A week after attending the West Tisbury Congregational Church service on Sunday, Nov. 10, to hear guest pastor Rev. Reebee Girash give a sermon explicitly focused on actively responding to the climate crisis, one striking impression still seems central to all the others. It is something I first heard expressed half a lifetime ago through a quote attributed to Goethe. On first hearing those words, they seemed like some kind of incantation, out of reach. They didn’t compute.
“Concerning all acts of initiative and creation . . . the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves, too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision... Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”
Somehow that bit of code seemed to be floating behind the lines of Reverend Girash’s sermon and in the air all around the church.
“In many ways I am here to be a cheerleader,” Reverend Girash began. “To encourage your efforts to live into what Jim Antal, the Massachusetts UCC president, calls the new vocation of the church: becoming ‘the delivery vehicle for a redeemed earth.’ As Christians, we are called to worry about climate change because God entrusted the earth to our care, and asked us to take care of neighbors, too. Simply put, swift and responsible action on climate change is loving God our creator who gave us this beautiful planet and charged us with its care; swift and responsible action on climate change is loving God’s children, our neighbors. It is the most urgent global crisis.”
And yet we remain hesitant for the most part, still not accepting the challenge posed by destructive climate change and its causes. Perhaps this is because there is no precedent for humanity being asked to rise to a challenge this grave, anywhere. But here was a hall full of church folks, as Reverend Girash put it, whose “faith keeps hope central to their work.” Hopefulness, “deliberate and radical hopefulness” was in the air, along with the seeds of strength it brings.
I don’t attend services on a regular basis but feel at home when I do. One of the first things that caught my eye as Reverend Girash began the service was a line from the prayer printed in the morning’s program. “Give us strong feet willing to follow him into the world.” I had come to hear a special sermon devoted to the urgency of intensifying climate chaos, two mornings after the biggest storm ever, feeling it might be a pivotal event on our Island. And I knew for the faith community to help support and lead us all in facing this crisis that this prayer would have to supplant the less immediate one of following him into heaven.
Reverend Girash made me as comfortable as I’ve ever been in church and she did a masterful and seamless job of weaving a condensed but thorough, honest and very stark current state of the crisis appropriately into the context of the Sunday morning service. But what struck me most was her bravery, which must be based on a commitment so generous that it is opening a path for her passion, her clarity and her caring.
Reverend Girash gave all of us together in that beautiful room the gift of a few minutes of a clear eyed no-doubts reality check on what we are in fact facing regarding our life-supporting climate system which we have pushed too far. She also generated momentum.
“I think the climate action movement needs more church people and the church needs more climate activists,” she said. “When the outcome seems inevitable, when the powers that be say there’s no other way, when they say our economy, our society, our government could not possibly operate without more and more and more fossil fuels, call upon the One who turned everything upside down and let him help you envision a redeemed and transformed world.
“In the words of Christian poet and climate activist, Wendell Berry, ‘Do something that won’t compute . . . Be joyful though you have considered all the facts . . . Practice resurrection.’”
In closing, Reverend Girash urged everyone to look to those who will be our future.
“I am part of a group that does small group conversations on climate change with mothers of young children (MothersOutFront.org) and there is a moment in each of those conversations when the dire future that may come sinks in and I see tears around the room. It is crucial to say, from authentic conviction, a better future is possible. There is hope that the world can be reoriented, revived, restored. We can even love and respect and partner with our neighbors enough to heal this planet we share. We are called upon to give of ourselves for the sake of our children and every child in this world.”
This was not the first time The West Tisbury Congregational Church and the United Church of Christ (UCC) has addressed the issue of climate change I discovered. In fact, last spring the church took part in a UCC denomination-wide 50-day campaign to promote environmental awareness and action. And in January the church is launching an earthcare book/action group in collaboration with 350MVI. Anyone interested in learning more about the book group can email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about climate change response efforts, visit the 350MVI Facebook page or email email@example.com.