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August news seemed crazy—the Gulf oil spill, floods covering one-fifth of Pakistan, drought stoking fires in Russia, record heat on the East Coast, icebergs the size of states breaking off glaciers, genetically modified and hormone enhanced food and the obesity epidemic reversing life expectancy. These seem like over-the-top plots of science fiction.

Mike Denton

Mike Denton
Conference Minister

With everything these days, there is political, scientific, media, institutional and industrial wrangling and manipulation. Daily doses of non-sequiter answers are attached to the wrong questions that are repeated until they seem rational. This media culture creates an entertainment-ready conflict-based sport in which one person—depending on their debating skills—wins or loses while those providing the coliseum set aside responsibility to explore whether the information is factual to increase their ratings. The “winner” is usually not the person with the best information but the one who presents information in the most believable, convincing way.

Folks wrangling for power and money set aside the common good for what is only good for them—one definition for sin. Systems have been given life and breath to such a degree that they reward those who serve the systemic addictions.

The Church does not escape clean. Although our influence is not what it once was, we participate in the culture of winning. We have fed the beasts. Our buildings, denominations, institutions and other structures have sometimes become monuments to us as opposed to pointing to God.

One of the most important functions of the Church continues to be providing a place where people seeking to faithful can gather and make a difference. There are few U.S. hospitals, social service organizations, senior communities or social justice organizations that don’t have roots in the church. Many movements for equality and peace were started in prayer meetings, camp retreats and church social halls.

Churches were the first places to address environmental issues through the lens of workers exposed to chemicals, unsanitary conditions of poor communities and community health.  The UCC Commission for Racial Justice was an early leader in the cause for environmental justice, releasing in 1987 a report, Toxic Wastes and Race and a 2007 report, Toxic Wastes and Race at 20.  The UCC Network for Environmental and Economic Responsibility formed in the late 1980s, promoting “Whole Earth Churches.”

In coming months, the UCC Environmental Justice Center will emerge at Pilgrim Firs. Over the last year, a partnership has developed between our camp, our conference, the national church and a growing number of organizations concerned about the environment. The hope is to provide a space of dialogue and training where environmental issues can be discussed, solutions to problems can be considered, commitments can be made and, movements are launched or enhanced.

Pilgrim Firs is within four hours of just about every environmental issue.  That also means that it’s within four hours of people and organizations figuring out ways to deal with these challenges.

The programming of the Center will fit around, and sometimes within, the other regular programming of Pilgrim Firs. We expect to start small and, over time, the Center will grow into something that enhances the mission of the camp and becomes another of its core functions.

We’re also looking into ways to make the center’s programming flexible enough to be adapted programs in other parts of the UCC. Eventually, we hope to have programs that appeal to ecumenical and interfaith colleagues.

The UCC has three other centers in other parts of the country. One focuses on advocacy training in DC; another on issues related to racism on grounds of a former slave plantation in North Carolina (The Franklinton Center), and a third focuses on border and immigration issues in Southern California (Centro Romero).

Our gifts to Our Churches Wider Mission (OCWM), grants, and special gifts from churches and individuals support these centers. The hope is that the UCC Environmental Justice Center will become self supporting through participation fees.  This will take a while.

Meanwhile, we will work with those in the national UCC to develop a plan with clear lines of accountability and  responsibility; a realistic, sustainable budget; a prophetic, prayerful, powerful program, and a plan to raise funds to help this program get off the ground.

The covenant the PNC Board approved Sept. 12 with the UCC Justice and Witness Ministries includes sharing support of a program consultant, plus joint strategic planning.

More information will come about this center. Meanwhile, please pray about this idea in your local church as a part of your prayers for this world and time we live in.

Copyright Pacific Northwest Conference News © September-October 2010





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