Friday, September 9, 2022

Trinity Presbyterian Celebrates and Reflects on the Season of Creation

Photo credit: Jock Aplin

Trinity Presbyterian Celebrates and Reflects on the Season of Creation

by Jane Laping

In the Presbyterian church (and many other denominations) we celebrate the “Season of Creation” that starts on September 1, World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation and ends on October 4, the Feast Day of St. Francis. It is a time set aside for us to reflect on and celebrate God’s creation.

 

Trinity Presbyterian Church in Hendersonville, NC is doing a lot of reflecting and celebrating during this season. Each of the four Sundays at Trinity has a different theme: Cosmos, Climate, Water, and Hope. The liturgy, hymns and sermons reflect that theme for the respective Sunday. In the narthex, posters that correspond with the title of the sermon are added each week.

 

During the second week of the Season of Creation, the Wednesday night dinner at Trinity is vegetarian and the Earth Care Team gives a presentation about their accomplishments for the past year. After worship on the fourth Sunday, the Earth Care Team leads a walk in the church gardens and woods, with meditations, prayers and singing. After a vegetarian picnic, the celebration concludes with a tree planting, signifying hope.

 

All these creation-centered offerings are announced in the monthly newsletter, Tidings https://www.trinitypresnc.org/_files/ugd/9693de_9bc231af5d8e46f7b37f992c6b44e081.pdf and on the Trinity Blog https://www.trinitypresnc.org/blog.

 

One would think that Trinity is a large church to be able to plan and carry out these activities for four consecutive weeks. The truth is that there are about 300 members on the roll and only eleven on the Earth Care Team, that started just a year ago. All it takes is a passionate and inspiring leader like Enrique Sanchez. Are you that person for your congregation?

Thursday, August 4, 2022

The Sacredness of the Sea

 



The Sacredness of the Sea

by Vickie Machado

 

The sea is a sacred mystery. Covering over two-thirds of the Earths surface and holding over 1.3 billion cubic km of water, the ocean is the wildest, most expansive place on earth. As of December 2021, the most accurate and precise estimate of the deepest part of the ocean was 10,935 meters, roughly 6.79 miles down. To put this in context, Mt. Everest, one of the tallest mountains on earth, is 8,848 meters high. On average, the ocean is 2.3 miles deep— another alarming depth for many of us who have only waded out chest deep. Venture offshore by boat or plane, far from land, and you will get a sense of just how massive the ocean is, as every direction reveals a continuous horizon for miles to come. Whether youre deep below its surface, in the middle of it, or simply on the shore looking out, within this space rests the mysteries of life yet to be explored and uncovered. There is a power that the sea evokes—a sacredness that asks us to stop and listen.

 

The expansiveness of the ocean often puts life in perspective bringing with it an awe, fear, and humility when you realize just how big the world is. In some cases, its the same astonishment that met Moses at the burning bush or on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 3)—the amazement of being in the presence of God. In other instances, its the gentle whisper Elijah heard in the midst of stillness after disaster—a reminder to listen and pay attention in the midst of despair (1 Kings 19). Still, feelings that arise with the sea may be comparable to the frustrations that accompanied the Israelites (Exodus 15) or the tribulations that met Jesus as each respectively wandered in their own wildernesses (Matthew 4). However God decides manifest, the experience is somehow magnified by such vast and powerful natural spaces.

 

Its not just the setting that invokes Gods presence but the ocean itself has a message that highlights the intersectionality of our world and the justice we are called to pursue. With increased research, the sea is shouting to be heard—plastics polluting our water, fisheries being depleted, corals crying out like John in the wilderness about what is to come. The rapid warming of our oceans is a warning sign. According to NASA, 90% of global warming is occurring in these very waters. With warmer oceans, comes the thinning of ice shelves; sea level rise; coral bleaching; the loss of coastal protection, marine species, and ecosystems; threats to food security; increasing diseases; extreme weather events; and further pressure on coastal populations—nearly 40% of the worlds population.

 

Fifty years ago, in October 1972, Congress enacted the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA), which prohibits unregulated dumping that would harm human and marine health. As people of faith, we know the term sanctuary—its a place of refuge, a safe haven, a shelter from the storm. Some of our churches may even be sanctuaries for those seeking asylum. Sanctuary can provide a glimmer of hope. The important recognition is that the same forces of climate change that are causing warming seas, sea level rise, coastal flooding, ocean acidity, and an overall strain on local resources are creating environmental refugees and pushing people toward seeking refuge. Such connections show that we do not exist in a bubble. Most of all there is a sense of wonder and reverence as the creation teaches us about our Creator and our call to love our neighbors—fellow humans as well as sea life and water. By caring for the ocean—as vast and unknown as it may be—we are caring for each other.

 

Dr. Vickie Machado is a third generation South Floridian and holds a PhD from the University of Florida, where she focused her studies on Religion & Nature and Religion in the Americas. She also serves as a leader for the Eco-Stewards Program, a creative community that shapes, inspires and connects young adult leaders (ages 20-30) through storytelling and place-based pilgrimages focused on faith and the environment.

Sacred Water in the Columbia Gorge

 

Sacred Water in the Columbia Gorge

by Nancy Corson Carter

 

The concept of Sacred Water” has rarely been so vivid in my experience as when I attended the PEC national conference Blessing the Waters of life: Justice and Healing for Our Watersheds” September 24 -29, 2017, at Menucha Retreat and Conference Center, Corbett, Oregon.

 

Two of my photos illustrate:

 

PHOTO ONE: Facing east, we look from Menuchas high vantage over the lower Columbia Gorge which symbolizes the rich history as well as current problems of Indigenous peoples living there.


During a pre-conference option, Spirit of the Salmon: Water, Culture, and Justice in the Columbia Watershed,” we learned of the spiritual crisis of present-day tribal peoples, from representatives of the Yakama, Umatilla, Warm Springs, and Nez Perce. These are survivors of those who have lived in the Columbia River Basin for 10,000s of years. But now the industrialization of American life, specifically the hydroelectric dams built without their consent, has stripped away their culture as well as their livelihood.  We are the water” they assert; this land is part of our bodies and our spirit as we are linked with the salmon”—now reduced to about 1% of their historical abundance.  They shared with us their grief over broken treaties and lost lifeways but also their spirit to survive with efforts to keep their languages and traditions alive with new generations. We gratefully received the hospitality of a meal in the longhouse, their church, and being led in a ceremony on the shore of the Columbia to purify all the waters of Creation.”

 

Their elders warned us that all humans are suffering a sickness, and we must have the courage to go from overweening focus on the mind to listening to our hearts, which are in touch with the divine. This struck us with greater and greater power as we learned of the terrible ways that the Doctrine of Discovery was taken as a license to exploit native people and their lands by the 15th century Christian European explorers—with lingering scars. One elders wisdom: Interconnectedness could change the world, especially as we have very little time left to change!”

 

PHOTO TWO:  This shows one of the several springs at Menucha that invite contemplation of the resources of our faith for peace and healing. Menucha” is a word from Hebrew that suggests rebuilding,” “restoring, renewing” and the word still” as in Psalm 23, He leads me beside the still waters; he restores my soul.”


In the following part of the conference, filled with workshops and various panels and speakers, Rev. Dr. Barbara Rossing explored sacred waters with us from her work with Revelation and other biblical texts. The waters in the Bible bless and heal us she said, and they also symbolize injustices of the world. She reminded us that in Genesis God saw that it was good” and our role is to follow Gods seeing such goodness and beauty (Hebrew tob) in the planet daily. We can let this seeing lead us to love the poor, future generations, and nature itself.

 

The photo of one of the four or five small Menucha springs reminds us of the gift of having places and times to enter into the practice of opening our hearts to Gods guidance, of listening to the still small voice.”

 

Following these thoughts, the worship committee prepared hand-outs for anyone to use if they chose to spend some quiet contemplative time by one of these spring-pools during the conference. We selected five of the many sonnets in Guites book to emphasize the presence of sacred water” in Christs life, and we added scriptures to amplify his beautiful work.

 

MEDITATIONS ON CHRISTS LIFE IN WATER & WORD

 

These five meditations selected generally follow the life of Christ, beginning with his baptism and ending with a vision of the resurrection dawn. They were chosen from the evocative sonnets of Malcolm Guite. Guite, a poet, priest, and singer-songwriter, generously shared these five sonnets to copy in full (sorry not to copy them all here; the book is still in print) from his collection, Sounding the Seasons: Seventy Sonnets for the Christian Year (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2012). This text includes several helpful appendices which include scriptural references, bibliography, and a short essay on The Sonnets and Liturgy.

 

 

                                    Meditation 1

                                    The Baptism of Christ

                                    Luke 3.21

 

                                    Meditation 2

                                    The Miracle at Cana

                                    John 4.13-14 (Jesus and the Woman of Samaria as corollary)

 

                                    Meditation 3

                                    The Call of the Disciples

                                    Revelation 22.1-2

 

                                    Meditation 4

                                    Jesus Weeps

                                    Luke 19.41-2

 

                                    Meditation 5

                                    O Oriens [O Radiant Dawn]

                                    Luke 1.78-9

 

Nancy Corson Carter is a writer and professor emerita of humanities at Eckerd College. Her most recent book is A GREEN BOUGH: POEMS FOR RENEWAL (2019).

Lake Michigan’s Legacy

 

Sharon Waller

Lake Michigan’s Legacy 

by Eric Diekhans

 

The Great Lakes contain 84% of the fresh surface water in North America. But like drought-stricken areas out west, the lakes are being affected by global warming as extreme changes in water levels batter cities and increase pollution.

 

“The changes in water level are a battle between precipitation and evaporation”, says Sharon Waller, an environmental engineer and member of Lake View Presbyterian Church in Chicago. Waller’s particular focus is Lake Michigan, and its impact on her hometown of Chicago and the surrounding region.

“The last five years have been the wettest on record. and that’s driving higher lake levels,” Waller says. “Waves don’t have the opportunity to dissipate their energy on the run-up to a sloped beach. They crash against the shoreline, and in some cases buildings, at almost full strength.”

 

Lake Michigan has always experienced changing water levels. The big difference now is the rapidly increased time scale.  “The time between low and high has greatly decreased,” says Waller. “It used to take a decade to get between low and high water level, but now we’ve seen a change of six feet in just over seven years.”

 

Cities are struggling to adapt to this new reality when planning and repairing shoreline structures, including barriers and buildings. Engineering design is usually based on historic records, but Lake Michigan is changing so rapidly that we can’t assume past trends are indicative of what will happen in the future.

 

This can be seen in the Chicago area’s tunnel and reservoir project (known as the Deep Tunnel), that began construction in the 1970s. It’s due to be completed by the end of this decade, but it’s already not expected to not to accommodate current flood waters.

 

The affects of flooding has serious consequences for our health and the environment. When sewers overflow, the risk reversing into our drinking water, and flowing to the Illinois River, and eventually, to the Gulf of Mexico.

 

Mitigating Flooding

 

Dealing with this new level of flooding is not just a job for government, in Waller’s view. It also means involving residential landowners in finding ways to reduce the impact of flooding.

 

“I installed a storm water basin under my patio with permeable pavers to keep storm water on site,” says Waller. “I did it with materials from Home Depot for less than $7,000.”

 

Another possibility is a green roof. Even something as simple as trays of rooftop garden plants can help soak up water instead of allowing it to run down to a storm drain.

 

Waller is also a big proponent of reusing waste water, which is currently banned in Illinois.

 

While some states allow a third pipe with gray water that is not potable but can be used for irrigation, that’s difficult to implement in older cities. Instead, Waller advocates letting industry reuse water. This also helps decrease pollution discharge to our environment.

 

People can also help mitigate the pollution that occurs when waterways flood. One thing we can be aware of is the use of phosphate products, which accelerates the growth of algae. “Illinois is one of twelve states that have been sued for the Gulf of Mexico dead zone,” Waller points out.

 

Waller is challenging children to ask their parents to buy phosphate-free soaps and lawn fertilizer. She’d also like to see youth groups go to stores and ask them to carry more phosphate-free products.

 

Another great way to make churches and youth groups more aware of how to tackle our water crises is through screenings of the Netflix documentary, Brave Blue World. “It’s message is that technology exists for us to adapt to climate change,” says Waller, “but policy is needed, and that requires politics.”

 

Eric Diekhans is a fiction writer, a television and video producer for the Greater Chicago Broadcast Ministries, and a member of Lake View Presbyterian Church in Chicago.

Faithful Stewards Caring for Sacred Waters

 

The Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake team by the Bay


Faithful Stewards Caring for Sacred Waters

by Natalie Johnson, M.A

People of faith, no matter their religion, are united in one fundamental expression – love.  We are called to love people and all of Creation.  Water is a matrix of Creation, a ritual substance, and a gift from God intended to benefit all.

Through water we are all connected.  Our survival depends on clean water and it is a necessity for all life on Earth.  Water keeps us alive by quenching our thirst, providing sustenance, recreation, and religious ritual practice (christening, wudu, mikvah, etc.)   We are often tempted to create and maintain firm boundaries between old and new, humanity and the rest of creation, between one another, as well as between the divine and ourselves.  However, just like water flows in between and through, we believe that communities of faith can bring about a transformation of awareness and action that reflects respect for our brothers and sisters in this watershed, and for future generations.

Our faith also calls us to foster healthy communities and be in relationship with water in ways that contribute to healing and restoration.  The way that we treat water is a reflection of how we treat those around us, and we must bear responsibility for it.  This connects us with the golden rule common to all major faith traditions - to love our neighbor and at Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake (IPC) we like to use the "Watershed Golden Rule" of environmentalist Wendell Berry, "Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you."  In doing so we are expressing our faith and commitment to environmental justice.

Ethically, fresh water is a substance that requires attention to justice: It is the poor and vulnerable who are first and most profoundly affected by lack of sufficient, clean, fresh water.  In the Chesapeake Bay watershed, many communities are exposed to pollution that place an unequal burden on the people living there.  Coastal and inland flooding also takes its hardest toll on marginalized communities. In our context, God makes the rain, but we make the runoff. Polluted stormwater runoff is the number one source of water pollution that is increasing in local streams and waterways and eventually the Chesapeake Bay.  Development that increases the impervious surfaces on land creates stormwater runoff that leads to water quality impairment. When rain falls on roofs, streets, and parking lots, water cannot soak into the ground and runs off as polluted stormwater, entering storm drains that empty unfiltered into nearby creeks.

Congregations own hundreds of acres of land, with large parking lots and roofs that generate urban stormwater runoff. By implementing best management practices (BMPs), congregational properties can be retrofitted to reduce stormwater runoff.  Restoring the Chesapeake Bay watershed requires ensuring that communities have access to clean water and healthy environments.  Public policies are needed to bring about major change and to undo the harm that has been done to our environment, specifically the watersheds of the Chesapeake region.  As individuals, and in our institutions, our behaviors can go a long way toward harming - or healing - our watersheds.  

Changing public policies offers lasting, systematic change.  In the past, our supporters have worked to bring about such policy changes as the Pollinator Protection Act of 2016 which limited the use and sale of neonicotinoid pesticides which are harmful to the smallest of God’s creatures. More recently we advocated for The Environmental Human Rights Amendment which seeks to place in the Declaration of Rights of our Maryland state constitution the right of each person to a healthful environment. We all have a moral obligation to engage both in the political process and to adopt behaviors that ensure justice and respect for the entire web of life.   When we forge a spiritual relationship with our local waterways and pay attention to what is happening, we may learn what God is calling us to do as stewards of Creation.

Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake (IPC) is a nonprofit organization that works to engage congregations in being good caretakers of our shared watershed.  IPC works to raise awareness of the power that people of faith have to restore clean water and environmental justice and can offer hands-on assistance to install healing projects, such as rain gardens, tree plantings, native plantings and more.  Hundreds of IPC’s partner congregations have pledged to join our movement to help protect the sacred blessings of Creation, with many forming green teams to lead their efforts. We ask our supporters to use their voice for justice as we envision a time when faith communities across the Chesapeake honor, care for, and protect the watershed we share so all our communities, and future generations, may thrive.

Natalie Johnson is Office Manager and Development Assistant at Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake. They won the RESTORING CREATION AWARD from Presbyterians for Earth Care in 2018.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Representing Presbyterians for Earth Care at the Bonn Climate Change Conference

 

(All photos courtesy Fred Milligan)



Representing Presbyterians for Earth Care at the Bonn Climate Change Conference 

by Fred Milligan

 

The SB 56 Climate Change Conference took place in Bonn, Germany, June 6-16 as the U.S. suffered through yet another record-setting heat wave and Yellowstone National park was hit by a “Thousand year flood” that closed a great part of that wilderness area to tourism for the entire summer holiday season.  At the “Global Stocktake” session of the meeting, Hoesung Lee, Chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, (IPCC) reported that human activities have warmed the planet at a rate not seen in the past 2,000 years, putting the world on a path towards global warming beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius within the next two decades. The increase currently stands at 1.1 degrees.

 

Climate policy negotiators were convened by the United Nations Secretariat for Climate Change (UNFCCC) for ten days, to seek consensus on documents to be presented to the policy makers from 197 countries (officially titled “parties”) and additional hundreds of other interested persons  who will convene in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November of this year.

Yet there was very little progress in agreeing on how to manage (and pay for) the 50% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 that the scientists tell us is imperative in order to have any hope of avoiding a warming of the planet’s surface temperatures greater than pre-industrial levels by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050. This lack of progress around mitigation, is matched by their failures in providing for adaptation in the face of current temperature increases and the irretrievable losses and damage all living things increasingly continue to suffer.  

 

In part due to the outcry at the 2021 Conference of Partners (COP 26) held in Glasgow last November, commitments have been made on behalf of the UNFCCC Secretariat (leadership) to listen more respectfully and inclusively to the concerns being expressed by civil society. Marianne Karlsen, the Chair of SBI wrote: “  . . . .[W]e have seen unprecedented engagement on the part of non-Party stakeholders who have a key role to play in helping governments achieve their climate goals.”

It was in this spirit that I had eagerly joined the ACT Alliance advocacy team efforts during the COP 26 in Glasgow last year where I represented Presbyterians for Earth Care in Official Observer status. ACT (Action by Churches Together) Alliance, is a global faith-based coalition of more than 140 faith-based member organizations working in long-term development, advocacy and humanitarian assistance in more than 120 countries. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is organizationally affiliated with ACT Alliance through the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance program.  As the date for the Bonn Conference approached, I inquired whether I might be of assistance as I would be in Europe at the time. The ACT leadership offered to provide me with official credentials and Presbyterians for Earth Care agreed to provide some financial support so that I could join their team in Bonn.

 

But the outcome there was, to say the least, disappointing. The United Nations Framework Agreement on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is the parent treaty of the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement and the Kyoto Protocol. The ultimate objective of all agreements under the UNFCCC is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system, in a time frame which allows ecosystems to adapt naturally and enables sustainable development. UNFCCC partners at the most recent COP 26 in Glasgow last year, committed to the goal to “keep 1.5 [degrees centigrade] alive.” But there seemed to be a palpable lack of urgency around this goal as well as concerns for adaptation or loss and damage on the part of the developed country negotiators at the conference.

 

The designation “SB 56” refers to this being the 56th time such deliberations of what are referred to as “Subsidiary [decision-making] Bodies” have been held as part of (UNFCCC) process which began in 1992 at the now historic conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (The two Subsidiary Bodies are SBI, the body that oversees implementation of prior decisions and the SBSTA, the Subsidiary Body on Scientific Research and Statistics.) Thus, 2022 is the 30th anniversary of this effort to document and reign in the destruction of the planet resulting from human activities about which scientists have been warning us with increasing precision and urgency since the 1970’s and before.

 

Before arrival I reached out to the U.S. Department of State’s negotiating team and received an invitation to participate in an open dialogue being offered to representatives of U.S. based civil society representatives. There were around 20 or so in attendance at the quite intimate meeting. The Head of Delegation, along with several others who were present from their team, very open to questions posed by attendees. The most active and knowledgeable participants came from the Climate Action Network. (I would highly recommend that PCUSA and/or PEC become a member of U.S. C.A.N.)

There may be opportunities between now and the next COP 27 to engage with the U.S. negotiating team. If that occurs I will certainly keep all informed. And yet, they were clear that apart from the political will of the American people expressed through pressure on our elected leaders, their options for productive action is quite limited. This is why the active engagement of Civil Society with these processes is crucial.

As with the COP, our ACT team was comprised of on-site as well as off-site participants so we began each day with an 8:00 a.m. check-in on-line Teams Meeting to go over the schedule to see who would be attending and reporting back on what meetings.



The top areas of concern are still: Mitigation, (stopping and sequestering emissions, which are the root cause of climate change), Adaptation, (adjusting patterns of agriculture, livelihoods, housing stocks, early storm warning systems, etc.) and Loss and Damage, (replacing fish stocks decimated by bleaching coral, moving populations out of land being overwhelmed by sea water, etc.). But the biggest elephant in the room is how this will all be paid for. The structuring of an equitable and just system of finance. At the time of the Paris agreement, the developed nations committed to make $100 Billion per year available for just the first two categories of mitigation and adaptation. But for years, those in solidarity with the poor of the world have been insisting that there needs to be a separate fund that deals with L and D. But the developed nations, including the U.S. have persisted in dragging their feet to even discuss it.

I whole-heartily support the recommendations presented in our Act Alliance team’s closing press release which states:

“To restore trust in climate negotiations and ensure further progress in the climate talks we also urge developed country parties to arrive at COP27 with the following: 

·         Concrete finance pledges for loss and damage, so that the lack of these funds does not continue to block the negotiation process.   

·         Concrete finance pledges for adaptation. This would show they are keeping their Glasgow promise to double adaptation support. 

·         New and more ambitious positions for COP27 to ensure that negotiations can deliver a successful result. No one should be left behind when the world addresses the climate crisis.  

·         A commitment to ensure meaningful and effective participation of observer organizations in the UNFCCC climate conferences.”  (from Act Alliance Press Release)

 

Perhaps the most gratifying moment of my time in Bonn came on my first day in a casual conversation with a staff person for one of the negotiating teams. Upon learning that I am a minister, the young woman asked, “How do you deal with the fact that so many of those who are activists and civil servants in this cause of Climate Justice seem to be non-religious?” She then proceeded to confide in me that she is a devout Christian and had been, in fact, reading her bible that very morning, but that she has not revealed this to any of her colleagues for fear they will judge her negatively in some way. She said that she attempts to allow her faith to radiate through her actions and presence in ways that influence without dogmatizing. I assured her that I understood the discomfort she felt but that, I do not condemn her for her reticence to reveal her faith to those in her work setting. Given the bad reputation the word “Christian” has taken on in certain circles, especially among the educated and science affirming portion of the population, I told her I might make the same choice were I in her shoes. But that was my pastoral mode kicking in.

 

As I continue to reflect on this issue, it seems to me more imperative than ever for those who profess faith in a spiritual reality not only draw on that faith to endure the ravages of climate change-induced storms but engage with all the resources of our various traditions, to bring about the changes that will be needed to correct the course of history for the sake of life on earth.

 

This process of acquiring the tools for engaging the political power structures requires a lot of effort. As I have learned in my experiences at COP 26 and now the Bonn Climate Conference, it requires learning a new language and a huge vocabulary of acronyms, each with its own history. It also requires walking among the “natives” of that rarified world of diplomacy where we are the novices and yet not lose our voice of prophecy to cut through the prevarications and foot-dragging and at times perhaps, even risk screaming out for action like Greta Thunberg.



 

It may require us to shout that it doesn’t matter if every comma and sentence is perfect because God’s creatures are drowning and starving and burning and dying while such debates over who pays and how much they pay, continue. Some would argue that our world would be much worse off than it currently is if these meetings had not been going on for the last 30 years. But slowing the boiling isn’t enough. And the church must stand with all people of faith and call our leaders to action.

 

So, as difficult and frightening as it may be, we must be present there, as people of faith, and demand the changes come and come quickly for the sake of the world we know God loves and calls us to serve.

 

Grace and peace,

Fred Milligan





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.