Church members join climate change march

Adapted from an article by Linda Bloom (UMNS)

NEW YORK—Gabriel, who is “almost 5,” was trying to stand patiently with his father, Tim Emmett-Rardin, from Calvary UMC University City in Philadelphia, until the signal finally came for them to sweep into the throng that became the People’s Climate March in New York City, Sept. 21.  It had been a long wait where pennants held aloft on poles announced the presence of United Methodists, Lutherans, Hindus, Episcopalians and numerous other faith groups stationed there by march organizers.

Baptists clad in green T-shirts demanded “Climate justice for all God’s creation” and Hare Krishna danced joyously. The music and amplified speeches offered from various faith perspectives did not always rise above the din of the crowd.

“He keeps asking when we’re going to start moving,” Gabriel’s father said.

Early on, organizers estimated that 100,000 people would come to midtown Manhattan to demand significant commitments by world leaders to deal with the climate change issue. On Friday, Bill McKibben, a United Methodist and president of march co-organizers 350.org, said 200,000 people might show up.  By Sunday afternoon, the estimate was 310,000, based on the crowd density along an expanded march route. That estimate later rose to nearly 400,000.

“At 5:00 p.m., march organizers had to send out a text asking marchers to disperse from the march route because the crowds had swelled beyond the route’s capacity,” said a press release from peoplesclimate.org.

March preceded Sept. 23 Climate Summit at the United Nations

The march preceded the Sept. 23 Climate Summit at the United Nations, arranged by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon — who also took part in the march — to spur political action on global warming and encourage leaders from government and the private sector to announce new initiatives.

McKibben, who spoke about the march during an International Day of Peace symposium on Sept. 19 at the United Methodist-related Church Center for the United Nations, was skeptical about what the summit might accomplish, given what he considered the “complete failure” of the U.N. Copenhagen summit on climate change in 2009.

“We don’t have much hope that this week, in New York, the world leaders will get us much farther,” he said. “That’s why we decided to invite ourselves to crash this party and come, too.”

March participants — representing government entities, labor, neighborhoods, environmental and social justice groups, faith communities and indigenous groups, as well as families and individuals — began assembling Sunday morning on Central Park West.

Bill Ewing joined fellow members First UMC Germantown, Philadelphia, in carrying a large church banner. “We’re in the process of doing real damage to the planet,” he declared. “We need to get people’s attention to stop it.”

Education about climate change is a personal and vocational priority for Tim Emmett-Rardin, who stood with Gabriel and fellow Calvary member Gerry Felix (photo at left). “It really feels like we’re at a crisis point, at a major crossroads,” he said.

Emmett-Rardin is starting a new job promoting wind energy in Pennsylvania that will have an educational component. “It’s probably the easiest way to help congregations evaluate renewable energy,” he said. “It’s a small step but it’s an easy one for people to take and it makes a difference.”

The Rev. Jenny Phillips of Seattle, part of a group loosely organized through United Methodist Women and other United Methodist general agencies, came to promote Fossil Free UMC, a project calling upon the UM Board of Pension and Health Benefits and other institutions to divest from fossil fuel companies and reinvest in clean energy.

Phoebe Crismo had extended a U.S. visit from the Philippines to attend the march and other climate action events. As staff of the Philippines Central Conference, she helped produce a campaign on climate change for children, youth and local churches. She is concerned about the impact of deforestation and open-pit mining on her country. “With the forest gone,” she explained, “when the monsoons come, down comes the mud as well.”

Nikki Edelman, from Pawling, NY, one of numerous UM seminary students at the march, said she was motivated to march by her background in chemistry and her concern as the mother of 8 and 10-year–old children. “I’ve always been interested in the ecology and biology of the earth,” she added. “To me, it’s totally wrapped up in faith.”

Not far away, the Rev. Carol Windrum and Tim Fickenscher, a United Methodist couple from Omaha, Nebraska, were preparing to walk, shaking off the fatigue of a 27-hour Greyhound bus ride. Both expressed concern about how climate change will impact younger generations. Windrum directs the Micah Corps, a 10-week summer internship program for young adults focusing on social justice issues, for the Great Plains Annual Conference. Flickenscher is a high school teacher.

‘If we don’t do something now, it will be too late’

“If we don’t do something now, it will be too late,” he said.

Pat and Dave Herber, members of Calvary United Methodist Church in Frederick, Maryland, simply showed up. “We were in the city for the weekend and didn’t know about this until we saw the news coverage and decided to join in,” explained Dave Herber, who teaches environmental science to high school students. “I do look at this as caring for God’s creation.”

Finally, shortly after 2 p.m., it was time to march, with the Cross and Flame held high and the banners of the First UMC Germantown, United Methodist Women and New York’s Saint Paul and Saint Andrew UMC following.

Pohlmann of the Church of Saint Paul and Saint Andrew hopes other United Methodists will feel inspired to connect with faith-based climate action groups and join what she considers to be a “historic push” for change. “The march created a huge, unprecedented opportunity,” she said. “But an opportunity only matters if it is seized, and in order to seize this one we need to start now.”

More from Tim Emmett-Rardin, of Calvary UMC University City in Philadelphia:

“This was a powerful experience to share with my son,” Tim Emmett-Rardin told EPA Conference Communications in an interview Tuesday, Sept. 23. “A handful of us went to the march because it was important to represent Calvary, and justice is what we’re about.”

He reported that members of Chestnut Hill United Church and Arch Street UMC were also there, among others. “Chestnut Hill has really been on the forefront of this work in our conference for awhile now,” said Tim, “especially through their Center for the Celebration of Creation.”

Like other churches, Calvary has a “Green Team” that does ongoing education and advocacy to help protect the environment. “I’m very motivated,” said Tim. “The fossil fuel industry has a lot of power; so it’s important to show we have power too, as people who are united.”

Calvary’s team has met with a nearby Jewish synagogue and Mennonite fellowship in West Philadelphia to build awareness and commitment to using renewable energy and addressing ecological justice issues. Together they mobilized for the big NYC march. Calvary provided one of 50 buses that traveled from Philadelphia, where members belong to a local chapter of 350.org.

“We’ll meet again soon to debrief and plan next steps,” said Tim.

By John Coleman EPA Conference Communications Director

WHAT THE CHURCH TEACHES
The Book of Discipline, which contains the denomination’s laws and teachings, includes multiple statements on being caretakers of God’s creation.
• On Water, Air, Soil, Minerals and Plants: We support measures designed to maintain and restore natural ecosystems.
• On Energy Resources Utilization: “…We call upon all to take measures to save energy. Everybody should adapt his or her lifestyle to the average consumption of energy that respects the limits of the planet earth.”
• On Global Climate Stewardship: “[We] support efforts of all governments to require mandatory reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and call on individuals, congregations, businesses, industries, and communities to reduce their emissions.”
Read Linda Bloom’s entire, unmodified article at http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/churches-join-peoples-march-for-better-earth.

TOP PHOTO: (From left) John Riggan and Bill Ewing of First UMC of Germantown, with Tim Emmett-Rardin and Gabriel of  Calvary UMC.  Photo courtesy of Bill Ewing

OTHER PHOTO: Calvary UMC members Tim Emmett-Rardin, left, with his son Gabriel and Gerry Felix, joined other United Methodists at the Peoples Climate March in New York, Sept. 21.   Linda Bloom photo