by Eric Dolente
Chestnut Hill United Church seems like any average suburban church with a small office building and a small parking lot. Bu the church is out to do more than administer to the spiritual needs of its congregation – it’s tackling environmental issues on a much larger scale with its Environmental Justice Center (EJC).
Lead by Joy Bergey, the EJC plays an important role in educating and preserving the environment around us in a healthy way.
Bergey said the EJC was founded in 1989 to combat the issues of climate change. It was a time when congregations weren’t known for taking on environmental causes.
“We recognized the potential importance of the issue for the faith community for a couple of reasons,” Bergey said. “First, the center was one of the very few institutions in those days where people of faith who saw protecting God’s creation as integral to their spiritual practice and relationship to God could find like-minded believers to engage with. For going on three decades, the Center has continually attracted new members to the church and new community partners.”
Bergey and Senior Pastor Linda Noonan were in agreement that the EJC was put in place to inform and serve the members of the community about environmental issues. More importantly, the EJC is there to help ordinary people know how to make a difference in the environment when they do not know where to begin.”
For the EJC to do what it can, there has to be collaboration with the church and its members to stay educated and alert on current issues.
One recent example of making those connections was a community meeting EJC sponsored on June 25 to discuss solar panels and their influence on the environment, but – more specifically – on the community. The EJC was able to partner with the Northwest Philadelphia Solar Cooperative to start a project on buying solar panels in Mt. Airy.
Buying groups would be established so that the cost is cheaper than buying them alone since it would be discounted by the installer, and all the heavy paperwork would be taken care of.
“We take and accept science to inform our positions and speak about the moral call of acting on what science teaches us,” Bergey said. “Acting on climate change and promoting clean energy is a moral issue.”
Bergey’s position as EJC leader is to influence policy makers on sustainable plans that affect the local community and ultimately the world. On July 10, Bergey and a group of Philadelphia area faith leaders – what she humorously described as “the start of a joke” including two Catholic sisters, a rabbi and two ministers – went to Washington, D.C., to protest at an EPA hearing. The EPA meeting highlighted a recent delay to stop leakage of methane gas by fracking operators, which would significantly affect climate emissions. Anyone from the public who had been for or against the regulations was able to speak his or her mind freely.
“I don’t feel like I can do my job unless I am educated on the world around us,” Noonan said.
Noonan works closely with Bergey to stay on top of rising issues so she can educate the members of United Church.
Noonan added, “Being a person of faith requires me to care about the world and people around me – to care about racism, homophobia, and those things that marginalize and exclude the people and the world.”
United Church prides itself on its involvement in the community, especially in terms of aiding the environment.
“I don’t think we will ever be finished our work,” Bergey said. “This is an especially challenging time for progressive communities in this country.”