While any social movement owes its existence and power to countless persons, there are those who play pivotal roles in a movement's inception and development. If one person were to be named "the mother of the environmental justice movement," a persuasive case could be made for Dollie Burwell. In 1978, Burwell teamed up with Debra and Ken Ferruccio to organize community meetings for local residents concerned about the possibility of PCB-contaminated soil being dumped in Warren County, North Carolina. Burwell played numerous influential roles over the course of the coming years as the environmental justice movement came into existence, and one of those roles was to involve faith communities.
With media coverage that swivels its focus at a dizzying speed, the attention span of adults has become a shrinking phenomenon when it comes to the pressing events of the day. Arguably, there is a positive side to some of this. Out of concern for those in the Caribbean and Florida, this past weekend I found myself repeatedly checking for live updates on the destructive path of Hurricane Irma. I was grateful for the minute-by-minute reports, but I also realize there is a significant downside to current media trends, and I fear the children affected by hurricanes may be among those who suffer the most.
Progressive Christian leaders such as Cameron Trimble and John Dorhauer have been leading a discussion about the historical trajectory of churches and what the future holds as the body of Christ evolves. In his book Beyond Resistance: The Institutional Church Meets the Postmodern World, Dorhauer summarizes the conceptual framework proposed by Trimble by describing the pre-Reformation Church as Church 1.0, the post-Reformation Church as Church 2.0, and "whatever is emerging as Church 3.0." A number of emerging churches have a notable emphasis on creation care and justice.
As I whisked my two-year old daughter to the restroom at our local nature center, my eyes landed upon a fantastic discovery: on a windowsill, there was a flier on actions I could take to help pollinators. As many of you know, these wonderful creatures of God, who make one out of every three bites of food possible, have suffered staggering declines in recent years. As a result of my restroom trip discovery, I can now share with each of you a web address, so that you can also learn of ways to make a difference as caretakers of God's creation: www.pollinator.org.
Thirty years ago Charles Lee was principal author of the landmark report "Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States." This frequently cited work pioneered a new field of study as it demonstrated the pervasive reality of environmental racism across the country by documenting the disproportionate presence of toxic waste near communities of color. To mark the 30th anniversary of the report, I interviewed Lee.
In 2016, a farm church called The Keep & Till was founded in Carroll County, Maryland. The stated vision of the church is "to see rural renewal through sustainable agriculture and environmental responsibility informed by radical Christian faith." The church’s pastor is the Rev. Sam Chamelin, and I interviewed him as part of an ongoing series focused on church leaders who are envisioning and bringing to life new ways of being the church while having a notable emphasis on creation care and justice.
One of the most poignant scenes depicted in the Bible is Joseph's "coming out party," the moment when Joseph reveals his true identity to his brothers. Until this time, they did not know that the person who had the power to bring the hunger of their people to an end amid famine was also the person they had once betrayed and sold into slavery. In their encounters with him, they had not recognized their brother. The moment of revelation, however, isn't simply confined to Joseph announcing his familial relationship. Joseph also reveals his calling: "God has sent me before you to preserve life."
"We celebrate the season of Advent before Christmas. We celebrate the season of Lent before Easter. When do we celebrate the season of Creation?"
Earlier this year, a task force created by the UCC Board of Directors to identify future priorities for the denomination announced the results of two surveys that found climate change to be the number one issue for the church to address according to respondents. The seeds for how the church of the future will address this issue can be found in the present. In addition to the leadership offered by the UCC Council for Climate Justice in raising climate awareness and organizing churches for action, statistics indicate a sense of where our denomination presently stands in terms of its environmental engagement.
Rev. Dele describes herself as "a grandmother, theologian, and Climate Reality Leader who uses her skills as a permaculturist and contemplative to assist churches in training the next generation of mission leaders in faith, ecology, and policy." One of her projects is a ministry called Soil and Souls. I interviewed Rev. Dele as part of a series of interviews with church leaders who are envisioning and bringing to life new ways of being church while having a notable emphasis on creation care and justice.