Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmas Day Devotional

Christmas Day…  Sheltering in place

For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour my spirit upon your descendants,
and my blessing on your offspring.
They shall spring up like a green tamarisk,
like willows by flowing streams. Isaiah 44:3-4

“Bloom where you are planted” is an old saying that sounds almost biblical, but it is not. It was coined by a saint of the church, Saint Francis de Sales. The intention was to say, happy or not with your place in the world, keep being a disciple of Christ and growing in faith. But it begs the question, “Am I planted in the right place?” and “Is it possible to be the right person in the wrong place?”

A tamarisk tree in Israel
Our scripture for the day leads us to the same question when we ask about the tamarisk plant. In the holy land the tamarisk shelters streams, provides shade and conserves water. They can survive in soils with high salt content and create a natural cooling effect by pulling water from the air at night and then releasing it in the day. In the holy land it is a useful native plant. But ask someone from the southwestern United States and they will tell you a different story. Someone thought the tamarisk would be a useful plant so it was transplanted and now it is spreading like a destructive wild fire, destroying water resources and pushing out native plants. It is an environmental disaster.  Right plant in the wrong place.

So how do you know if you are a tamarisk in the holy land or in the southwest? Ask one of these questions:
  1. When I grow in faith and step out in courage, do I make room for others or do I take up space that is better used by others?
  2. When I dig in deep and spread my roots is there enough water, energy, space and time for growth to occur and for me to share with others in my community?
  3. Am I creating life in others or am I pushing others out of community?
This day we celebrate the expected one who was placed in what many considered to be the wrong place. Not a king born in a palace crib but a tiny child placed in a manger. What was so wrong turned out to be just right… he stepped out of that crib into the center of life, personal, social, political, spiritual. In all ways things making God’s presence known in new and courageous ways.

This day, as we celebrate again the coming of “God with Us,” the Christ, consider where you are planted and the effect you have on your environment and on your community.  Are you planted in the right place to bloom or is it so wrong it is made right by the glory and compassion of God.

Loving Creator, you know us so well. Show me ways to be a better partner in community so that we all may bloom together and find ways daily to honor Emmanuel.  Amen.

Barbara Chalfant is currently the Associate for Mission for the Presbytery of West Virginia. Her responsibilities include ministry to older adults, peacemaking, social justice, hunger action and disaster response.  She is a graduate of Union Presbyterian Seminary, a certified educator and holds a certificate in older adult ministry from Columbia Seminary. She has served congregations in Virginia, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania. She is a curriculum writer, artist, singer, and is prone to bouts of laughter. Having seen the direct effects of bad environmental stewardship as she works in disaster ravaged communities, Barbara has become proactive concerning environmental issues, human caused disaster and damage, and working to reverse climate change. 

Monday, December 23, 2019

Christmas Eve Devotional

Christmas Eve Ritual

Sing, O heavens, for the Lord has done it;
shout, O depths of the earth;
break forth into singing, O mountains, O forest, and every tree in it!
For the Lord has redeemed Jacob, and will be glorified in Israel.  Isaiah 44:23

Remember what you sang on Christmas Eve when you were a child?
Remember what it felt like to know that baby Jesus was going to be born on this very night?
Growing up in Morelia México, my favorite advent song from catholic school went like this:

“Mi alma se llena de gozo, 
porque el señor pronto vendrá, 
preparare un persebre en mi corazón despojandome de toda maldad, 
señor yo quiero que nazcas 
en mi en silencio estaré esperandote, 
como viento que espera su descanso, 
como fuego que arede sin fin...”
"My soul is filled with joy 
because the Lord will soon come,
I will prepare a manger in my heart 
stripping it of all evil, 
Lord, I want you to be born in me 
in silence, I will be waiting for you,
like the wind that awaits its rest
as a fire that burns endlessly”

Beech tree roots in fog
Thirty Christmas Eves have passed since I first learned it. Aiming for sanctity was a joyous game worth pursuing, knowing through confession we were all forgiven from our small setbacks. However, preparing this manger became a harder task with age. Especially through the years of my youth where I belonged to a catholic group called Regnum Christi. We performed meticulous conscience exams as part of our daily night prayers and meditation. I devoted most of one year to live with their “nuns” while seriously considering the vocation. It was then where the “stripping it of all evil” part became a daunting task filled with guilt and overthinking to a point where I started losing the capacity for deep sleep. Years passed by, and the toughest Christmas Eve of all came just a couple years after marriage. 2012 was the year I was singing Christmas Carols while pregnant for the very first time. Sobbing and wondering, why we don’t have advent reflections from Mary to console all soon to be mothers? The ones giving birth in the middle ages? The ones giving birth through persecution? During war times? I was disheartened while considering the disparity, climate, and justice challenges that children, including ours now, would have to cope in the 21st century and beyond. 

Anxiety was crawling, when love reached and healed deep from the madness nourishing me as a loving mycorrhizae, helping me realize we are all complex amalgams of positive and negative personality traits that emerge or not depending on the circumstances. Most importantly, helping me understand that we are saved by grace and confirming all our actions to be motivated by tremendous gratitude, rather than fear. 

So now, since we moved to DC and found a loving community in Old Meeting Presbyterian House, I still mumble this advent song in my heart. Yet, with a few modifications:
“Mi alma se llena de gozo, 
porque Dios pronto vendrá, 
Preparo un pesebre (de bondad) en mi corazón, hogar y comunidad (glocal)

Señor yo quiero que nazcas en mí
activamente estoy esperandote, 
como espiritu devoto a tu promesa, 
como mycorrhizae esparzo  tu eterno amor ...”
"My soul is filled with joy,
because God will soon come,
I prepare a manger (of goodness) in my heart, home and (glocal) community

Lord, I want you to be born in me
I'm actively waiting for you
as a spirit devoted to your promise,
as mycorrhizae spreading your endless love ... ”

Lord, please be born in my soul again
I'm actively waiting for you
as a living spirit devoted to your promise,
like mycorrhizae spreading your endless love 

Embracing chaos among our daily lives, proactively
We are trying to become useful puzzle pieces of your masterpiece
Gift us with the humility to accept the things we can’t change 
Awaken us to match our daily consumption and habits to our Christian values and also provide us the grit to transform our courage into action and advocate more efficiently, for the things we can. Today I ask you for enlightenment, to lead our way and discern the difference. 

Daniela Ochoa Gonzalez is a deacon at the Old Presbyterian Meeting House in Alexandria, VA. She graduated from Cornell University with an MPA in Environmental Policy in 2009. She is a devoted mother of two little children and with her husband, Mitch aims to raise them as kind and spiritual glocals. She is the founder of “Regenerative Solutions” a translating and consulting company based in Washington DC that helps schools and houses of worship to align their values and transform their “waste” operations into zero waste and regenerative outputs that enhance their own local food system. 

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Fourth Sunday of Advent Devotional

The Lord loves seeing justice on the earth. 
Anywhere and everywhere you can find his faithful,
unfailing love! Psalm 33:5 (The Passion Translation)

Mālama ‘Āina (Love Sustains Life) 

Where I live, it’s easy to be in love with nature. I often spend time on the mountains and in the ocean and think about how in love I am with Earth—how it looks, how it feels, how it sustains me and those I care about. But do I really love the earth?

Heart at Kaena Point Oahu, HI
Living in Hawai‘i, we learn the importance of mālama ‘āina, a traditional Hawaiian value meaning to care for the land so it can care for you. Like many native peoples, Native Hawaiians recognize the connection they have to their environment and live accordingly. Hawaiian spirituality experiences the divine in plants and animals, lava and ocean, in all of creation around us. In this sense, God is truly everywhere and in everything. By being in touch with nature, we are in touch with God. 

I’ve always been fascinated by the lessons nature can teach us. Sunrises remind me that darkness does not last forever. Rainbows show me the beauty that can be reflected through the rain. Science has proven that trees support one another’s growth by sharing resources when in need. Nature has wisdom to teach and valuable information to share with those paying attention. God is speaking through rising oceans, warming climates, burning forests, dying species, displaced people. How will we respond? 

I’m amazed at how often ‘love’ is a valid solution to even the world’s greatest problems. When we realize that we are a part of nature just as much as plants and animals, we understand that harmony with the earth includes harmony with one another. We were created with the ability to love because it is essential to sustaining life. 

God whose spirit is present in nature around us and whose essence is love, remind us of our connectedness to all living things and that our well-being rests in the condition of the environment we care for. Help us to birth love into the world for all of creation, now and long after the season of Advent and Christmas is over. Amen.

Kristen Young was born and raised on the island of O‘ahu, Hawai‘i where she currently works as the Youth Director at Central Union Church and the Social Media Coordinator for the Hawai‘i Conference United Church of Christ. She is a former PC(USA) Young Adult Volunteer and Eco-Stewards alumnus and has recently taken a stride in her “eco-faith journey” by joining the leadership team of The Eco- Stewards Program. Her favorite pastimes include hiking, spending time in the water, singing, and capturing moments through whatever camera’s on hand.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Third Sunday of Advent Devotional

Sing, O heavens, for the Lord has done it;
shout, O depths of the earth;
break forth into singing, O mountains, O forest, and every tree in it!
For the Lord has redeemed Jacob, and will be glorified in Israel.  Isaiah 44:23

Sing like the Trees

We think of language as a system of words and grammar to convey information but, fundamentally, it is a way to communicate with someone else. We exchange messages through body language, facial expressions, and actions. We communicate our identities through the clothing we wear and the way we spend our time. With all of these ways of “speaking,” should we be surprised to learn that nearly all living things do this in some form or another?

The trees in a forest are in constant communication with their neighbors, sending signals through the air and underground. Whether it’s releasing a warning message from a deer-browsed leaf or sending nutrients through complex root systems, trees benefit from the voices of those around them. A young plant limited by shade has the best chance of survival if it grows up near an older tree of the same species, which provides extra sugar through underground channels. The importance of community to a forest ecosystem is staggering, yet all too familiar.  

During this Advent season, think of yourself as a tree in a vast forest and ask what your role would be.  Are you a tall tree, bathed in light? If so, reflect on how to share the fruits of that blessing with those coming after you. If you are a young tree struggling to feel that warmth, what can you do to open yourself up to receive the gifts of others? Do you know how to ask? God wants us to use our voices to proclaim His glory, just as He commands the rest of the life He so lovingly created.

Life-Giving God, may we learn how to praise you by following the examples of the plants that already nourish us in so many ways—plants that continue to perform the duties for which you created them, even as they face a rapidly changing world. May we be eager to share our blessings with others and be humble enough to receive your Word at all times. Amen.

Ryan Jiorle was born and raised in Phillipsburg, New Jersey. Through his schooling and career, he moved around various Southern states before returning home to northwest New Jersey. Along the way, Ryan has led Bible studies on the intersection of environmental stewardship and our call as Christians.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Devotional for Second Sunday of Advent

Read Isaiah 11:1-10

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
    the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and of might,
    the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.  
Isaiah 11:1-3a

The Stories of the Trees

There are many, many trees on the campus of Stony Point Center where I live as a member of the Community of Living Traditions, a multifaith community committed to the work of radical hospitality in the world and for all creation. Over the years I have learned the stories of several of the trees on the SPC grounds during community ‘tree walks.’  On these walks, we pause at a number of trees to share the stories and memories we have of the trees we encounter. We grieve by trees planted to mark the loss of good friends and children gone too soon. We note the beauty of those trees planted in grief, now firmly rooted like the memories of those they commemorate. We stop and celebrate by trees planted to mark the birth of babies; trees whose roots are nurtured by the placentas that sustained life in the womb. We offer gratitude at the base of some of the big, glorious maples on campus - gratitude for shade in spring and summer, for the blazing red-orange leaves of fall, for the sweet sap we collect in the cold of winter. The tree walks journey through all seasons of life and of creation. Together, we remember and are strengthened by the stories of Love’s presence in all seasons and of the new life that grows even from what we plant in our grief.

The trees we visit likely tell their own stories to one another.  Through networks of support invisible to us, the larger trees send nutrients to smaller trees not yet prepared to weather the harsh winter winds.  They signal one another when it is time to conserve energy and when it is time to put on the new green leaves of spring.  They care for one another, carrying one another through the seasons. 

The poem we read in Isaiah 11 is like the conversation between these trees and among the community that loves them. It is a message spoken on a tree walk, pausing at the stump of despair to let everyone know that new growth has been detected. All is not lost. In fact, a new inbreaking of justice for all creation is gaining strength to stand tall with deep, sturdy roots.  

And it is growing even now. This Advent let us pause at the roots, trunks, and fruitful leaves of justice and peace we see growing all around us and supply them with all the nutrients needed for the seasons ahead.

Tree of Life, invite us under the canopy of your love in this Advent season.  Gathered at your roots, may we remember the stories of your faithfulness in all seasons.  Send us out to nurture the inbreaking of a new order in which the voices of the vulnerable are heard and all creation is restored.  Amen.

Sarah Henkel is a Presbyterian pastor with roots in the Mennonite tradition. She is a resident of the Community of Living Traditions at Stony Point Center and currently serves as Parish Associate at White Plains Presbyterian Church (White Plains, NY). Sarah is a member of the Faith Working Group of the Alliance for Fair Food, a national network of people working in partnership with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers for farmworker justice, as well as a founding Support Team member for Proyecto Faro, a grassroots immigrant rights group growing in Rockland County. She is a birth doula and finds birth to be a powerful lens through which to expect and envision the new and just world always coming to life around us. Sarah works in a variety of hospitality roles at Stony Point Center and enjoys developing art and graphics for use in the community.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Devotional for First Sunday of Advent

Sing, O heavens, for the Lord has done it;
shout, O depths of the earth;
break forth into singing, O mountains, O forest, and every tree in it!
For the Lord has redeemed Jacob, and will be glorified in Israel.  Isaiah 44:23

Let's Bring Christmastime to Creation

Snow on evergreens
My Advent journey always begins with a prayer for the Vision of ‘What kind of Christmas I think I want to have’.  That Vision focuses me in the framing of my approach to…preparing.  As I reflect on my 2019 approach to the Manger, my focus is significantly seasoned by my experience this past summer as Music Worship Leader for the Presbyterians for Earth Care National Conference. Two days after the close of that Conference I was inspired to compose the song (Let’s Bring) Christmastime To Creation. 

As I reach to hear the Trees singing, they begin (even now) to sound like the Angels who serenaded the Shepherds…calling my attention into active participation as an instrument of God’s Orchestrated Plan to Heal the Land. I share a portion of the verse and chorus of that song as my prayer for this Advent Season; that a gift I bring...to the newborn King…will be the gift of a renewed sense of personal responsibility for the health, welfare and vitality of our Planet Earth. Let us indeed…Bring Christmastime to Creation. 

As we give the gift of presents and extol the manger birth
Let’s repent of all the things that we have done to Mother Earth
We have pillaged, we have plundered, we have poisoned every plain
And we’re having Christmas…We’re Still having Christmas…

So as we celebrate let’s participate in The Prayer 2 Heal The Land
As a mind can get true knowledge, then a heart can understand
That we’re running out of time – so let’s keep these things in mind
While we’re having Christmas…just because it’s Christmas…

Let’s bring Christmastime to Creation
From a manger place to the sea and the sky above
We need to love The Earth from every nation
So that The Children will still have an Earth to love.                        


Warren B. Cooper
©2019 Music Media Ministry

Prayer: Creator God, we are reminded of your love as we look, see and hear the beauty in the creation you have given us. At the same time, we see the damage we have caused and repent of all that we have done. Give us Lord, a sense of renewed responsibility for the earth so that all nations, and especially children, will have an earth to love. 

Warren B. Cooper is a Performance Artist, Producer and Music Minister who is dedicated to the creation of transformational art that is focused on redeeming humanity and healing the land.  He is based in Philadelphia, PA where he serves as Executive Producer for Music Media Ministry (www.MusicMediaMinistry.com).  His new release CHRISTMASTIME 2 CREATION is available on I-Tunes, Google Play, Spotify and all digital music platforms.  Each download will result in a donation to resource efforts for protective environmental legislation.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Introducing PEC's 2019 Advent Devotional

PEC's 2019 Advent Devotional

23 Sing, O heavens, for the Lord has done it;
shout, O depths of the earth;
break forth into singing, O mountains, O forest, and every tree in it!
For the Lord has redeemed Jacob, and will be glorified in Israel.
Isaiah 44:23

I hate waiting. It seems like all we do these days is wait. Waiting in traffic. Waiting for people to call or text us back. Waiting in line at the grocery check-out. Waiting for our friends to get a clue and agree with us. And so we wait, in well-practiced squirmy, cranky and frustrated ways.

But is this the waiting of Advent?

This Advent we will be endeavoring to wait, not with a low-grade fever of irritation but with anticipation, like those who know their tickets to Disney have already been purchased, or the answers to their deepest need have been written and are about to be revealed. We will be waiting together in community, sharing strength with each other as we wait.

Ecologist, Susanne Simard, is a professor of forest ecology and teaches at the University of British Columbia. She is a biologist and has tested theories about how trees communicate with other trees. She explained in her TED Talk that the trees communicate below ground via an infinite number of pathways sharing information, water, nutrients, carbon, nitrogen, minerals and warnings. The young trees are supported by more mature mother trees. Trees talk to each other. That talk makes it easier for other trees to survive, to thrive in community. But what happens when trees are damaged or even clear cut? Then those left behind are weakened, left without the full capacity of the community to heal and to thrive. But trees allowed to stand with even a small part of their community intact tend to thrive.

Just like the trees, we are meant to live in community, sharing information and resources for the good of the community. We are planted in community and called to share resources, called to share the wisdom and grace of Christ as we grow together. When one tree falls another arises to carry on the legacy, to learn the wisdom and to share in the connectedness of the community of grace.

So this Advent we wait in community. We wait to soak up again the wisdom of the generations past, to tell again the stories of our faith in community. But we also wait with anticipation the renewal of those communities, the redemption of the land, the healing of scars and the emergence of the continuing work of our Savior in this time.  Perhaps the wait will end with renewed commitments to wholeness, to preservation, to stewardship and to the sense of peace that comes from believing in a God who can, has and will transform us again and again.

It is worth the wait!

Barbara Chalfant is currently the Associate for Mission for the Presbytery of West Virginia. She is a curriculum writer, artist, singer, and is prone to bouts of laughter. Having seen the direct effects of bad environmental stewardship as she works in disaster ravaged communities, Barbara has become proactive concerning environmental issues. She serves as the Central East Regional Representative on the Presbyterians for Earth Care Steering Committee. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Support the Fossil Fuel Divestment Overture

Act Now for a Fossil Free PCUSA
by rev. abby mohaupt, Moderator Fossil Free PCUSA

Fossil fuels are the greatest contributor to the current climate crisis and there are many ways to reduce/eliminate their use. As a denomination, an effective way for the PC(USA) to curtail the production and use of fossil fuels is to send a message to corporations by selling the Church’s investments in fossil fuel stocks – a strategy called divestment. Presbyterians for Earth Care advocates for Fossil Free PCUSA’s divestment overture to the 224thGeneral Assembly. This overture is circulating and already in process in several Presbyteries. Along with FossilFree PCUSA, PEC invites you to support this overture in your Presbytery by doing the following:
  1. Take it to your church’s session. Any member of session may bring an overture. If you aren’t on session, talk to the leadership of any relevant committees, or your pastor or stated clerk. The session can consider and pass an overture.
  2. After your session passes the overture, the session’s stated clerk sends it to the presbytery’s stated clerk, who will add it to the agenda for the next presbytery meeting.
  3. At that presbytery meeting, someone from your session presents the overture, and will usually be given time to share why they support it and are asking the presbytery to pass it.
  4. The presbytery will discuss and vote on the overture. If it passes, the stated clerk will send it to the General Assembly.
  5. If the overture has at least one concurrence*, it will go before the General Assembly
  6. Let Fossil Free PCUSA know where the overture is in your process on our tracking sheet
  7. Act soon! The deadline for Presbyteries to submit overtures without constitutional implications, including this one, is May 6, 2020.
*Since the 2016, GA all overtures that are approved by Presbytery and sent to the General Assembly must have at least one other presbytery who concurs, or also votes “yes” on that overture. The recommendation of the overture must be exactly the same, although the rationale can differ. Each overture that goes to the General Assembly must have at least one concurrence (i.e. the original presbytery + one more), but there is no limit to the number of presbyteries that can concur. In fact, if an overture has many concurrences from many different presbyteries it shows a wide support for the issue. Each presbytery that sends the overture may also send an Overture Advocate to speak on behalf of the overture to the committee, so overtures with many concurrences get more time in committee. 

abby mohaupt is a Teaching Elder in San Francisco Presbytery, PhD student at Drew University in New Jersey, and a farmer in rural North Texas. abby's heart work is devoted to living with integrity at the intersections of eco-feminisms, social justice, and spirituality. She regularly guest lectures on religion and ecology, with emphasis on the intersections of race and gender.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Renewing PEC's Advocacy Ministry

Friends of PEC and of creation!

I am writing to invite you to be a part of a meaningful ministry of healing for creation through the Presbyterians for Earth Care (PEC) Advocacy Team. PEC proceeds from the following convictions: 
  • Like you, we feel the growing urgency of our climate crisis, and that this moment in history is like no other. The crisis is real and so is the opportunity for common action! 
  • You are a blessing. PEC is so thankful for you–for your faith, your commitment, your action on behalf of all life. 
  • We believe that the community of faith, and PC(USA), have a unique, holy, and powerful role to play in an effort to bring healing and justice to all creation. 
  • PEC is called to be a prophetic voice for creation care in and through the church. 
  • We are faithful and more effective working together than we are individually or apart.
Our vision for Advocacy centers around three areas of focus: 
  1. We feel called to nurture discussion of systemic change for creation care in and through the church. The church is a natural place for us to tackle sensitive issues together in meaningful and loving ways. Using the Green New Deal (GND), we would like to facilitate a meaningful and substantive discussion in congregations and the wider church around the systemic change needed for restoring health to the environment. We believe that the GND, and the momentum currently around it, presents a golden opportunity to consider and advocate for systemic change. 
  2. We feel called to advocate for divestment from fossil fuels as an effective means of pushing for change in the church. One of the most effective tools we have in effecting change is using our $. We feel called to work with other PC(USA) Advocacy groups on making our denomination fossil fuel free in any and every way we can. We believe this is a clear and faithful path for change. 
  3. We feel called to leave room for the Spirit to lead us! There are many aspects of creation care, and we are open to partnership with others. What pressing issues need to be addressed in your region? Is there a need to press for a carbon pricing initiative? Is there a pipeline, or a fossil fuel facility that needs to be opposed? What’s your particular passion? While we will remain focused on the first two efforts above, we recognize that the Spirit may lead in new and bold directions, and we want to be ready to listen! 
Based on these convictions and vision, we would like to invite you to be a part of a meaningful ministry of healing for creation through the Advocacy Team of Presbyterians for Earth Care. We believe that the PC(USA) can be a denomination where creation care is at the core of life, and we believe that we (the Holy Spirit, PEC, and you) can help make it so. If you’d like to be involved in this renewal of Advocacy ministry in and through the PCUSA, please contact me.

Paul R. Heins
NW/Mountain Regional Representative for PEC
PEC Advocacy Team Leader
Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Port Townsend, WA
Church: (360) 385-2525
Cell: (435) 881-9337
email: pastorpaul@mac.com 

Thursday, October 17, 2019

The Youth Climate Strike: A Dispach From the Front

The Youth Climate Strike: A Dispach From the Front

by Serena Worley

Serena Worley
When the United Nations report came out last November saying that we only had 12 (now 11) years left to prevent the worst effects of climate change, I knew I had to act. I read about how the coming climate crisis would create millions of refugees and felt the need to help as many people as possible. Unfortunately, I had almost no experience in activism, so I was terrified emailing Anya Sastry, a former state lead, asking to join the Illinois team. I had a million fears going in. What if I messed up? I was a high school freshman. They probably all knew so much more and had so much more experience than I did. Nevertheless, when Anya responded, I dove head first into the climate movement. My need to look out for others and for the natural world outweighed my fear and I offered to take a leadership position as the head of outreach. Those decisions to stay involved and keep taking on more responsibility were all terrifying, but I knew that they were the right choices. I didn’t realize until recently just how many of the lessons I learned growing up in my church were being reflected in my actions. 

I have to admit, when Michael Terrien asked me to write an article about how my faith and connection to the church has influenced my climate activism, I was a little worried. I’m not the most religious person, and I’m honestly not sure what I believe in theologically. I was worried that I would let him down and that I wasn’t the right person to do this. I’ve come to realize, though, that the values and lessons I learned from Sunday school and being involved in my local church, the First Presbyterian Church of Deerfield, are something I try to live by every day of my life. 

From about age ten until recently, I really had no clue what I believed. I’ve always been a pretty science-oriented kid, not to mention gay, so some of the more literal aspects of the Bible didn’t really sit well with me. My church was always welcoming and accepting of me and everyone in our congregation, so I never felt like there was something wrong, but it still made me feel a little weird. I’ve since come to the conclusion that the Bible and the teachings of Jesus Christ provide a great framework through which to lead your life. Being kind, helping others, not killing each other--that’s the kind of thing I can get behind. I’ve also realized that the sense of awe and wonder I get from looking at the stars, seeing natural wonders, and thinking about things like time and space can probably be called God. I used to struggle to understand what people meant by seeing the Lord in the most beautiful things in life, but I think I get it now. It’s the feeling of being such a small part of something so massive and beautiful that’s simultaneously incredibly comforting but also terrifying. I’ve always considered myself a Presbyterian, though now more out of the sense of community and the values I gain from the church than any theological beliefs I hold. 

Even while questioning my faith, mission and service has always been something I felt called to do. What I’ve come to realize in the last few years is that my relationship to a higher cause will always be much more about service than belief. I’ve decided that what truly matters to me and makes me feel connected to others is helping people. Volunteering has made up most of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. I’ve gone to Feed My Starving Children in Libertyville with my church and with my track team many times and made some great memories while feeling like I was really making a difference in the lives of others. My church runs a PADS homeless shelter on Sunday nights during the colder months, and I remember helping set up mattresses and room dividers during Sunday school in elementary school. Those were always some of my favorite days. No matter who I was helping, volunteer work has always made me feel connected to the world around me and brought me a sense of fulfillment. 

Helping to organize the climate strikes in Chicago has brought me a similar feeling of being part of something larger than myself. Our team was originally a handful of kids from the city and suburbs, most of them with some experience being a part of movements like these. We didn’t know much about what we were doing, but from our May strike with about 500 people to our strike two weeks ago with several thousand, we got our message out. Standing at the front of the march from Grant Park to Federal Plaza on September 20th, being somewhat able to see and very much able to hear the countless people behind me and those on the sidewalks ahead rushing to join us, that moment was one of the most spiritual experiences of my life. The knowledge that we had done that, that these people were with us all the way, that scenes even larger than this were playing out across the planet that day, all of that made me feel closer to God than I ever have. Just thinking about it now still makes me tear up. It felt historic and monumental. This movement is going to bring change. We’re going to make a difference. Those in power can no longer ignore us, and if they do, those who put them in office will hold them accountable for their reckless actions. 

My parents raised me from a young age to stand up and fight for what I believe in. As far back as I can remember, the majority of our dinner conversations have been about politics. This caused me to have a strange revelation at about age twelve that a debate over the merits of Brexit, which sounds like a lot of fun to me, is in fact most people’s idea of torture. This has, though, made me very good at having political discussions. For whatever reason, the older I get, the less my beliefs line up with my parents’. I honestly can’t tell if they’re more proud of me for coming to my own conclusions about the world or frustrated that I don’t agree with them on a lot of issues. Either way, they’ve been very supportive of my activism for the climate. They want me to be willing to loud and out there supporting whatever cause I think is a just one, even if it might conflict with their beliefs on occasion. 

Climate activism is important to me because it’s something that does and will continue to affect the entire world for the rest of all of our lives and could potentially ruin the lives of billions in the future. We have a perfect moment right now to act and save our planet from destruction, but too many are too cowardly to do anything. We tell ourselves we have more time, that this isn’t that pressing of an issue. I cannot understand Christians who claim that we don’t need to take care of the environment because it’s a gift from God to us, so He will take care of it. Why would the Lord want us to trash the beauty and wonder of this world? It’s certainly not essential to our survival; it’s the opposite. We need to take responsibility for the fact that it is our actions that created this crisis, and through our actions we can solve it. Ever since I first heard the phrase “caring for creation,” I’ve liked it. We need to take care of this planet. It’s not ours to destroy. This sense of entitlement to exploit its resources has brought us to a breaking point. Without systemic change, our society will likely collapse in a few decades, as depressing as that sounds. Hope is always a good thing, but with that hope we need a sense of urgency. 

It’s great to see organizations like Presbyterians for Earth Care recognizing this intersection of faith and activism. In my opinion, faith requires real action to back it up, and protecting the environment is a mission that helps quite literally every single person on the planet. I hope more Christians begin to understand that caring for God’s creation is one of the more important things we can do. Presbyterianism creates a sense of community like no other, one that fosters hard work and dedicated service to others. Participating in strikes, volunteering at things like beach clean-ups, and working with local communities to educate and promote more sustainable ways of living are just a few of the many ways churches can help in the fight to reduce the climate crisis. Presbyterians for Earth Care’s mission is exactly what we need to be pushing for in churches around the world to protect our planet.

Serena Worley is the director of outreach for the Illinois branch of the US Youth Climate Strikes. She’s a sophomore at Deerfield High School in Deerfield, Illinois, and a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Deerfield. 

A Dispatch from PEC’s 2019 Conference

A Dispatch from PEC’s 2019 Conference

by Elizabeth Fite and Diane Waddell

Elizabeth Fite, my 12-year-old granddaughter from St. Joseph, Missouri, was part of the Presbyterians for Earth Care Conference Stony Point and also attended a couple days of the conference at Menucha in 2017. A highlight for her was the hospitality of Rick-Ufford Chase and her first solo experience in a kayak. In September, Elizabeth drove with us to Salina, Kansas to hear Bill McKibben speak at the Land Institute's annual Prairie Festival, where he spoke about Greta Thunberg and the threats of climate change.  

“After I arrived home from Salina,” Elizabeth said, “I wanted to do something for the climate strike. My family and I designed a poster that said ‘CLIMATE JUSTICE,’ which we posted on Facebook and now hangs in a window in the front of my house so people can see it when they drive by. I am glad to know more about climate change as so many people are unaware. Our family uses reusable shopping bags and doesn't use plastic straws. We always use reusable water bottles, spread out our mowing as long as possible, and leave the leaves on the ground until late spring to help the pollinators.”

Thanks to Elizabeth and her family for their leadership in creation care!

Diane Waddell is Moderator of Earthkeepers for the Heartland Presbytery 

A Great Cloud of Witnesses

A Great Cloud of Witnesses

by Rev. Peter Sawtell

"Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us."(Hebrews 12:1) 

Greta Thunberg
We are not alone in facing a challenging world. Multitudes have come before us, and they have persevered through many trials. We are strengthened and encouraged when we remember historic communities of commitment and action.

The Book of Hebrews walks us through a long list of biblical characters who lived in "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." After a recitation of well-known names and stories, the list gets more general, speaking of anonymous others who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and obtained promises. The text recalls still others who were tortured, suffered mocking and flogging, even imprisonment and death. 

The biblical letter calls those witnesses to mind so that we, too, might continue in the demanding path of faith. We remember them so that we can run with perseverance too.

In these days of climate crisis, I am encouraged – and prodded – by a great cloud of contemporary witnesses. With deep gratitude, I call to mind those who have led us to awareness and action against the destabilization of Earth's climate: the scientists and journalists who have witnessed to truth about the devastated state of God's creation; the prophets calling out our personal and cultural complicity in damage to natural systems; the tireless activists who demand bold and urgent action. Because we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, we, too, should run with perseverance the race that is set before us.

The cloud of witnesses for climate justice is global and diverse, and I praise God for all who have committed themselves to this work of protecting creation. For today, though, I ask us to be challenged by a new and effective part of this movement, the passionate witness of youth.

Certainly we must start the list with Greta. A year ago, none of us had heard of her, and now she is the single most visible individual in the fight against climate chaos. Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg sat alone outside the houses of parliament every Friday in a personal climate strike, insisting by her persistent presence that the Swedish government start acting. Her solitary witness inspired other students in Europe, then Australia, and on around the world to strike for the climate. As she has grown in prominence, Greta has been fearless in speaking prophetic words to those in positions of power and trust. Her blistering denunciations of greed and business-as-usual cut through complacency and excuses. 

This fall, building on Greta's at-first-solitary strike, over 7 million people took to the streets for a Global Climate Strike, the world's largest single day of climate action. Young people in schools and in community groups now articulate specific demands for climate justice in nations around the world.

Greta has been an inspiration, but this movement has not sprung only from her. One day after the September climate strike, hundreds of youth prophets and organizers gathered at the U.N. for a Youth Climate Summit. They came from the global north and south, from east and west. Through poetry, film, business enterprises, and political activism, they are speaking truth, organizing communities, and forming international organizations.

A political powerhouse of youth activism in the United States is the Sunrise Movement, "an army of young people to stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process." In just two years, these youth activists have been a driving force in birthing the political vision of the Green New Deal, shaping its goals, and pushing aggressively to get it introduced in Congress. Their focused political work has provided a framework for broad public conversations about how we might move rapidly toward a just transition and a sustainable society.

And we must celebrate youth who have taken the climate cause into courts. In 2015, twenty-one dedicated youngsters filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government. The case – moving slowly through the courts against desperate opposition from the government – says that decades of U.S. policy favoring fossil fuels has deprived them of their constitutional right to a livable future. Similar youth lawsuits also have been filed against all 50 state governments. Youth have brought the demand for climate justice into the heart of the U.S. judicial system.

The Letter to the Hebrews calls out to us. Inspired by a great cloud of witnesses, we can and must join in witnesses, too.

That familiar passage offers us encouragement, but perhaps it does not feel quite so reassuring when we read on a few verses: "In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood." (12:4)

We are not looking at an easy or a comfortable task. This work of faith and hope calls us far beyond changing light bulbs, driving less, and sending an email to Congress. The Bible challenges us to dangerous resistance – perhaps filing lawsuits, or risking arrest, or at least speaking with such truth and courage that we might upset our friends and fellow church members. But, surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, we are called to do that much, and more.

The letter to the Hebrews celebrates a long lineage that lived in faith and with perseverance. Not all of the youth who I celebrate as witnesses to climate justice are rooted in a religious faith, but they certainly live and act in hope. They have committed themselves to a just and sustainable future which is yet unseen.

We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, young people doing what I see as holy work. Inspired by their witness, may we, too, run with perseverance this race that is set before us.

Rev. Peter Sawtell, an ordained minister of the United Church of Christ, is the founder and executive director of Eco-Justice Ministries. Through that agency, one of Peter's goals is to help church leaders discern what it means "to be the church" in this time of great ecological and social justice crises. Peter is widely known for his weekly e-mail commentary, Eco-Justice Notes