Pennsylvania activists hit the road to call attention to climate change
Written by Connie N. Larkman
May 8, 2014

The Rev. Monica Dawkins-Smith, pastor of Faith United Church of Christ in State College, Pa., blesses a group of riders before their journey to Washington, D.C.

There's something about riding a bike — the freedom of the open road, the whispers of the wind, natural scenery unfolding all around you.  For seven riders from Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light, a bike trip from State College, Pa., to Washington D.C. is a great way to draw attention to the beauty of God's creation and the importance of preserving it for future generations.

That's why, with the support of UCC churches along the way, a group of bicyclists traveled 200 miles in four days, connecting with communities and people of faith, leading by low-emissions example, and sharing PA IPL's work and mission, before arriving Tuesday, May 6 at the IPL's national leaders conference at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.

"As people of faith, we are to take the lead in bearing witness to and embodying God's love; and live into our roles as good stewards, caring for all that God has created, blessed and 'called it good,'" said the Rev. Monica Dawkins-Smith, pastor of Faith United Church of Christ in State College. Her congregation sent the riders on their way with blessings and prayers, on Friday, May 2.

"May God bless you and keep you safe on this journey."

The group of environmental activists, which includes three Penn State professors, covered 40-50 miles daily, first stopping overnight at local Pennsylvania farm to highlight the benefits of buying locally sourced food. Plowshare Produce is one of several CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) in the State College area, but one that is very low carbon, relying on actual horse power to prepare the fields, and a solar-powered pump to provide the water.

"May God's protective care enfold you as you venture upon every road and trail."

On Saturday, the riders trekked across Pennsylvania, visiting with community activists and cycling enthusiasts. The next day, Sunday, May 4, the group headed into Maryland, stopping at Christ's Reformed United Church of Christ in Hagerstown, Md. for the night.

Pastor Gregg Meserole and his congregation have established an inner city ministry in an abandoned shoe factory, bringing new purpose to part of downtown Hagerstown. "This is the second year we have hosted the PA IPL trip," said Meserole. The riders stayed in the church's "Aspiring to Serve Community Center," half of the old factory renovated into rental space for local community service oriented non-profits. After serving them both supper and breakfast, Meserole said, "We sent them on their way with a quote from Rachel Carson, which emphasizes the question, 'What if I knew I would never see this again?' to encourage the riders to keep their 'sense of wonder' alive through the remainder of their trip, and to remember that part of the purpose of the trip is so that some of what they see won't disappear due to climate change."

The riders arrive in Washington, D.C. after 200 miles of cycling in four days.

"May you encounter God...in your travels, in the hospitality of each person you meet,in conversations with lawmakers about climate change."

On Monday, May 5, the cyclists stopped to pay their respects at the Antietam cemetery, before traveling along the C&O Canal and a night stop in Gaithersburg, Md. The trek ended Tuesday May 6, when the seven rode into Washington, D.C., to join other community activists from around the country at the Interfaith Power and Light national conference on the campus of Gallaudet University.

The cross country trip for the environmental activists wrapped up on May 7 with a visit to Pennsylvania offices on Capitol Hill. The message they delivered to lawmakers Wednesday: climate change is a moral and ethical challenge that must be addressed by individuals, communities and congregations, and also our elected leaders.

"May God's mercy, grace and love shine upon you every moment of each day and bring you safely home to loved ones."

Cricket Eccleston Hunter, director of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light, is encouraged by the White House response to the third National Climate Assessment, released Tuesday, and the growing national commitment to address climate change.  "The assessment reminds us that climate change, while hurting the most vulnerable first and worst, will harm us all, and that challenges everyone —perhaps particularly people of faith— to work together urgently and creatively to respond," she said. "In responding, we will not only address a deep wrong and become better stewards of Creation and community, but can actually make the world a better place to live in, adding 'The earth is the Lord's and everything in it.The world, and all who live in it.'(Psalm 24:1)"

Hunter also stressed that PA IPL is very aware of the work UCC churches are doing on behalf of planet Earth. "With their Green Justice efforts, UCC churches already understand what many are just beginning to: caring for Creation is also about justice for people," Hunter said. She also noted that her organization broke with tradition last year and, instead of honoring an individual with an annual Visionary Award, it honored the UCC in 2013 for the denomination's focus during Mission 4/1 Earth and the 2013 General Synod resolution urging divestment and other strategies, which calls on all settings of the church to take action on climate change.  That is a mission that Dawkins-Smith says UCC churches need to continue working on together.

"Many community and world issues often seem too big to tackle, especially if, like us, you are a small congregation," said Dawkins-Smith. "So, even if we care deeply about the issue, we may choose not to engage because it seems overwhelming. Working collaboratively with organizations like PA IPL is one way of participating in a larger environmental mission, making a difference beginning with one community at a time."

The trip surpassed a $6,000 goal for PA IPL, which will be used to assist communities of faith responding to climate change. 

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Ms. Connie N. Larkman
Managing Editor & News Director
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