johnbechtelFor new readers, we are one of 40 state chapters of Interfaith Power & Light (IPL).  While we have four related purposes, for me our primary mission is to mobilize all people of faith who feel an urgent moral duty to reverse the trend of climate change.

PA IPL is a fledgling. Born in 2010, we were under the wing of a “parent” until August 2013, when stand-alone non-profit status was secured from the IRS.  Our membership, budget, and staff are still small — small enough that your donation, participation, and membership matter.

We aim to grow tall and run fast, before we all run out of climate time.

My involvement began in 2012 as a member of the Finance Committee. Now I’m a newbie on the Board. In that capacity, I am sort of the self-anointed point guy to expand and diversify our presence in my region of our state.

I have lived in south central PA since 1974.  I know only too well that the topic of climate justice is still a hot potato in most church settings around here.  Yet at the same time, I sense that in our churches today a growing body of younger members want to break the silence on the subject, but are at a loss on how to do so in a spirit of shalom.  That’s the dilemma and the demographic I’ve been thinking about a great deal lately.

Soon I hope to introduce PA IPL’s cause to a “green justice” leadership group, at the Conference level of a leading denomination of our region.  These faith leaders in turn will know the best way to interpret PA IPL to their churches and recruit the “climate justice converts” of those churches to lend their voices and hands to our work.  So far, so good; we are knocking on the door.

But what happens when the door swings open?  What will PA IPL offer to this faith group?  What value can we add to their good work so far?  What might they accomplish, in mutual ministry with us, which could not be done without us?

The scope of the answer may surprise you, but here’s how I see it: PA IPL offers all of us the unique chance to get in on the ground floor in the making of a moral movement.

Movements rise on four wings:

1. Steeplechasers, not Sprinters
It took King, Abernathy, and Rosa Parks 11 years (1954–1965) to end legal segregation. Gandhi, Nehru and Patel needed 17 years (1930 -1947) from the salt march to the end of the British Raj. We at PA IPL are here for the long haul. We know that God may be slow, but is never late.

2. Youth, not Age
Rosa Parks was 31 in 1954. King was only 25. Nehru was 41 in 1930. Gandhi and Patel were older, but you see the point: we need Barb Donninis and Cricket Hunters more than John Bechtels in order to make the movement grow.

3. The Faithful, not the Faint-hearted
Mother Teresa was once challenged in a friendly way by a U.S. Senator, who asked how her good work could possibly make a difference in a place like India, where the needs are so great. She replied, “Well, Senator, we’re not always called to be successful, but we’re always called to be faithful”. I doubt Rosa Parks had success in mind when she took a seat in the front of that bus in 1954.

4. Pacemakers as well as Peacemakers
You may have to sit down in the front of the bus. You may have to stand up and march to the sea. You may have to divest certain stocks from your portfolio, as the United Church of Christ church body has formally called upon its members to do. You may have to take a public stand, in a visible action in Philadelphia  during Holy Week and Passover, as a  group of PA IPL leaders feel called to do.

Building a movement calls first for architects, then for artisans. The founders of PA IPL put us on our feet in record time.  Now it’s time to march.  Gandhi and Nehru got “Swaraj” going in the 1930s; but Patel’s the one who got it running.  We are now at that next stage.

One “Patel” who is worth all of the Darjeeling tea of India is the Rev. Dr. William Barber, the heart of the “Moral Monday” Movement in North Carolina. Here is what Rev. Barber recently had to say about the staying power of movements (and why Barb Donnini and Cricket Hunter roar):

“Every movement in America that has made a significant impact has had a deep moral framework. The fight against slavery had a moral center. The fight for labor right had a deep moral center. In the fight for women’s suffrage, one of its leaders, Sojourner Truth, emphasized herself to be in God when she said in her famous speech “Ain’t I a Woman?”: “Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with him.” All these movements drew on the interconnected tenets of faith, righteousness and justice. “

We do not strive for climate justice because it’s the smart, profitable or popular thing to do. We strive for climate justice here in Pennsylvania, as Rev. Barber strives for social justice down in North Carolina, because it’s the right, the moral, the holy thing to do. We feel a moral and holy duty to be here, and we aim to stay here, until the good work is done.