by Former Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts
A successful Greening Our Faith Communities Summit was held May 20 – 21, focusing mostly on the faith community in the Charlotte area, but drawing interest and speakers from around North Carolina.
The two-day virtual summit was organized primarily by GreenFaith and Clean Air Carolina, with support from ecoAmerica, Good Solar, MeckMIN, and numerous other faith and environmental organizations. With nearly 200 registrants, the summit was attended by representatives of almost 50 different congregations and houses of worship. Several of them have signed up to explore rooftop solar for their facilities, some plan to organize creation care teams and GreenFaith Circles, and several also plan to join the next NC Climate Ambassador training on June 22 – 23 (a four-hour training split over two days). In sum, the conference was not only a call to action but also a positive source of resources and examples for what that action might be.
Our conference began with a panel focusing on climate impacts that we can see and feel here in North Carolina. Every presentation pointed out the environmental racism that has shaped the way our state has developed, with disproportionate harm from pollution being felt in Black and Brown communities over the centuries. Attendees learned that Rev. Dr. Sheldon Shipman’s church is built on a former landfill, and also that the Hidden Valley neighborhood is bordered by two major highways that lead to poor air quality for his parishioners, higher rates of asthma, and more COVID deaths.
A particularly important focus of the Greening Our Faith Communities Summit was to underscore the need for the voices of faith to be part of calling for climate solutions and a low carbon future. Keynote speaker Rabbi Judy Schindler read “A Letter to the Earth” and showed how Jewish teachings call for us to care for the Earth, and that by doing so, we also care for our neighbors. Imam John Ederer followed with the Muslim perspective and our moral duty to be good stewards of God’s creation. Both speakers underscored the intersection of all major religions on the need – and indeed, the moral obligation – to care for creation.
Another reason the faith voice has an important role in climate advocacy is that many challenges that come with climate change and extreme weather – such as poverty, hunger, displacement, migration, disease, and racial injustice – are issues that people of faith are moved by and called to act upon. People of faith can appeal to our better selves, and can show how mitigating climate change and building a sustainable future is one and the same with loving our neighbors.
The conference included several breakout sessions and panels on other topics important to the community, including how to bring solar energy to your house of worship; how to start a community garden; how to bring the youth voice into your actions; and the theological grounding for creation care. We are grateful to those who shared their stories and their journeys, and who have succeeded in installing clean energy, planting community gardens, establishing green teams for their house of worship, and bringing climate justice and action into their sermons and liturgical studies.
The second day ended with sessions focused on bringing the faith voice to climate advocacy, and the importance of speaking, writing, and even protesting to raise awareness of the urgency to act on climate change and environmental racism. There are many avenues for attendees to continue to learn, participate, and grow their climate advocacy and impact. One such opportunity will be a 4-hour training on June 22 – 23 with the NC Climate Ambassador Program. This program teaches participants how to talk about climate in a non-partisan way; how to make climate change feel real and tangible, but also to focus more on benefits than impacts; and how to use your voice to urge your local, state, and federal policymakers to support the energy and sustainability transformation our country needs.
All the sessions from the two-day Summit can be viewed on the Clean Air Carolina website. You can also sign up for the upcoming, free Climate Ambassador Training by registering here. Many thanks to all the sponsors, organizers, speakers, and attendees for making the Greening Our Faith Communities Summit a successful start to establishing a creation care movement in the Charlotte region. Please share our sessions widely, and become a climate advocate! For more information contact Rev. Amy Brooks at [email protected].
Jennifer Roberts served as the 58th mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina. She is currently the Director of ecoAmerica’s Path to Positive Communities program.