Think of your church as being the dot in the center of a series of concentric circles. The circles represent the broader world: your immediate community, your state, your region, your nation, and finally, the entire planet. Your congregation’s journey into environmental justice ministry might begin with a focus on that dot in the center. It is common and often practical to start with immediate environmental concerns within the walls of one’s own building. An energy audit can be a useful place for a congregation to begin, but eventually as Christians, we are called to consider the plight of our neighbors, whether they are neighbors in our city or neighbors in our interconnected, global world. Here are some ways to expand one’s awareness and advocacy beyond the dot at the center:
1) Discover the advocates in your own community.
Whenever possible, seek out local organizations that can inform your congregation about environmental injustices in your community. For example, is there an organization that addresses the lead poisoning of children in your community? Is there an organization that is addressing a nearby coal plant? Invite these organizations to educate your congregation and expose your congregation to the stories of those most affected. Then, explore ways to partner with these organizations to support their advocacy efforts.
2) Do your own online research.
You might be amazed at the information that can be found online about your own community. For example, through the Energy Justice Map you can insert your address or zip code to learn about both dirty and clean facilities in your area. Facilities categorized as coal, nuclear, biomass, trash, hydro, geothermal, wind, solar, and more can all be found here. To the map of local facilities, you can add layers that show you the racial demographics and income levels of different neighborhoods. In addition to this website, there are a host of other websites that can help you learn about the location of fracking sites, fracking accidents, factory farm pollution, areas affected by lead poisoning, and areas lacking access to healthy, affordable food.
3) Engage in State-Level Advocacy
In most states, organizations ranging from Interfaith Power and Light to the Sierra Club will participate in organized environmental advocacy days at your state capitol. Some of these advocacy days can involve workshops and rallies in addition to arranged meetings with legislators. If a congregation plans in advance, it can organize a concerted awareness and advocacy campaign among its own members that culminates in a group of people attending the advocacy day. Movie nights, book groups, house parties, art shows, and special worship services can help build awareness, interest, and commitment for participating in the advocacy day. Afterward, the church can celebrate and reflect upon what it did through potlucks, report backs, and facilitated discussions.
4) Raise the consciousness level of your congregation about the current realities and threats facing Island nations and countries in the global South.
One possibility is to screen a documentary such as “The Island President” which tells the story of Mohamed Nasheed’s struggles as president of the Maldives to save his nation from drowning under rising sea levels.
5) Let the actions of others inspire you to act.
To expose one’s congregation to global climate issues and the uplifting movements that have formed to address these issues, one can show Naomi Klein’s documentary “This Changes Everything.” The UCC offers a discussion guide for this film.
6) Connect with a Scientist
Local colleges and universities can often be resources to find science professors who can speak on subjects such as the local, national, and global effects of climate change.