report functions in part as a primer on key concepts in ethical investing from an Episcopal Church perspective,” said Brendan O’Sullivan-Hale, canon for administration and evangelism for the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis. “But Investing as Doing Theology is most compelling in providing a snapshot of a nascent but broad movement across The Episcopal Church to use the church’s financial resources as instruments of mission.”
Among other examples, the report lays out how three dioceses developed value statements based partially on their understanding of the church’s ethical teachings, resulting in “theologies for investing” that guide them in deciding when to divest to avoid harm and when to invest for positive social and environmental outcomes.
Four parishes cited in the report defined their mission, vision and values, then worked to apply those to their investment portfolios. For Trinity Church Wall Street, that resulted in recent impact investments to finance healthcare facilities in underserved communities. For St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Baltimore, it meant starting a micro-lending program and challenging its investment management company to improve its gender and racial diversity.
The Task Force on Theology of Money identified the 15 institutions after it received a mandate from General Convention in 2018 to examine how church organizations invest in faith, using three elements of responsible investing: applying ethical guidelines in investment selection and management; shareholder activism; and investing for responsible social and environmental outcomes as well as financial return.
“Until we collected these stories, we knew little of the scope of faithful investing by parishes and dioceses,” the report states.
While the “faithful investing” (a term meaning to follow one’s faith as one invests) of those organizations has not been organized or directed by any church body, it is rooted in The Episcopal Church’s longtime commitment to social responsibility. In 1971, The Episcopal Church was the first institutional investor to file a shareholder resolution on a social justice issue—apartheid—under the rules of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Then-Presiding Bishop John Hines attended the General Motors annual meeting to voice the church’s support for the resolution, calling on GM to stop doing business in South Africa. His testimony was the opening move by investors in support of a wider effort that contributed to the eventual undoing of apartheid.
“Now, half a century later, applying environmental, social and governance (ESG) analysis has become a norm in the investment field,” said Amy Domini, founder of Domini Impact Investments and former Church Pension Fund trustee. “How fitting that General Convention should receive a report in 2021 on the ethical, responsible investing now being practiced across the church. … The Episcopal Church can use this superb report to speed that growth.”
The Rev. Florence Ledyard reports that St. Bartholomew’s was proud to be one of the parishes to have its story told. “The range of stories in Investing as Doing Theology is filled with hope and can encourage other parishes to find their own ways forward, so all our financial ‘stuff’ can honor God and the mission of the church,” the rector said.
Investing as Doing Theology tells the investment stories of the following institutions: the Episcopal dioceses of California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon, and Vermont; Episcopal Relief & Development; All Saints Church, Pasadena; The Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Hickory, North Carolina; St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, Baltimore; St. James Episcopal Church, Black Mountain, North Carolina; St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church of Ridgefield, Connecticut; Trinity Episcopal Church, Indianapolis; and Trinity Church Wall Street.
“The stories in this report represent a call to clergy and lay leaders across the church to become better equipped theologically to manage all our assets, including our investments and other financial resources,” said Warren Wong, lay deputy from the Episcopal Diocese of California and a member of The Episcopal Church Executive Council. The examples in the report are both inspiring and practical, O’Sullivan-Hale said. “Whether of modest means or richly endowed, churches and dioceses will find useful stories of comparably resourced peers.”