United Church of Christ

What's next after the People's Climate March?

May 03, 2017
Written by Connie Larkman

How will the 200 UCC activists counted among the 200,000 who turned out in Washington, D.C. to march for environmental justice on April 29 continue to express their resolve for U.S action that combats climate change?

MarchGirls.JPG"I am taking it upon myself to become educated," said 16-year old Ingrid Gillies, a member of North Congregational UCC in Columbus, Ohio. "My passion for the environment really began unfolding with one documentary (Cowspiracy). The more knowledge I consume, the more well versed I will become."

Ingrid and one of her best friends, 17-year old Claire Kohler, who attends Sylvania UCC, in Sylvania, Ohio, are both passionate about creation justice, and that activism has been nurtured through their UCC backgrounds. The girls met in 2010 at a Choir Camp at Pilgrim Hills. As returning campers, their friendship grew as they did.

"The environment is something that is important to the both of us." Ingrid said. "Claire is a vegan and encouraged me to become a vegetarian, for we acknowledge animal agriculture is one of the leading causes of climate change."

"Since we do only see each other once a year at camp, we are always looking for ways to get together. When I found out I would be going to the March, I immediately asked my mom if I could take Claire," Ingrid continued. "It was a powerful experience, marching alongside one of my best friends in solidarity with thousands of others from around the country. The shared passion by many gave me a renewal of hope and encouragement during a time where the environment seems to be put on the back burner."

Powered by flickr embed.The girls understand for that to change, they have to help change the hearts and minds of people in their home communities.

"Sharing what I know, the way Claire showed me the dangers of animal agriculture will be the only way people change," Ingrid said. "Through dialogue and relationships, I think I am called to open other's minds - introduce people to a new perspective. This approach seems to be a feasible one, and one that I am going to elaborate and grow as necessary."

The members at Rock Spring UCC in Arlington, Va., which probably had the biggest UCC contingent at the People's Climate March, posed a lot of questions about continuing the momentum.  The Rev. Laura Martin and about 60 people from the church participated in the march, and worship on Sunday drew a crowd larger than that and continued the theme of climate justice.

Rev. Kathy Dwyer and the congregation invited the Rev.Jim Antal, president and conference minister of the Massachusetts Conference to preach the sermon on April 30. Antal's involvement in environmental ministry goes back to the 1970's and the First Earth Day; he also authored the 2013 UCC General Synod resolution that called for divestment in fossil fuels.

Antal said the church community needs to be the center of discernment and discussion around earth care and climate change. He's now writing a book with the working title 'Repurposing the Church for a Climate Crisis World."

"Trust is a huge issue when doing prophetic work," he said. "If there is trust in the system, use it to leverage that work."

He noted that 2016 was the hottest year ever, and said that while 3 of 4 people believe global warming is happening, 2 out of 3 people never discuss it. That's a problem faith communities can work to solve.

After the Sunday service, when asked during a luncheon with several dozen people about the best way to continue to defend God's gift of creation, Antal said, "If you can begin, as a congregation, to invite one another to a different life." Talk about how you make the connection to earth care in your own life.

"He encouraged us to make space for individuals to give their own climate testimony--of installing solar panels, of going from a two-car household to one car, of changing to green energy," Martin said. "I see one of the next actions for Rock Spring as a church is to look at our own investments and to continue to engage with Arlington's own Ready for 100 Renewable Energy campaign, while continuing to promote and share individual steps."

"This is holy work," Antal continued, "making changes in lifestyle and sharing these stories in a liturgical context would have an impact on people. Personal testimonies during worship can inspire people to make their own changes."

The Rev. Brooks Berndt, UCC minister for environmental justice, cited the march as a "fantastic experience" and is hoping to grow the UCC network for climate awareness and action as a result.

He is issuing two invitations. First, those interested can register to join a conference call on Thursday, May 11 at 8:00pm ET (7 pm CT/6 pm MT/5 pm PT ) to have an opportunity to talk about next steps for the climate justice movement.

The second invitation to stay connected is The Pollinator, the UCC environmental justice e-newsletter that serves as a forum for the sharing of ideas, events, and best practices. Sign-up for the newsletter here.

"If you think about it, marches are a wonderful metaphor for ministry," Berndt said. "There a moment in which a diverse group of people come together for a common purpose that inspires and motivates. Everyone brings their own unique personality and creativity to the march as we move forward together. Like any good march, there is a sense in which we keep on moving forward together even after it is over. We find next steps that we take in our own communities. In that way, the spirit of justice stays alive. In this case, I am certain it is a spirit that will continue to grow. Our denomination is developing a strong sense of call to climate justice."

"Acting on the climate is not optional," Martin said. "To love the earth is to honor the same covenant that God gave humanity in relationship to God and each other."  

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