When I decided to attend the weeklong Kenyon Conference in the summer of 2007, I just wanted to learn more about the UN’s Millennial Development Goals (MDGs). Instead I had a conversion experience.
The bishops of the two dioceses in Ohio sponsored the conference, held at Kenyon College in Gambier; Bishop Mark Hollingsworth of the Diocese of Ohio and our (then) brand-new Bishop Tom Breidenthal of the Diocese of Southern Ohio. It was cool to interact with the bishops in a casual setting, in their shorts and everyday shirts instead of voluminous liturgical vestments. It was a terrific conference. Expert speakers shared information and told stories that brought the eight MDGs alive. As the week went on, I felt called to address the suffering that was going on around the world. Though the MDGs mostly focused on alleviating extreme poverty outside the U.S., I thought that I could at least work on MDG #7, “Ensure Environmental Sustainability.”
Near the end of the conference, I could see that there was no “call to action” segment on the agenda. I approached the two bishops as they were talking to each other to ask when they were going to issue a call to action to conference attendees. They looked at me and said simultaneously, “That’s your job, not ours. Our job is to make you aware of the needs of the world.”
Well, I asked, would it be OK to ask if there are others who would like to work together to figure out what we could do? They agreed, and told me they would make an announcement after the Eucharist. But as the Eucharist ended, I could tell that they had forgotten. I felt the Holy Spirit pick me up out of my chair and walk me up to the podium, where I took the microphone out of Bishop Breidenthal’s hand and announced to everyone that I would be at such-and-such place at such-and-such time if anyone wanted to talk about taking action on what we had heard all week. Then I walked back to my seat and wondered what had just happened.
Several of us did get together, one of which was Ariel Miller. A couple of weeks later, I received an email from Ariel. She had heard that a nun in Cincinnati was working on starting an Ohio chapter of Interfaith Power & Light, and she gave me her contact information. Once again, I found myself going outside my boundaries and telephoning a nun out of the blue.
That nun was Sister Paula Gonzalez, the “Solar Nun” of the Sisters of Charity. She lit up my life and inspired me to get involved. (She was called the Solar Nun because she lived in a chicken coop that she had renovated into a solar-powered home and she drove a solar-powered golf cart around the convent grounds.) I was one of 17 people who attended the founding meeting of Ohio Interfaith Power & Light on October 13, 2007. I became deeply involved very quickly. A creation care activist was born!
Ohio Interfaith Power & Light works to empower a religious response to climate change and to promote energy conservation, energy efficiency and renewable energy. We focus on tangible results in religious communities – putting our faith into action. I love that it is an interfaith effort to care for creation, because, as Pope Francis said in his encyclical Laudato Si, the precious Earth is our common home. I didn’t know anything about energy or greenhouse gas or climate change when I got involved. I only knew that God’s creation and all living things were threatened and I felt a moral calling to ensure a safe and livable planet for future generations. I want to leave my children and grandchildren and everyone else a beautiful world, with clean air and water and thriving ecosystems. It has been said that we don’t inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.
My action became very personal right after the conference. I could hardly bear to go to the grocery store because all I could think of when I saw the vast array of fresh produce was how many people in the world don’t have access to fresh, healthy food. I bought a hybrid car that October (and still have it). My husband, Bruce, and I changed our light bulbs to CFLs and later to LEDs. I learned about Energy Star appliances and about unplugging devices that use vampire power from electrical sockets when they’re not in use.
I don’t eat meat or dairy products, partly because of the huge amounts of harmful methane that those industries release into the atmosphere. We buy locally produced food as much as possible and subscribe to a weekly Franklinton Gardens CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share of produce in order to support local farmers. I spent four years helping Franklinton Gardens grow into a sustainable urban farm, so that people living in a food desert have access to fresh, healthy food. We made a loan to a local farmer so that he could buy a green bean picker. We’re intentionally investing according to our values in companies that improve quality of life, not in fossil fuel and other companies that harm the environment. Now we’re exploring options for installing solar panels to power our home by solar energy. When we visited our son and his family in Japan last year, we saw solar panels everywhere. It’s time for the U.S. to catch up with the rest of the world – maybe we’ll start a trend in our neighborhood.
Along this 10-year journey, I have made friends with caring people of many faiths. I have rediscovered my love of nature, instilled in me by my mother. My soul delights in God’s creation; flowers and trees, butterflies and birds, sunrises and sunsets, the moon and the stars, and water in lakes, rivers and oceans. I’ve even taken up kayaking. I’m still wondering what’s happening, and I’m still just going with it. Care for creation has deepened my relationship with God and with my neighbors, and filled my life with the Spirit. Thanks be to God!
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The Rev. Meribah Mansfield is a deacon serving at St. John’s, Columbus. She is chair of the board of Ohio Interfaith Power & Light. Contact Meribah at email@example.com.