Greg Williams (right), who recently launched the Climate Action Team (CAT) of St. Martin's Church in Chestnut Hill, is seen here in July, 2014, with Jake Sudderth, who had just bought Walk a Crooked Mile Books from Greg, at Mt. Airy Read & Eat, 7141 Germantown Ave., the new location for the used bookstore. (Photo by Sue Ann Rybak)

Greg Williams (right), who recently launched the Climate Action Team (CAT) of St. Martin’s Church in Chestnut Hill, is seen here in July, 2014, with Jake Sudderth, who had just bought Walk a Crooked Mile Books from Greg, at Mt. Airy Read & Eat, 7141 Germantown Ave., the new location for the used bookstore. (Photo by Sue Ann Rybak)

by Lou Mancinelli

A little over a year ago Greg Williams, long-time owner of the former Walk a Crooked Mile Books store in the Mt. Airy Train Station, approached a crossroads. He and his partner Cynthia had recently sold the bookstore after running it for over 18 years. No longer required to be at work by 6 a.m., a wide open space demanding to be filled appeared in Williams’ life.

In that empty space an issue that had been in the back of his mind, nagging him, started popping up in his thoughts more often. There were two things that pushed climate change to the front of Williams’ mind: his granddaughter Talula (who is 3 now) and the March for Climate Change in New York City in September, 2014, that drew an estimated 400,000 people.

Williams attended, and it was there that he realized he was not alone in his concerns. Since then Williams has launched the Climate Action Team (CAT) of St. Martin’s. The group, associated with the local Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, meets the third Tuesday of each month to discuss various ways one can approach climate change at individual and group levels.

CAT exists within a religious institution, but Williams hopes anyone interested in engaging in the environmental movement at any level — from simply educating yourself to helping remove invasive species or coming to meetings — will get involved.

At the heart of CAT is a moral principle. “For me the moral issue is that humans are on this world in a role of stewards,” Williams said during a recent telephone interview.

Williams, 66, says that right now “We are all rookies at this. There is no guide book.” He knows some people are unsure how they can approach the issue of climate change. As such, he said some people have simply signed up for CAT’s email chain and are waiting to see what actions the group takes.

“I think that everybody’s got to find their own entry point,” he said. Earlier in the interview, Williams had said that “I think of Talula, and I start to cry.” He wonders if climate change is something that will destroy the planet before Talula turns 90. As a result, Williams told himself, “Of course you’re going to do this. There’s no choice.”

CAT seeks a prayerful, hope- and faith-filled approach to the issue, according to its website. Affiliated with Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light, a larger group dedicated to the same issues, CAT offers programs, liturgies and various other ways to get involved in the environmental campaign.

At St. Martin’s, CAT members built a compost heap for the church, have hosted workshops and led prayer services. They joined people of other faiths at a recent holiday celebration at the Germantown Jewish Center in Mt. Airy. In November there will be a climate change-related film series.

In just a few years Williams has come a long way from how he used to consider climate change: as something out of his hands. In fact, he said that in a way he had been living in a cloud of denial regarding climate change.

Not that he didn’t believe it, but he found the issues associated with climate change — like global warming, depleting fossil fuel resources, all the talk by scientists, politicians and journalists since the turn of the century about how our gasoline-fueled lives have been destroying the planet at an unsustainable rate — overwhelming.

“I didn’t feel like I could do anything about it,” Williams said. Perhaps that stance seems stranger knowing that Williams taught science at Springside School until he retired eight years ago. (He used to open the bookstore in the morning, go teach, then return to the store in the evening to work.)

Since then, he’s educated himself, reading as much as he could about climate change. “Denial is an easier thing when you’re really busy,” Williams said, “but once I took that first step of starting to read more, once I was battered by the despair of how big the problem was, I was confronted with the choices of being driven back into denial by the despair, being permanently depressed or doing something. I decided to do something.”

More information about the Climate Action Team of St. Martin’s at wacmbook@aol.com or stmartinec.org/community_engagement/climateactionteam/.

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