Written by Barb Powell
As the “Keep it in the Ground” preach-in advocating keeping fossil fuels in the ground approaches, pastors from across the country are signing on, igniting a groundswell of support for the movement to bring fresh creative solutions to the threat of global warming. And their reasons for joining in are as varied as their geographic locales.
“I believe that I have a responsibility as a minister of the Gospel to preach the Good News and the uncomfortable truth,” said the Rev. Da Vita “Day” McCallister, associate conference minister of leadership and vitality for the UCC’s Connecticut Conference. “The Good News is we have the opportunity to change. The uncomfortable truth is that if we keep going at our present rate of consumption [of fossil fuels], we will no longer have that opportunity, and our children and grandchildren will pay the price of our arrogance and greed.”
The preach-in –– scheduled for Sunday, April 24, in pulpits from Maine to California –– is part of the UCC’s “Our Stillspeaking Voice” monthly multimedia event initiative. The April event is co-convened by the Rev. Brooks Berndt, UCC minister for environmental justice, and the Rev. Jim Antal, conference minister and president of the UCC’s Massachusetts Conference.
"In our city, you drive right past oil drilling; pumps are running at all hours of the day and night, right next to shopping centers and housing tracts,” said the Rev. Elena Larssen, senior minister of First Congregational UCC of Long Beach, Calif. “It takes courage for us to ask bold questions about creating a sustainable future because it will impact the lives of local people, including members of my church. My congregation will have divergent opinions on the whole subject. This is why the church needs to keep asking the complicated questions, because churches take the long view and will stand in support of workers and families as well as the environment.”
“Our local voice is larger and more diverse when we join with our UCC community to speak for justice, Larssen added. “When we join together and show that care for our creation is happening in lots of ways on the local level, we strengthen the whole witness of the church.”
The Rev. Eileen Gebbie, senior minister of Ames (Iowa) UCC didn’t want to participate, initially, because “global climate change leaves me feeling completely paralyzed by fear. However,” she said, “I know that such fear is the place I must go, the place God calls me to interrogate and move through with integrity.”
“I hope this effort will offer the opportunity for collective confession that we have fallen short of living in right relationship with the Earth,” said the Rev. Amanda Hendler-Voss, founding co-pastor of Land of the Sky UCC in Asheville, N.C. “I hope it will remind us that divine wisdom is sewn deep into the fabric of the landscapes and the wild communities in which we live.”
Land of the Sky UCC, located in the scenic mountains of Appalachia –– parts of which has been strip-mined or demolished through mountain top removal mining –– kicked off the April event this past weekend. “I hope it will spur creativity for new ways of working together to yield to the many teachings of the soil, green growing things, and animal lives so that we might be reconciled,” Hendler-Voss added.
In addition to the preach-in, Berndt also encourages local churches to hold house parties to explain why it’s necessary to keep 80 percent of fossil fuels in the ground. He said he uses Jenga –– a tower building game using blocks –– to illustrate the catastrophic consequences. “As anyone who has played the game of Jenga knows, a tower built with blocks will quickly fall if one messes too much with the blocks at the bottom,” Berndt said. “Likewise, there are parts of creation that we simply cannot continue to mess with if we do not want our present world to collapse.”
“A visual demonstration like the falling of a tower leaves an impression, so my suggestion is to have a ‘Jenga house party,’” Berndt added. “Eat some food, play Jenga, and explain why we need to keep fossil fuels in the ground. You can then discuss what you and your guests can do to promote both energy efficiency and renewable energy. Finally, invite your guests to sign an online petition that urges President Obama to stop the extraction of fossil fuels on public lands.”
Many of the ministers participating in the preach-in hope the event will spur action in their local churches as well as contribute to regional and national conversations on global warming and climate change. Gebbie said she hopes her sermon will affirm the efforts of Ames UCC’s newly-formed Green Team, “and build on their momentum to be a place that inspires true stewardship, even when it is counter-cultural.”
“Survival is one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of any of our social markers or statuses,” she said. “Nothing else matters if we cannot learn to control our energy usage and become more creative in its generation. In addition, we cannot allow ‘the market’ –– as if it is an anonymous force within which we have no say –– go unchallenged. We are the market. We have a choice.”