Processing grief can prompt action, climate activist says
Helping people grieve over damage to the planet is a special contribution the church can make in the environmental movement.
That was just one of the messages from the Rev. Jim Antal, climate activist and author, in a March 2 webinar, “The State of Creation.”
Offered on Zoom, the one-hour program was part of the United Church of Christ’s State-of-the-Union-inspired series, “The State of the Matter.”
A recording is available here, at the UCC YouTube channel.
‘Greatest moral challenge’
Antal, a retired UCC pastor and Conference minister, serves as a special advisor on climate justice to UCC General Minister and President John Dorhauer.
He opened with an urgent statement: “God’s creation – life as humans have always known it on Earth, our common home – is in jeopardy. The choices we make and the actions humanity takes over the next few years will determine the peril and the possibility to which we and our children, as well as all future generations, will be subjected.”
There is plenty of proof of the problem, he noted. But there are also tools to solve it. “The scientists have put us on notice,” he said. “The engineers are providing all the solutions we need. Activists are courageously speaking truth to power.”
In a three-part speech — after which he fielded questions from a national online audience — Antal:
- Gave an update on the state of the global environment. He focused on the impact of climate change.
- Examined “humanity’s role in creating, continuing and countering the greatest moral challenge humanity has ever faced.”
- Described actions churches and individuals can take to “faithfully respond to God’s call … as we create an unstoppable mandate to restore creation.”
In worship and in the world
Helping people grieve is one of four things he suggested churches and other faith communities can do now. “Our worship community must become a place that allows us to process our grief over the degradation of the earth we love,” he said. “Doing so will allow us to recognize that the existential dread we experience can serve as a precondition of hope.”
The other three:
- “Clergy need to preach on the climate emergency and on the intersectionality of racial, economic and climate justice. We need to preach as if life itself depends on it. Because it does.”
- Create “a monthly or even a weekly opportunity during worship for a member of the congregation to bear witness to an act that they or their family are taking to address the climate crisis.”
- “Congregations need to get involved in advocating for and supporting aggressive polices to restore God’s creation. … This is not a partisan exercise. It is right and good for the church to advocate for the restoration of creation, the elimination of racial inequity, and transformation of economic inequality.”
One example he gave of local action — most effective when many congregations work together — is to “roll up our sleeves and resist the building of all new fossil fuel infrastructure,” such as oil pipelines and fracking operations.
All of it, he said, is part of making “God’s call to restore creation and advance climate justice an essential part of our identity as people of faith.”
Future, past episodes
Inspired by the tradition of an annual U.S. State of the Union address, the “State of the Matter” series addresses issues of concern in church and society. The schedule ahead includes these live webinars (times and registration links are posted, as they become available, at the UCC “Events” page):
- Thursday, March 4, 3:30 p.m. ET: “The State of Women.” A global panel of YWCA leaders will be the featured guests. “We will discuss some of the issues facing women and children, including sexual and gender-based violence, digitalization, and the impact of COVID on young people,” the webinar’s description says. Information and registration are here.
- Tuesday, April 6: “The State of Black Bodies,” with the Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas. She is dean of the Episcopal Divinity School at UCC-related Union Theological Seminary and author of the 2015 book “Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God.”
- Tuesday, June 1: “The State of Seminary Education,” with presidents of UCC-related seminaries.
Recordings of these past episodes are available by clicking on the titles below:
- “The State of the Poor,” with the Rev. William Barber II. Barber, a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) minister, is national co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign. It aired Feb. 18.
- “The State of the Church,” with Dorhauer and the Rev. W. Darin Moore, presiding bishop of Mid-Atlantic District of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. It aired Feb. 4.
- “The State of Our Children,” with the Rev. Starsky Wilson ,the UCC minister who heads the Children’s Defense Fund. It kicked off the series on Jan. 26.
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