UCC conference minister part of national interfaith coalition to address climate change
Written by Emily Schappacher May 9, 2014
On the heels of the National Climate Assessment, a grim report on global warming released by the White House on May 6, a group of faith-based environmental leaders kicked-off a new initiative to address climate change in congregations, communities and beyond. Blessed Tomorrow, a national interfaith coalition of religious activists, launched Wednesday, May 7, to inspire and engage people of faith to lead the charge on climate change solutions and work with other groups to create real, necessary change.
"I think of this as a movement really," said the Rev. Jim Antal, conference minister of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ and one of Blessed Tomorrow's founding faith leaders. "People of faith are the sleeping giant in relation to the social change that needs to happen. I can now see the beginning of a path through which that sleeping giant will arise and pastors, rabbis and other faith leaders across the country will be able to engage and face the biggest challenge we've ever faced."
Blessed Tomorrow is an interfaith initiative of ecoAmerica, an organization that aims to mobilize people to understand and address America's core concerns and how they relate to climate and sustainability. EcoAmerica consists of leaders in seven sectors – faith, business, health, communities, new constituencies, higher education, and stewardship – all working to address climate change in their particular areas. Antal is one of Blessed Tomorrow's 21 founding faith leaders, with the Rev. Canon Sally Bingham, president and founder of Interfaith Power and Light; the Rev. Fletcher Harper, executive director of GreenFaith; and the Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, general minister and president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), among others.
The goal of Blessed Tomorrow is to encourage faith leaders to take steps together on a path to a positive future while maintaining the distinct voice of their tradition through simple, proven resources they can use to empower their members and communities. Its "Path to Positive" initiative provides tools for faith leaders, so each can create their own set of strategies and solutions to engage their churches, communities, and municipalities with creation care.
"People are sick of hearing from me about climate change," Antal joked. "But this is something you can do on your own. It's not about listening to me, it's about rolling up your sleeves and plotting a way forward that will work for you and your congregation."
In late May, leaders from all seven sectors of ecoAmerica will gather in Chicago for a day-and-a-half event. There, activists from each sector will provide mutual encouragement and cross fertilization for one another relative to the environmental work each group will be undertaking, in some ways, all together. Antal said this event will provide an opportunity for all leaders in the environmental movement to come together and share ways to deal with the global crisis of climate change.
"The faith sector is not out there on its own," Antal said. "We are going to work together to change the direction we are going in – which is typically ignoring the problem – and change the momentum in America, so instead of being a lagger, we will be a leader."
By next week, Antal plans to introduce Blessed Tomorrow to all 400 congregations in the Massachusetts Conference of the UCC. His goal by the end of the year is that at least 100 of those congregations will have identified the "Path to Positive" steps most applicable to their members, and begin integrating the actions into their church life and communities. He is also hopeful Blessed Tomorrow will inspire partnerships between congregations and environmental groups, such as 350.org.
If the faith community gets on board with the environmental movement in a visible, legitimate way, Antal said, change is bound to happen.
"I believe that immediately prior to every social change the world has undertaken, what you see is religion was repurposed," Antal said. "Like slavery to abolition, that huge change can't take place if people of faith keep doing what they've always done.
"People of faith begin to preach and act and lobby on it, and ultimately, the outcome is an unbelievably, really unthinkable, change," Antal continued. "That's what we're dealing with in regard to climate change. That's the wakeup call for our generation."