North Dakota clergy address climate change during two-day energy tour
The Rev. Keith Mills is worried that the fossil fuel industry is treating the state of North Dakota as if it’s expendable. To educate clerics from throughout the state about the energy issues they face, the conference minister of the Northern Plains Conference of the United Church of Christ invited an ecumenical group of 25 clergy on a two-day Faith Leaders Energy Tour. Representatives from Catholic, Episcopal, United Methodist, Lutheran, and UCC traditions were present to learn how they can work together and speak both pastorally and prophetically in the face of changing energy markets and the effects of climate change.
“It is an ecological disaster unfolding right before our eyes,” Mills said. “We should be doing things that make our communities viable and sustainable, provide some training around that, listen to our congregations. Let’s engage in some church-based community organizing.”
The Faith Leaders Energy Tour, sponsored by the Burleigh County Farmers Union and the Northern Plains Conference, took place April 23-24. The group departed from Bismarck aboard a Farmers Union bus with a driver and a guide to teach them about the state’s energy industry. The first day included tours of Wilton Wind Farm, Falkirk Mining Company, and Blue Flint Ethanol, and ended with dinner and discussion at New Town UCC in New Town, N.D. On day two, the group toured the Bakken oil fields, and had lunch at an oil crew camp. During the tour, several ministers discussed the struggle of how to accept the scientific data of climate change, while at the same time pastoring congregants who work for the energy industry.
The group also addressed environmental justice issues in North Dakota and their impact on the state’s Native American tribes. The tour included opportunities to engage with local tribes, with stops at Old Memorial Church and a cemetery of Indian Scouts, many who fought at the Battle of Little Big Horn.
“This trip is an attempt to call our clergy together and begin to talk about how we all need each other,” said Mills. “How can we be of help to our colleagues out in western North Dakota? What does that look like? How do we approach that? A lot of folk are drowning out there.”
“There’s a difference between problem- and solution-oriented thinking,” said the Rev. David Hartson, pastor of Congregational UCC in Valley City, N.D., who attended the tour. “This trip is a solution. May it at least be the beginning of a long and growing connection between faith leaders of North Dakota to figure out the most compassionate and realistic path forward.”
Mills hopes that the tour provided an opportunity for local clergy to develop relationships and commit to working together to ensure that North Dakota is not treated as expendable by the fossil fuel industry, and that those interested in transitioning away from fossil fuel energy know what their options are. He believes that change will come not from those who are shouting from the rooftops, but neighborhood by neighborhood, when people say, “We’re not going to live that way anymore, and here are some changes we’ll make.”
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