This Board member profile is one of a series that will roll out from now through the early fall. Board members are active PA IPL volunteers who live and serve across Pennsylvania. Barbara Ballenger was elected to the Board for a 3-year term in October 2015, and currently serves as board Secretary.
Bringing to the earth and her changing climate the same urgent compassion that I have felt for people in poverty, for the victims of war and violence and for those who are the victims of injustice is something that I have come to gradually. Part of it has been in learning and understanding how climate justice intersects with all the issues that affect vulnerable people. And part of it has been the result of wiser people continuing to turn my attention to the complexities of climate change, when I wanted to wander off in directions a bit easier for me to understand.
My husband, Jess, is one of those people. I first got involved with the climate care conversation that ultimately produced PA IPL when I sat in for him on a local meeting to plan a climate change conference at Penn State University in State College. That’s usually how it begins for me — one meeting becomes another and another and I’m hooked. Maybe he secretly had that in mind.
The issue wasn’t new for me. It resonated deeply with my professional work as a pastoral minister, first in the Catholic Church and then the Episcopal Church. Engaging and empowering people of faith in the religious obligation to “do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8)” pretty much sums up ministry for me.
So I worked with other people of faith in State College in the Creation Care Coalition of Centre County. We encouraged our congregations and neighbors to foster their own practices of earth care and sustainability in order to strengthen and inform their involvement in larger and wider advocacy for the earth. That ultimately means advocating for policies and practices that addressed the root causes of climate change and worked to curb its horrible trajectory. So we encouraged biking rather than driving, helped congregations develop green practices, weatherized the homes of people in economic need, sponsored conferences and speakers and shared ideas over ice cream on Sunday afternoons.
In our own family, we challenged ourselves to “beat the beast” and for a few years tried to log in more collective family bike miles than car miles. We installed our energy efficient light bulbs, took public transportation, ate local food and engaged in the daily family struggles of turning off lights and computers, and water faucets and getting the recyclable items in the appropriate containers.
And meanwhile similar efforts were happening all over Pennsylvania, as PA IPL was formed and shaped and strengthened by Pennsylvanians who faced a diversity of issues that exacerbate and intersect with climate change, such as fracking, transporting fuels, developing traditional and alternative energy infrastructure, facing the fallout of compromised environmental quality on our most vulnerable people.
We now live in the city of Philadelphia, where we continue to navigate the ways that so many justice issues here —from racism, to public education, to immigration, to gun violence, to innumerable forms of prejudice— intersect with the consequences of a heating climate and bespoiled planet.
That’s why I joined the board of PA IPL last year and why I help support the Climate Action Team at the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Field where I am on the staff.
And it’s why I often take up the role of stoker on the back of our tandem bicycle, going on long rides with Jess. We go places I can’t quite manage on my own bike, not being as strong a cyclist as my husband. But then as with the topic of climate change itself, I know I can go farther in the company of others than I can on my steam.
Barb Ballenger is a member of the PA IPL Board of Directors and is Associate for Spiritual Formation and Care at the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Philadelphia.