Interfaith Partners Pray for Accelerated National Leadership on Climate Change

1/25/2017
By Pam Arifian

Rev. Ryan Gackenheimer, Alex Thompson and Amber Bigley at the Salisbury Interfaith Climate Vigil
Photo by Haley Richards
On Sunday, January 22nd, during the first 100 hours of the new presidential administration, people of diverse faiths gathered at three different vigils across Connecticut to pray for the US government to accelerate its response to climate change.  The vigils were held in Salisbury, Fairfield and New Haven. A fourth vigil was held in Bloomfield on Tuesday evening. These vigils were linked with over 140 similar vigils and dozens of other actions nationwide under the banner of the People’s Climate Movement, a coalition of environmental, labor, environmental and racial justice, faith, student and other organizations, in partnership with Greenfaith, an interfaith environmental nonprofit, among others.
 
A common thread running through all vigils was the emphasis on addressing climate change not only as an environmental concern, but also as a matter of health and economic opportunity, particularly for working class and poor communities. The leaders also emphasized their urgent concern that climate change disproportionately impacts communities of color and the poor. All of the vigils included a time for participants to share their concerns and to offer prayers.
 
 “We are here to lift up hope and to pray for strength and support as we prepare ourselves for action in our individual lives, in our communities, in our state and federal governments,” said Pam Arifian, Director of the UCC Northeast Environmental Justice Center at the Salisbury vigil.
 
Faith leaders from numerous faith groups participated in the vigils, emphasizing their commitment to working across religious traditions. The vigils included support, reflections and prayers from various traditions, and was supported by numerous faith communities. The Salisbury vigil was supported by Silver Lake Conference Center and the UCC Northeast Environmental Justice Center, Salisbury Congregational Church, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of NW CT, Jewish Community Group of NW CT, Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, among others.
 
Grumbling Gryphons and volunteers prepare for the parade at the Salisbury Interfaith Climate Vigil
Photo by DiverseEye Photography
The Salisbury vigil was held outside of the White Hart Inn on an unseasonably warm and sunny Sunday, and was attended by about 60-70 people, including State Representative Brian Ohler. Silver Lake Conference Center staff participated as lead organizers, musicians, and speakers. The vigil was supported by SLCC and the UCC Northeast Environmental Justice Center, Salisbury Congregational Church, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of NW CT, the Jewish Community Group of NW CT, and Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center.
 
“This is a matter of faith.  We have a clear imperative in scripture to care for Creation and to care for those who are most vulnerable.  The vigils were about making it known that there are people of faith who will stand for and actively work for the protection of creation and people who are vulnerable in light of the ways in which the Earth is exploited and harmed by human choices.” Said Rev. Ryan Gackenheimer, Executive Director of Silver Lake Conference Center.
 
The Grumbling Gryphons Traveling Childrens’ Theater offered a performance theater and parade with an environmental theme. 15 attendees donned costumes and props to represent the sun, water, a rainbow, and a huge oil spill to draw attention to pollution and environmental responsibility. With signs proclaiming the urgent need for climate justice, “protect our earth for our childrens’ children” and a rousing rendition of the song “We are Marching In the Light of God,” the vigil drew supportive honks from passing cars.
 
In Fairfield, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, approximately 50 people gathered to participate in a climate vigil. With candles and a green ribbon to connect all participants, they named their concerns for the effects of climate change, and sang “The Tide is Rising.” 
 
In New Haven, at Church of the Redeemer UCC, there were over 30 people in attendance at a climate vigil organized primarily by members of UCC and Episcopal Diocese of CT. The event drew over 30 people from various faith communities and many who were not affiliated.
 
“We are gathering here today in solidarity to speak to this moment in history as we consider the fate of the Earth and out human impact on it,” said Ian Skoggard, co-chair of the CTUCC Environmental Ministry Team. “It is a moment to ground ourselves in our spiritual resources that can help us process our grief, our anger, and our fear; and equip us with the hope and strength that will sustain us as we bear witness to the needs of the world.”
New Haven Interfaith Climate Vigil at Church of the Redeemer, UCC
photo by Mary Nelson

With candles, opportunities for quiet and shared reflections, and music that expressed grief and also proclaimed our power as humans, the New Haven vigil offered participants a chance to experience unity around this complex issue. “What delighted me is what was shared about why people were/are hopeful,” said Rev. Tom Carr, Director of the Inter-Religious Eco-Justice Network. “Yes, there's a lot of anxiety and fear for what is happening to the climate and eco-systems everywhere, but I think people are grateful for and hopeful when people come together to work together for a common good, for a just and sustainable world.”
 
One of the participants was a Yale student from India, who shared that her family’s city outside of New Delhi might run out of fresh water within three years, and that they need to wear masks to protect themselves from the smog. She, like others, was looking for solutions.
 
Another participant praised Silver Lake Conference Center for teaching their youth about environmental justice, and helping them find their voices. “As a result, we plan to emphasize EJ in our monthly Youth-led Sunday service. Our kids heard and saw that Environmental Justice is truly about people caring for all people as they care for our Earth.” Said Sharyn Esdaile, Youth Worker at Dixwell Avenue Congregational Church.
 
The Bloomfield vigil was held on Tuesday evening, January 24th at First Congregational Church in Bloomfield. Attended by 25 people, including 8 members of the church and some from as far away as East Hampton, the vigil provided space to share concerns about the environment under the current administration. With candles held high, the participants sang the Hopi Native American chant, “The Earth is Our Mother.” A town council member was in attendance, who did not identify as a religious person, but that he felt called to be there.
 Fairfield Interfaith Climate Vigil, held at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
photo by Michael Ciba

Most participants left the vigils with a list of actions to care for the environment, and a charge to stay engaged together on local and global environmental issues. One participant at the Bloomfield vigil offered the following reflection on taking action, which speaks to the need to act: “Are we taking enough action? The question really is, are we outside of our comfort zones? I cannot stay in my comfort zone and be able to make a difference. Keep stepping outside of your comfort zone.”
 
As Rev. Edwin Ayala said, (quoting former President Barack Obama), “change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”
 
The next major scheduled mobilization to demand and support climate action will be the Peoples’ Climate Mobilization in Washington, D.C. on April 29th.  To stay engaged locally, “like” the “UCC Environmental Justice Center at SLCC” Facebook page, and/or add your email address to the UCC Environmental Justice Center mailing list, and/or join the CTUCC Environmental Ministry Team, and/or join the Inter-Religious Eco-Justice Center mailing list, and/or 350CT.org.