By Ginger Brown Vanderveer
As in all the great social movements of the past century, the faith community is taking a leading role in the environmental movement. On Oct. 22, nearly 40 congregation leaders of the Interfaith Green Network (IGN) met to strategize efforts to combat climate change in our community. Over the years, this network of more than 20 Oak Park & River Forest area congregations has come together toward building a vision and role for congregations in caring for Planet Earth. The leaders acknowledge that Climate Change challenges faith communities worldwide with disasters such as drought, flood, sea level rise and heat waves. They believe their congregations are morally obligated to preserve God’s creation and to protect the most vulnerable humans.
This recent meeting, was hosted by Rabbi Robin Damsky of West Suburban Temple Har Zion in River Forest. Her congregation provided a healthy whole food breakfast for the meeting participants which included her very own homegrown cucumbers. Reverend Sally Iberg and Len Grossman, the present and past presidents of the Community of Congregations, and Jude Huntz, Director of the Office for Peace and Justice for the Archdiocese of Chicago, also participated.
The first presenter, Jim Babcock from First United Church, suggested we must act toward Climate Change with the same sense of urgency that the Ebola crisis has warranted.
Gary Cuneen of Seven Generations Ahead reviewed PlanItGreen with the group. PlanItGreen is the local sustainability plan developed by the community as a whole and funded by the Oak Park & River Forest Community Foundation. Gary recommended that the measurements and goals used in PlanItGreen be a model for congregations. He presented a congregational checklist, created in collaboration with Interfaith Green Network, that uses the topic areas from the community plan. Richard Alton from Euclid Avenue United Methodist Church showed how his church adapted the checklist as a working plan for his congregation.
Cindy Klein-Banai, of West Suburban Temple Har Zion and Associate Chancellor for Sustainability at UIC outlined priority strategies that congregations can use, including messages from the pulpit, promoting good sustainability practices among families in the congregation, using the PlanItGreen checklist to guide their actions, and organizing house parties to acquaint more people with sustainable programs and choices.
The open forum for suggestions brought forward other important ideas from the group:
Divest from fossil fuel companies
Work together on advocacy (especially for a carbon tax)
Create programs for youth
Publicize the climate change issue
Develop a speakers bureau
For more background on the Interfaith Green Network, read Congregation Green Teams Make a Difference.