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  • The Rev. Barbara Ballenger

Rector’s Note: What our Summer Vacations are telling us about Climate Catastrophe-8.3.23

On Sunday afternoon Jess and I hopped on our tandem bike for the first time in a while and wound through the city streets and forest pathways from Mt. Airy down to the river walk along the Schuylkill and through the streets of Old City. The temperature was perfect and rare for the last weekend in July, a cool breeze, incredible sunshine. Folks swung in hammocks strung between trees along the river. People fished. It was glorious.


For many of us, summer is the season to reconnect most intensely with natural spaces as vacation time opens up and allows us to head off to beautiful places – campgrounds, beaches, forests, parks. These recent days of local milder summer temperatures have been a rare blessing; it’s easy to forget the intense heat plaguing other parts of the country at the same time.


If the natural world is a particularly spiritual cathedral for you, a place where you find respite and peace and wonder, then you must be hearing its wail and its lament as well. We cannot love the scenery, splash in the waves, walk in the woods this summer and ignore the agony of our natural world, and the consequences of our prideful misuse of it.


As we encounter God in these natural spaces this summer, we must be willing to ask how is the divine One calling us as the Body of Christ to respond to the cry of the earth and her inhabitants all year round?


While the breadth and depth of climate catastrophe can feel overwhelming, I also know that Christ graces his disciples with the strengths and gifts necessary to do God’s work. St. Peter’s is no exception.

Below are some of the ways that faith communities can engage in climate care, and some questions we might consider as a community regarding the part that we must play. I want to hear your ideas as well, and would truly love to see a climate care group emerge that would help our parish respond with love and intention. If you feel called to this ministry, please let me know, so we can explore how to make this an intentional outreach of our parish.


Meanwhile, here are the particular strengths that I believe faith communities like St. Peter’s bring to the wider work of protecting the earth’s climate and atmosphere:


The strength of community. As I listen to the climate-focused anxiety and anguish of people who feel isolated and hopeless in the face of dire climate predictions, I am reminded again and again of the importance of a supportive, loving and engaged community. Our strength as a church is not in our ability to distract or soothe, but in our capacity to suffer with one another, to listen to one another’s fears and pain, and to work together steadily, even when the effort seems small or hard to measure.

The strength of our common prayer. Our commitment to regular, communal prayer in liturgy helps us to listen with one ear to what God is telling us, and to discern together how God is gifting us. And it sets our intention to love along networks and systems that extend far beyond what we can see or reach individually. It helps us to reflect together on common experiences and to be filled with a shared hope and grace. It reminds us that we are vulnerable and that we need God’s help, even as we make ourselves servants of God. How shall we pray for the earth and our strength to support it in new ways this year?


The strength of our shared learning. I love a good Sunday forum – the shared ideas, the personal stories, the call to grow in our understanding and to even have courageous and difficult conversations. The same thing happens in bible studies. I’ve also seen it in our LIFT (Learning in Faith Together) book group as we listened to Bishop Michael Curry’s book “Love is the Way” together. Consider the times that you learned something you did not know before in the company of people who helped you live into that new knowledge. Learning in Christian community goes farther than your typical book group, I believe, because it shapes how we live out our faith together. How shall we go deeper in our study of how to truly steward the earth this year?


The strength of our shared life. Replacing our boilers with new units is one way that we have made our physical plant a little more energy efficient, though we also know that because it’s a fossil fuel, natural gas is not a sustainable fuel source. Still, we have the capacity to make sure that the decisions we make about our buildings and grounds, our waste stream, our drainage systems, and our fuel sources are acts of love. That works best when we think ahead, rather than at the last minute. What might we examine in our everyday practices or parish life – choosing plates and cutlery, disposing of food scarps, surfacing our driveways and parking lot, choosing our energy sources, to name just a few? How might we better make our parish’s use of resources part of a practice that does not harm the earth?


The strength of our physical assets. Our buildings and grounds can be places of protection as well as prayer, offering respite from heat disaster to vulnerable people in our wider community. Churches have long been essential as cooling centers, food distribution sites, shelters, and places to get information and support in crises. How might we use our physical resources to care for vulnerable people affected by climate-related crises in our wider community?


The strength of our collective voice and action. As people of faith who are also citizens of a democracy, we have powers of persuasion, education, invitation, inclusion, gathering and advocacy to bring to the wider work of creation care and climate protection. We can learn about and advocate for policies and practices that mitigate the effects of climate catastrophe and limit its worst advances. Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light is an example of an organization that resources people of faith from all traditions to work together to raise climate catastrophe as a moral issue. For example, visit their web page to see how the Farm Bill Legislation impacts the climate and how we might weigh in. How might we as church workers lift our voice in support of transformative change in our region, state and country?


As we share our photos and our stories of summer escapes to earth’s green and refreshing places, let’s also listen to how those places, and the fragile systems they are part of, are crying to us for love and care. I look forward to hearing your own ideas on how we might respond.


Blessings,

Rev. Barb

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