Congregations gather for climate action

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Approximately 150 people from diverse religious and spiritual traditions from across northern Michigan and beyond gathered at Voorhies Hall, Bay View, Michigan on June 26 for a program entitled, “Answering the Call: An Interfaith Response for Climate Action.”

The evening included prayer, drumming, and song; an indigenous perspective on relationships and responsibilities; an update on climate breakdown in Michigan; a congregational panel; and a lightning round of practical actions that congregations, individuals, and families can do to make a difference now.


Mike Spencer, Executive Director, Bay View Association, welcomed the audience with “A Prayer for Our Earth” from Pope Francis’ Encyclical on Climate Change and Inequality.

The Drum Voices of Greensky Hill opened the program with two water songs, a traditional one from the Micmac people and a contemporary one.

Elisa Seltzer, Temple B’nai Israel of Petoskey, moderated the panel. In her introductory remarks, she spoke to Jewish values that make sustainability and justice guiding principles.

Holly T. Bird, attorney/activist, Water Protector Legal Collective, MI Water Protectors Legal Task Force, shared an indigenous perspective that emphasized relationships of respect with water, air, trees, animals, plants, and all peoples as the foundation of the indigenous way of maintaining harmony and balance.

“It is less about stewardship and more about recognizing our dependence on the health and well-being of the entire circle of life. Water doesn’t need us,” she said, “but we need the water.”

Knute Nadelhoffer, Director, University of Michigan Biological Station, described the changes we are already beginning to see in the state, reminding the group that we have less than 12 years to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% and to net zero by 2050 to limit catastrophe.

“That will require tremendous commitment and unprecedented action. The goals of the Paris Climate Accord aren’t enough now.”
The congregational panel began with David Arnosti, green team member, Haslett Community Church near Lansing. The church’s rooftop solar array generates about two-thirds of the annual energy usage and saves around $3,000 a year in energy costs.

Haslett is one of around 20 houses of worship around the state that are powered by sunlight.

Rev. Jonathan David Mays, pastor of Greensky Hill Indian United Methodist Church, Charlevoix, spoke about the congregation’s vision of greening Greensky Hill by: creating a cultural center celebrating indigenous traditions, arts, and wisdom; moving to solar energy in a way that respects the historic character of the hand-hewn log structure; and doing green burials in their cemetery.

Steve Johnston, Sturgeon Bay Woodworks and member of Temple B’nai Israel, shared the congregation’s plans to build a new rabbi house that will generate almost no greenhouse gases.

The second panel was a lightning round of short, high-energy presentations on significant, practical actions that individuals, families, and congregations can take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Kathy Coveyou, Coveyou Scenic Farm, focused on the significance of the food choices we make every day.

Lindsey Walker, Emmet County Recycling, noted that 40% of food in the United States is wasted, not on farms or in grocery stores, but in our homes.

Ric Evans, clean energy team, Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, Traverse City, celebrated the 100% renewable energy goals and plans that communities across the state have committed to. Petoskey recently declared the entire city will run on 100% renewable energy by 2035.

Charlevoix is working out a time-line to achieve 100% renewables.

Evans encouraged congregations in other communities to work with their municipal governments to do the same.

Rev. Deb Hansen, board member, Michigan Interfaith Power & Light—the group which organized the event—gave a call to action.

She noted that, as part of the outreach for the event, six congregations in Boyne City, Cheboygan, and Mackinaw City will be the first in northern Michigan to receive a free, money-saving lighting audit from Consumers Energy through Michigan IPL’s Light the Way program.

This program was planned and organized under the leadership of the newly-formed Michigan Interfaith Power & Light Northern Michigan Chapter.


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