Written by Steven Liechty
The final pieces of preparation are coming together for thousands of United Church of Christ advocates descending upon Manhattan this week to join tens of thousands in the largest climate march in history.
The People’s Climate March on Sunday, Sept. 21, is a major mobilization of people from faith, business, labor, science, agriculture and education communities rallying as one voice for climate care. The family-friendly event includes art installations, music and marches to show world leaders that humanity is ready for action on climate change and to express their support for God’s creation.
The Rev. Meighan Pritchard, UCC minister for environmental justice, believes that people of faith are “called to live into the challenges of climate change with faith, hope, and love.”
“We have choices about how we face the increasing climate chaos of this century,” Pritchard said. “We can reduce our individual carbon footprints. We can work at the congregational level and in our communities to do the same. And we need to put feet on the ground in the streets to tell our leaders around the world—in no uncertain terms—that we need them to stop posturing and start acting. When it comes to climate change, there is no ‘us’ and ‘them.’ We’re all on the same team. We need to work together to help everyone survive and thrive while also learning to live sustainably on this planet.”
Like Pritchard, Beth Ackerman, an advocate from Riverside Church in New York City, says it’s on congregations to lead the change and push for climate care.
“As Christians, Jesus said to care for the least of these, and we interpret that the people who will be affected by climate change first are people with fewer resources around the world, the least able to defend themselves from rising waters, food shortages and political instability,” Ackerman said. “There is a call in Genesis to protect the planet as stewards. We are not in charge of the earth. Humans generally have had a pretty poor track record in the last 100 years, since the Industrial Revolution.”
The People's Climate March comes two days before the start of the United Nations Climate Summit, a worldwide gathering in New York City on Sept. 23. At the invitation of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, leaders from many countries, including President Barack Obama, will gather to discuss climate change, with the intent to offer a vision of national and international climate goals and strategies.
Pritchard is collaborating with Ackerman, the Rev. Donna Schaper, pastor of Judson Memorial UCC, and the Rev. Jim Antal, conference minister of the UCC’s Massachusetts Conference, to coordinate the denomination's presence during the People’s Climate March.
Ackerman chairs the “Beloved Earth Community” at Riverside, working on fracking and examining divestment from fossil fuels, as well as greening the church building. Ackerman is part of a four-person panel discussion, “Why the U.N. Climate Summit is Important to All of Us,” to be held Wednesday, Sept. 17, at Church of the Holy Trinity, where she will discuss the role of faith communities in organizing for a sustainable future.
“The interest, love and care for the climate should come from churches, and the climate movement might help the church populate its pews. I’m hoping it’s a reciprocal effect,” Ackerman said.
On Sunday, faith groups, which are marching together by affiliation, will gather at 58th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues before the march. A UCC pennant will fly to let members know where to congregate (between the MCC and Mennonite groups) prior to the 2-hour-long march, and Pritchard is asking UCC members to wear black and red “StillSpeaking” items. There will also be an interfaith worship service at 11 a.m., 30 minutes before the march begins.
Linda Clough of First Congregational UCC in Old Lyme, Conn., has chartered a bus to transport more than 50 members of the church to the People's Climate March. The bus heads out at 7 a.m. the day of the rally.
“New York is close to us, and our church is definitely concerned about environmental issues. We have an adult forum at the church--an hour-long talk between services--and the environmental committee puts on four or five a year,” said Clough, who heads First Congregational’s environment committee and Old Lyme’s conservation commission. “We suffered with Hurricane Sandy, now we’re concerned with sea rise and the erosion of the coast line.”
“Globally, the temperature rise in the waters of ocean is affecting sea life, but it will also affect our ability to grow food to feed the population,” Clough continued. “I think our church has a global view of things, not just locally to Old Lyme, and that’s what concerns the environmental committee and the ministers.”
“Extreme weather events and overall rising temperatures are taking a toll on plants, animals, and humans worldwide,” Pritchard said. “The People’s Climate March will send a message in numbers too big to ignore to world leaders that we are ready for significant action on climate change. I am excited about UCC members turning out, along with thousands of others, to send this message.”
Count Clough among those concerned UCC members, eagerly awaiting action to heal the planet. She said she hasn’t walked in a march since the 1960s to protest the Vietnam War. Now, at age 67, the People’s Climate March has “gotten me off my butt and on a bus.”
Check this site for more information about the People's Climate March or to sign up to receive updates on UCC involvement.