The way of Becoming Beloved Community is a path toward racial justice – one where historical wrongs against a group of people, based solely on their race, are made right. It is a path along which healing and reconciliation can occur so that all people can live in the full dignity and abundance of God. The difficult work of creating Beloved Community is done for and by all people, even those who have not been harmed by historical systemic racial injustice, for they forsake true abundance when others of different races suffer needlessly.
The term “environmental racism” was coined in the 1980s as faith leaders in the United Church of Christ began to say out loud, publicly, that toxic waste burial sites were more likely to be in poor, minority neighborhoods. As global climate change has accelerated over the last several decades, the two issues have intersected into one of Climate Injustice – the burden of environmental degradation that is disproportionately borne by those in poor and minority communities.
Traditional sources of electricity (from which our region gets approximately 60% of its power) release fine particulate matter into the air, increasing pollution. African Americans, both middle class and poor, are far more likely to live in areas with high levels of air pollution than whites of the same economic status. Additionally, other byproducts from the burning of fossil fuels contribute to global warming and lead to rising sea levels. Currently, more than 600 million people globally, (around 10% of the world’s population) live within 10 meters of sea level. As oceans rise and storms get stronger, we create a potential tsunami of climate refugees who, through little fault of their own, will find their homelands to be uninhabitable.
A group of seven Episcopalians from across the diocese first met in July 2019 as a response to the call of Beloved Community to heal creation so all people may live abundantly. We began to explore the possibility of linking the parishes in our diocese together into a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) that would allow for the installation and bulk purchase of solar power at no cost to the participating churches. More likely than not, participating churches will see a decrease in their electric bills for the life of the agreement. More important, however, is that parishes commit to using power that is generated from a renewable resource, decreasing dependence on fossil fuels as well as the development of greenhouse gases, pollution and related health issues.
Decreasing our participation in environmentally-destructive systems will at minimum limit the harm we do to the most vulnerable among us and take us a step closer to fulfilling God’s call to Beloved Community. Currently, 31 parishes and the Procter Center have stepped forward with a desire to be evaluated for participation in this project. Not all sites will be feasible for solar power, yet we are deeply encouraged about the resounding “yes” we have heard to this call, affirming our desire to stand against environmental injustice.
As we consider the day where we might begin installation of solar panels on church properties across the diocese, we remember the way that Beloved Community announces itself in our liturgies. The Lord’s Prayer, taught to us by our Savior Jesus Christ, tells us that God’s true vision is for that of abundance now, here, before we arrive at the final feast of eternal life: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” God wants us to have a Beloved Community here, now. God’s vision is one where we all have clean water, fresh air, and access to the abounding beauty of this earth. God wants this vision to become reality, beginning with the buildings that we created as houses for worship – they must be reflections of God’s most beautiful kingdom.
The power we consume should be renewable, clean, and do the least possible harm to those around us. Solar panels on our church buildings will reflect to the world that the Beloved Community is coming to the Episcopal Church and that we are making a commitment to use our resources for those who have for too long been harmed by environmental injustice.
Catherine Duffy is a member of Solarize Ohio, a project led by a dedicated team of Episcopalians united around a vision of bringing an affordable renewable energy source to Episcopal properties across Ohio through a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). Connect with them at firstname.lastname@example.org.