Providing for the financial future of church groups is the focus of two recent “Along the Road” podcasts. Both “Encounter” and “Nourish” episodes feature Presbyterian Foundation leaders sharing insights on responsible investing at all levels of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Download the episodes directly from the Mid Council Ministries section of pcusa.org or podcast providers.
Encounter: Planning, Investing and Renovating the Mission (38 minutes)
Greg Rousos, Chief Operating Officer of the Presbyterian Foundation and President of New Covenant Trust Company, talks with Encounter host Manuel Silva-Esterrich about ways to increase “a congregation’s income with new tools of investment and responsible planning.” Later in the discussion they focus on investment decision-making strategies and working with financial management professionals to grow support for mission.
Rousos begins with a history of responsible investing by the denomination, which means being “responsible to your values and witness to your values.” He shares examples of General Assembly statements dating back to the 1970s urging responsible investing.
Churches and mid councils looking to responsibly invest today can operate in the same spirit — screening companies into or out of investment portfolios and joining in corporate activism. Wherever responsible investing takes place, it prioritizes social returns, not just financial ones.
Silva-Esterrich says it is a responsibility of mid councils and their leaders, a primary Encounter audience, to consider financial possibilities where they live. Rousos explains some ways church councils can do that, underscoring the Millennial generation’s concern for issue engagement. Churches that haven’t heard about responsible investing yet are going to soon, he says, including questions about investments that connect to gun violence, climate change and equity and inclusion.
Rousos encourages church investors to develop an investment policy statement that responds to short-term, mid-term and long-term goals, with risk and volatility being assessed. Ensuring healthy investment returns while making sure a church has money on hand to pay for utilities, capital projects and mortgages might require a range of investment vehicles, including stocks and bonds. Rousos and Silva-Esterrich agree that church groups should at least consider moving reserves out of checking accounts into ones with better interest yields.
Working directly with the New Covenant Trust Company, a subsidiary of the Presbyterian Foundation, can help with all of the above. Even in cases where other groups handle investments, Rousos invites PC(USA) groups to talk with the Foundation.
“Having a financial professional come in and say what is the right amount of operating reserves, and what is the right way to invest these endowments, and what is a sustainable spending formula or distribution policy” can be very helpful, Rousos says.
“What a legacy to leave for that next generation, to be able to say we were faithful stewards, we used our money well and we left you this legacy of funds to continue this ministry.”
Rousos goes on to mention “Faithful Investing,” a book he contributed writing to and offers to send to listeners looking for a copy. He encourages listeners to find out more about how the Presbyterian Foundation and other church agencies can help with investment decisions by visiting their websites. He shares his phone number three minutes from the end of the podcast.
“Investing means risks, but it also means rewards,” Silva-Esterrich says in closing. “Like the Philippians, we can do God’s work here and now and invest to keep the work going later.”
Nourish: Responsible Investing (22 minutes)
Host Martha Miller talks with Rousos and Angela Duffy, a ruling elder and general counsel for New Covenant. Both Foundation leaders “share their vast knowledge about how our investments can reflect … values and spirituality, including the ways that the PC(USA) has been involved in responsible investing.”
Rousos highlights the work of Mission Responsibility Through Investing (MRTI) in the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Office of Faith-Based Investing and Corporate Engagement. MRTI tries to positively impact social issues identified by the General Assembly, using environmental social and governance investing, or ESG.
Positive investing in the local community is especially important for ruling elders and deacons, the focus audience for Nourish. Duffy talks about ways responsible investing supports local communities in the short and long term, and how the approach builds on the PC(USA)’s history of ecumenical corporate engagement. The PC(USA)’s divestment from South Africa was part of a global movement to bring about the end of Apartheid.
Such engagement continues into 2023. Duffy notes that in the last year, MRTI filed six resolutions with companies to encourage positive change within their operations. Each resolution was eventually withdrawn after the company implemented changes dealing with concerns such as carbon footprint or pollution.
When Miller asks about responsible investing beyond the church, Duffy jokes that “Society is catching up with where the Presbyterian Church has been,” prioritizing societal returns on investment and not just financial ones. The growth in socially responsible mutual funds in recent years shows the increased interest in the movement by investors and financial professionals.
Duffy says that small congregations like her own should look at socially responsible investing, even if they are facing financial pressures. In the long-term (where most churches should focus most of their assets), socially responsible investing produces returns are on par or even greater than industry standards. “Find a right investment partner who can help with this,” Duffy says.
Whatever investment strategies a church takes, Rousos says, “It’s important just to start.” PC(USA) groups can contact the Presbyterian Foundation to find out how.
Miller ends the conversation thanking Duffy and Rousos for helping Presbyterians “consider the ways we invest our money and how that can be a reflection of our own spirituality.”