Connecting to our environment
“Our oldest unity is our relationship with the earth,” writes John Philip Newell, an internationally acclaimed spiritual teacher and author. He calls for us to reawaken to the sacredness of the earth and challenges us to take transformative action. Our environmental groups in the Adirondacks are taking action as are inter-faith communities.
Since May 2020 members of the Keene Valley Congregational Church (KVCC), under the auspices of the Creation Justice Church Task Force, have continued to address what we can do as a faith-based community. When commissioning this seven-member Task Force, Rev. John Sampson, pastor of KVCC, asked us to reflect upon and lead the congregation through a time of listening for how God may be calling us.
To encourage this listening, the Task Force sponsored spiritual-based explorations in the Adirondack woods and waters – a number of silent paddle trips and Forest Bathing gatherings. Using our senses, these events helped to deepen our personal connection with the natural environment.
Silent Paddle on Church Pond. Photo by Merle Tanis
On our silent paddling trip last fall, six of us spent two hours on Osgood and Church ponds where we spoke not a word and communed with the waters, the trees, the blue sky and the clouds – in our own way. As we lingered by the launch site at the end of our trip, we shared what we experienced. Merle Tanis, a member of the Task Force, broke into song, singing the first verse from Peggy Lynn’s song “Sanctuary”:
Quiet enough to hear the paddle dipping
Quiet enough to hear the water rippling
I breath in the stillness and the beauty
This is my Sanctuary
A week later, Merle emailed her latest thoughts, “I find Peggy’s words to be so real, personal, perfect… they surely described my thoughts and feelings throughout our silent paddle. It is my hope that these will transport us back to those glorious, unforgettable moments we all experienced in our own ways last week.”
A church community takes action
Working within the constraints of the Covid-19 pandemic, the church community tackled ways to honor the earth and limit our carbon footprint. We commissioned an energy audit which resulted in our taking specific actions, including repairs to our buildings to minimize heating loss, the purchase and installation of energy efficient lighting, enhancing our recycling program, and the use of clean-green products/consumables.
Socially responsible investing is now a part of the financial strategy for the church. We will soon install solar panels on the roof of one of the church buildings, made possible by the generous donation of church members.
Solstice/equinox online services were produced honoring our connection to Mother Earth and the flow of seasons and life. The flowers that adorn the church sanctuary are often pickings from our own gardens and nearby fields of wild flowers, or are locally sourced – a practice I specifically love because it is so visible. A pollinator garden will be planted next spring on the church ground with native plants and shrubs, thanks to a grant we received from the Adirondack Garden Club.
The Creation Justice Church program
The Keene Valley Congregational church follows the Creation Justice Church program from the United Church of Christ (UCC) to assist our congregation in making the ministry of environmental justice an integral strand in the DNA in our faith community. The Creation Justice Task Force is currently led by three co-chairs –Pam Gothner, Katharine Preston, and me. Other members are Shawn Lamarche, Merle Tanis, Monique Weston, Naj Wykoff, and Rev. Sampson, ex-officio.
KVCC was officially designated a creation justice church November 2021, only the third UCC church in New York state to achieve this status. See articles in the Lake Placid News and the Sun Community News.
As a part of this UCC program, the church congregation committed ourselves to helping to heal the earth by passing this Creation Justice Covenant:
Keene Valley Congregational Church affirms that the global environmental crisis is the most pressing spiritual challenge of human history. This moment calls us to understand our mission statement’s charge to, “strive lovingly to serve others with justice and compassion,” to broadly include both the human and non-human Creation. As such, we declare our congregation to be a Creation Justice Church. We commit ourselves to thoughtfully engage in acts of compassion to heal the world, mitigate the effects of the environmental crisis, and advocate for justice on behalf of all Creation.
Katharine Preston shares what we can do as individuals:
Each day I try to live deliberately, carefully, and as lightly on the earth as I can – being respectful of my neighbors and neighborhood, which includes the land itself, the soil, plants and animals as well as the human beings ….”
Pictured at top: The KVCC Creation Justice Church Task Force. Photo by Naj Wykoff