Saturday, June 30, 2018

PEC Annual Award Winners

PEC Honors Three Award Winners at
General Assembly Luncheon

Two deserving individuals and one organization were recognized for their exceptional environmental achievements at the Presbyterians for Earth Care (PEC) Luncheon on June 19 at the 223rdGeneral Assembly (GA) in St. Louis. The William Gibson Eco-Justice Award was presented to Pam McVety, long time Presbyterian and climate activist. Sarah E. Ogletree received the Emerging Earth Care Leader Award for a young adult, and Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake received the Restoring Creation Award for an organization. PEC’s Annual Award Winners received a framed certificate, suitable for hanging, and free registration to PEC’s upcoming national conference, “Peace for the Earth,” August 6-9, 2019 in Stony Point, New York. More about each of the award winners is below. 

Pam McVety, William Gibson Eco-Justice Award

Pam is a member of First Presbyterian Church in Tallahassee, Florida where she is the chief advocate within the church for action related to stewardship of the earth and climate change mitigation. At the Presbytery level, Pam served as the Stewardship of Creation Enabler for the Florida Presbytery for over 15 years. She chaired the Energy Policy Resolution Team for the Presbyterian Church (USA) to rewrite the denomination’s energy policy in 2004-2005 and wrote and lobbied for passage of a 2006 GA resolution for Presbyterians to go carbon neutral. She personally worked with the Presbyterian Foundation for the creation of a Fossil Fuel Free investment option. Pam continues to stress the moral and scientific need to address the issue of climate change through testimony at commission and legislative meetings and is a frequent lecturer on climate change science. This award is one of numerous recognitions that Pam has received over the course of her 30-year public service career in state government and devoted volunteer work. 

Sarah E. Ogletree, Emerging Earth Care Leader

Sarah is entering her third year as a student at Wake Forest University School of Divinity in North Carolina where she will receive a Master of Divinity with a concentration in ecology in May 2019. As an applicant, she was recognized as a strong candidate who demonstrated exceptional promise in religious leadership and strong academic ability with the Jeanette Wallace Hyde Award that provided full tuition and a $5,000 annual stipend for two years. Sarah was also a co-leader of the School of Divinity’s environmental student organization. Sarah has completed internships in religious education at both Cullowhee United Methodist Church and First Baptist Church of Sylva and for the faith-based environmental non-profit, the Creation Care Alliance of Western North Carolina (CCAWNC). Sarah is also an accomplished bluegrass musician and played fiddle and sang with her husband at a benefit concert for CCAWNC that she organized. 

Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake,Restoring Creation Award 

Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake (IPC) is a non-profit interfaith organization that educates, supports and inspires people and communities of faith to advocate and care for the waters of the Chesapeake through policies and practices that promote a healthier environment and healthier people. Founded by two Presbyterians, it rapidly expanded to include Christians of different denominations and people of many faith traditions. The mission and programming of IPC has been built around three main strategic purposes:
   Emphasize Spiritual Connections: Forming Faithful Stewards
   Engage and Support Stewardship Action: Caring for Sacred Waters 
   Equip People/Communities of Faith for Advocacy: Speaking Out.
Since its incorporation in 2013, IPC has grown to be an organization with a paid staff of four, that manages a half dozen on-going programs. IPC has reached 258 congregations in the Maryland-DC area since 2013 and worked with 1874 individuals, touching an estimated 42,000 people in the pews through a growing network of faith communities.

Congratulations to this year's winners!

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Iraq Reflections

Do Not Forget Us: Reflections from Iraq
By Ashley Bair

“We survived the Ottomans; then we survived the British; then we survived Saddam Hussein. After all that we’re still here, but the oil companies may be the end of us.”

These words were shared by a villager in the town of Haji Ahmed, Iraq. The past two years of his life and those living in his village were spent working to protect their land from fossil fuel companies. The land in Haji Ahmed is being used by Exxon Mobil as a drilling site.

Two years ago I, and a team from the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, met this villager when we traveled on a Christian Peacemaker Team delegation to Iraqi Kurdistan to learn more about how the fossil fuel industry was impacting villages in the Middle East. This June I will walk 260 miles from Louisville, KY to St. Louis, MO for the PC(USA) 223rd General Assembly to raise attention about the need to divest from fossil fuels. As I prepare for that journey, I am reflecting on my experience in Iraq with people and families who welcomed us alongside their journey to resist this industry for their land and lives.

The two largest oil and gas companies in Iraq are Exxon Mobil and Dana Gas. Haji Ahmed is one of the many villages impacted by fossil fuel extraction. Similar stories were told by others in villages we visited on that delegation: the land is drilled for oil and gas, the companies use the village’s water supply for their own purposes, promises are made for job opportunities and prosperous futures. The reality is that the fossil fuel companies have destroyed many acres of village farmland, water wells have dried up, jobs are given to outside recruits and not to villagers, roadways are destroyed, and the livelihood of many families who have lived in these villages for countless generations are gone for the foreseeable future. I will never forget a village leader who told me, “This land has been in our family for a long time. You see that path beside the house? That path is older than Islam.”

The extraction of fossil fuels in this region are compromising the villagers’ access to basic needs for survival. Two villages we visited had to import bottled water for drinking and cooking. Roads are controlled and closed by the companies, limiting access to hospitals and schools. It would seem that there would be help from the government to work with fossil fuel companies and negotiate considering how they are treating the villagers’ property and humanity. However, many of the companies are drilling with the blessing of the Iraqi government. The government has security teams overseeing the sites and is under contract with fossil fuel companies to make money annually. They are supposed to be compensating the villagers for the destruction of their land, but at the time of our visit no villagers had been compensated and they are not offered work. What’s more, much of the land still has remnants of war from Saddam Hussein’s regime which left landmines all along the sides of the road which are accessible to them.

The villagers our delegation met with were striving to act against the fossil fuel companies non-violently. They organized and protested the companies. They met with members of parliament and advocated for their land, compensation, and for work. They resisted in every way they know how. In Haji Ahmed, the villager’s efforts did lead to Exxon Mobil’s exit from their land. However, that result was not typical of resistant efforts, nor made with a promise not to return. 

I journeyed alongside the villagers for three weeks, but this reality is their everyday life.

The fossil fuel industry is continuing to contribute to climate change and environmental disaster, impacting those who come into direct contact with them in devastating ways. Two years ago our delegation team left Iraqi Kurdistan with a deep sense of urgency to to help eliminate this devastation and our connection to fossil fuels to the best of our abilities. Today, the resolution we thought best still stands.

We need to divest from fossil fuels.

Enough is enough.

Climate science consistently produces evidence of the irreversible changes that will impact our world––we need to also listen to the voices of those who are most impacted by fossil fuel extraction. These are the voices that speak truth into our present world, like the villagers in Haji Ahmed, people in the disappearing wetlands of Louisiana, and others on the margins. These are the voices telling us time is up––the time to change is now.

Two years later, I have seen little difference from companies like Exxon Mobil and Dana Gas. It’s time for us, as the church, to declare that what is happening is wrong.

In Mark 12, when Jesus is asked, What is the greatest commandment?, he answers, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

It is our call to love God, love creation, and love people above all else. Divesting from fossil fuels will show the world that we are a church that believes this call from the Gospel and listens to the needs of our neighbor.

As we left the villagers, we asked them what it is they thought we could do to help in their resistance efforts. They responded with this request: “Speak about us. Tell your people we need their help. Do not forget us.”

PEC and Eco-justice

Eco-Justice and 
Presbyterians For Earth Care
By Rev. John Jackson

The 1970's seem to be the time when Presbyterians became more engaged in the ministry of Caring for Creation. I am convinced that the first Earth Day (April 22, 1970) came to be from the work of Senator Gaylord Nelson. Some even say he was a Presbyterian Elder and was a motivating factor in our Earth Care mission. Let us not forget 1962 and the publishing of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.
Presbyterians began to seriously identify the Biblical foundations for earth care and to listen to the earth scientists who were describing what is happening to our atmosphere and oceans, water, soil, animals and plants, food and human beings.
It seems that with the arrival of the 1980's, there was a concern that Presbyterians were not moving fast enough in the area of earth care, justice, and restoration. That concern led the Presbyterian Social Witness Policy group to appoint an Eco Justice task force to survey what the various ministry units of the denomination were doing in earth care.
In June 1989 came Keeping and Healing Creation. This resource describes the environmental crisis and why and how to bring restoration. Some of the leadership to bring forth this study and to prepare for the 1990 General Assembly were Beverly Phillips (Convener), Robert Stivers, Eva Clayton, Donna Ogg, and William Gibson. Staff to the subcommittee were Dieter Hessel and William Somplatsky-Jarman.
The Eco Justice Task Force and Social Witness Policy helped greatly in bringing the policy proposal: Restoring Creation for Ecology and Justice. This was passed by 97% of the General Assembly gathering in 1990. Word has it that when it was passed the Assembly stood and sang the Doxology.
Some years after 1990, a number of Presbyterians from all over the United States called for a grassroots national organization to support people of faith working towards environmental wholeness with social justice, a group that met with staff in Louisville Ky. For twenty-three years Presbyterians for Restoring Creation/Presbyterians for Earth Care have helped the church to fulfill its message of responsible policies and practices in creation care and justice and to join the Earth Day Network.
I would recommend that it is time to revisit Restoring Creation For Ecology And Justice, a marvelous resource!
John Jackson is a retired Presbyterian minister. He was one of those “restless Presbyterians” that brought forth the grassroots mission that over the last twenty three years became Presbyterians for Earth Care. He is the author & editor of the weekly newsletter: “Everything Is Connected” (and it is!). This presents poetry and politics, democracy and earth care, humor and laments. Please join him.

A White Person's Thoughts on Environmental Justice

Thoughts from a White Person on 

Environmental Justice
By Sue Smith


A focus on environmental justice is coming to General Assembly this year in the form of two overtures.

The Presbytery of Monmouth (NJ) is bringing an overture on responding to environmental racism, and another is coming from Newton Presbytery (NJ) on renewing our call to environmental justice. This was a hard topic to talk about in Monmouth, an almost entirely white gathering. One voice spoke against the overture because it did not spell out what actual action we were to take. Here is an example of how our white privilege does not allow us to understand or respond to the issues faced by environmental justice (EJ) communities. We tend to want to solve the problems that we perceive. But what we perceive as problems may not be the problems that EJ communities perceive as needing to be addressed or perceive as a high priority to address. And even if they are the same problems, our solution may not be the solution that the EJ communities would define for themselves. The action we need to take is spelled out quite clearly in the overture, “Listen to the perspectives and voices of people most impacted by environmental racism.” It is a problem when we do not understand listening to be an action.

These overtures address environmental justice/racism directly; there are other overtures that call for action that leave EJ communities out of the conversation. Two overtures call on the church to advocate for carbon pricing. This is a market solution and my colleagues in the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance (NJEJA) contend that the market should not be determining equity.

The market has never been good to EJ communities. Data proves that in NJ communities of color and communities of poverty suffer the most from pollution. Regulation is needed. It seems so simple to ask that along with the call for carbon pricing there is a requirement for regulated power plants in EJ communities to decrease emissions. The issue for these communities is not only reduction of CO2, a greenhouse gas contributing to climate change; the issue for these communities is the other pollutants and fine particulate matter that are emitted along with CO2. This is the pollution that causes health problems – asthma, heart conditions and pre-mature deaths.

Dr. Nicky Sheats, Co-Founder and President of NJEJA pointed out at a local Sierra Club meeting that the big environmental organizations (mostly white) seem to care most about the environment and most EJ organizations (mostly people of color) seem to care most about the community. Isn’t Christianity about community? Ephesians reminds us, “Peace be to the whole community, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Eph 6:23, NRSV). The whole community will not have peace until those of us with white power and privilege listen to the voices of the EJ community and there will not be love until equity abounds.

Sue Smith is co-editor of EARTH and Vice Moderator of Presbyterians for Earth Care.

A Just Transition

A Just Transition
by Jamila Cervantes 

As the momentum and excitement for the Poor People’s Campaigngrows, I continue to think back to a conversation I had with my grandmother about exploitative industries, specifically the exploitive tourism industry, which is heavily reliant on a fossil fuel economy. The goal of the Poor People’s Campaign is to create a multi-year movement that encourages people to act against systemic racism, poverty, militarism, ecological ruin, and the country’s devastating moral state. The Campaign’s demand to end ecological devastation through various means including the shift to, “100 percent clean, renewable energy and a public jobs program to transition to a green economy,” stresses the importance of building movements that center the lives of those most affected by such industries.

Five years ago, I asked my grandmother why she continued to participate in exploitative tourism. She, like many others in her hometown off the coast of Jalisco, Mexico, owns a small business that caters to American and Canadian tourists. “Jamila,” my grandmother softly responded, “It is what we know. And how I else would I buy you this bread?” She joked as she pointed to the pan dulce that I nearly swallowed whole.

My grandmother suggested I consider two important nuances about extractive economies and morality. The first, participants in exploitative industries are trained to exercise specific skills in specific fields. My grandmother has been a salesperson for Mexican trinkets her entire life; it would be unfair to ask her to leave sales to work in a different industry that fails to incorporate her acquired skillset. Second, without taking into account that people make their livelihoods by participating in such industries, our solutions for creating just and moral economies can be more detrimental than progressive. We should push for self-determination in work as much as we should seek to end ecological destruction. 

My grandmother hinted at a framework that working class laborers in the fossil fuel industry have employed and rallied behind for years, “just transition.” The term is generally attributed to participants in the labor union movement and describes the effort to secure the safety, wellbeing, and prosperity of workers as economies shift from unsustainable to sustainable production. An example of a federal policy that practiced just transition was the RECLAIM Act of 2017, which allocated funds to states and indigenous tribes to promote the revitalization of communities affected by mining. The act provided miners with the opportunity to restore their distressed communities in culturally relevant ways. Legislation like this is especially important for Appalachian coal-mining communities that have been unfairly blamed for contributing to the decline of an industry and the wellbeing of the planet and that have labored in difficult and dangerous positions to maintain a quality of life in Western countries thus far. This framework, developed by laborers for laborers, is why our work at PC(USA) and with the Poor People’s Campaign is so important to me: it is imperative to shift into economies in ways that are pro-people as much as they are pro-planet.

I invite you to join in a mass movement based in moral values to push for holistic solutions to climate devastation, a war economy, racism and poverty that center those most deeply affected by these evils.  You can consult how the PC(USA) General Assembly encourages Presbyterians to join the work against environmental devastation and for a just economy by reading ACSWP Social Witness Policy on Ecology and Environmental Concerns. We then invite you to join the Poor People’s Campaign in their Global Day of Solidarity and Action Mass Rally on June 23rd in Washington, D.C. To find local events near you, visit or e-mail

Jamila Cervantes is an Emerson National Hunger Fellow at the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness. For the first portion of their fellowship program, Jamila served as the Client Engagement Fellow at Oregon Food Bank in Portland, Oregon. Jamila is a Gates Millennium Scholar and a recent graduate of the University of California, Berkeley with a combined degree in LGBTQ studies, Latin American studies, and Sociology. While at Berkeley, Jamila wrote their undergraduate thesis on the representations of queerness in Mexican film. Since graduating, Jamila has primarily focused their efforts on fighting hunger, poverty, and xenophobia.

Time's Up for Fossil Fuels

Time's Up! Divest from Fossil Fuels Now

As we prepare for General Assembly in St. Louis in about two weeks, I want to direct your attention to one of the largest conversations that will be happening there. 

Forty presbyteries. Several are part of the Synod of the Northeast, which has already decided to divest from fossil fuels as a council. Quite a few of the concurring presbyteries are in coastal regions, facing new threats of potential offshore drilling. Some are in the middle of the United States, with pipelines passing through with great risk, connecting their regions to bigger port cities. A number of these presbyteries are actually in historic fossil fuel extraction regions, too.

On June 1, walkers from around the country will begin the PCUSA Walk for a Fossil Free World with an Opening Worship in Louisville. Join us.

From that worship service, walkers will walk between 10-15 miles a day, worship together in the evening, and learn from experts on climate change, the Bible, investments, and other topics related to divestment. You can join us on our last day on June 15 in St. Louis.

Once we are at General Assembly, Fossil Free PCUSA will be organizing to amplify the voices of 40 presbyteries and front line communities of climate change who have asked us to remember them and stop profiting from climate change. (Read more at Do Not Forget US: Reflections from Iraq)

But we will be working against intense institutional pressure. Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI), the Board of Pensions, and the Foundation have all said that PC(USA) should continue to engage with the fossil fuel industry. Forty presbyteries, frontline communities, and former moderators of the denomination have called for categorical divestment. Time’s up to engage—the fossil fuel industry has had enough time to change their business model. (Read more at Five Things You Need to Know About Categorical Divestment).

Please reach out to your commissioners to ask them to support divestment and OVT 08-01. 

And if you’re at General Assembly, please come and see us in the exhibit hall, testify in open hearing (email us if you need help), join us at the PEC Luncheon, the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship Peace Breakfast, or Committee 8 proceedings.

Thank you for your prayers.

Together we are for creation.
rev. abby mohaupt