Creation Care Alliance of Western North Carolina

Save the Date: 2022 Concert for Conservation

The Concert for Conservation was born out of a desire of our covenant partner congregation, FUMC Waynesville, to faithfully respond to the reality of the sixth great extinction by working to conserve threatened wildlife. We’re excited to partner with FUMC Waynesville to help reach as many people as possible with this powerful event! The 2022 Concert for Conservation will be here before we know it (October 23rd 2022). Learn more about the concert by reading the below words from the founder of the event, Christopher Lile, and be sure to save the date. 
 
 
“Our world is experiencing a sixth mass extinction. Instead of an ice age or meteors, humans are instigating this unnatural event. 500 species faded into extinction in the past 100 years. Over 60 percent of global wildlife disappeared in the last 50 years. And more than 16,000 plant and animal species currently reside on the endangered species list. The responsibility for this catastrophe transcends national borders, political spectrums, and religious ideologies.
 
We must make a choice. We can be complacent OR we can rise together to fix the crisis our species created.
 
The Concert for Conservation grew out of a determination to elevate awareness of the sixth extinction, specifically within the faith community. Looking through both an ecological and spiritual lens, the interconnectedness of all creatures and habitats is clear. The church, therefore, has a moral and spiritual responsibility to join the frontlines of wildlife conservation by educating its community on the sixth extinction and providing ambitious solutions.
 
The 2019 and 2020 Concerts for Conservation feature the red wolf, an iconic North American species. The 2022 concert will feature the hellbender–a giant aquatic salamander endemic to our region and the only living member of the genus Cryptobranchus.
 
Please save the date for the 2022 Concert for Conservation, happening at 3:00 pm on October 23rd at Waynesville’s First United Methodist Church. We hope you will join us for this powerful fundraising event full of music, art, and a community coming together to support the hellbender. More info coming soon!”

Lamenting & Doing Good: Lessons from Jeremiah for Confronting Ecological Crisis

This sermon was offered by CCA director, Sarah Ogletree, on Sunday, September 11th, at St. Mary in the Hills Episcopal Church in Blowing Rock. The lectionary passage for the day was Jeremiah 4: 11-12, 22-28.

 

Written during one of the most critical times in the history of Israel–a time ridden with conflict and marked by the downfall of Judah and eventual exile–the book of Jeremiah can be harsh. Jeremiah himself is heartbroken and enraged by his people’s refusal to repent and turn to God. He sees the worst coming, an army knocking at the door, and yet, God’s people will not hear him. They continue to walk toward destruction while Jeremiah watches and warns. In today’s passage, he declares the consequence of their inaction and failure to change their ways. 

 

At this point, he’s had it. He is not kind. But prophets rarely are. 

 

In this passage, Jeremiah speaks truth about what happens when we forget God and our calling to goodness. He says: [God’s] people do not know [God]… They are skilled in doing evil and do not know how to do good.” And it is true that when we forget that we belong to God and each other, that we are made to create God’s kingdom here and now through radical goodness, the consequences are often monumental and catastrophic. And that’s exactly what Jeremiah describes. 

 

In his vision, the earth is a wasteland. The mountains are quaking. The fruit lands become a desert. The birds have vanished. The city is in ruins. The heavens are growing black… 

 

Meant to be cosmic and unfathomable in proportions, Jeremiah’s message of disaster is not unfamiliar. In fact, it’s one we hear on the news nearly every week as we live in this time of climate and ecological crisis… A time of fruit lands becoming literal deserts through rapid desertification and birds vanishing at unprecedented extinction rates… A time when the heavens are turning black with wildfire smoke as super storms darken the skies… A time in which the stakes are so very high, and yet, like those in our scripture, we have often failed to act.

 

Like in the days of Jeremiah, it is hard to stare the world’s problems in the face. It’s hard to really look at what is happening to our planet, and our neighbors, due to our societal addiction to convenience and the bottom line. And if it’s hard to look at, it’s even harder to feel. More often than we might like to admit, we distract ourselves with platitudes and change the channel when the story about the most recent 1,000-year flooding event, or how ⅓ of Pakistan remains underwater, flashes across our TV or phone screens.

 

It’s easier that way and I’m guilty of it. But this kind of behavior is exactly what drove Jeremiah mad.  The people’s refusal to see the problem, to feel the impending reality of conflict in their bones, was essential to their failure to take action or repent. This is what led to Jeremiah’s prophetic condemnation of his community.

 

But it doesn’t have to be this way. 

 

We can come back to ourselves and to God. We can respond to the needs of this world, to the groaning of creation, and to our neighbors facing heatwaves, floods, and displacement as a result of climate change. There are ways for us to act with love, generosity, and courage in this time; we need only remember how. Jeremiah’s community was at a tipping point when he addressed them, and so are we. This moment holds within it a multitude of possibilities and listening to the words of Jeremiah, can help us walk the path of righteousness again. That is what I’d like us to consider today.

 

The first lesson of Jeremiah is the power of lament. In our passage, Jeremiah writes that the “earth will mourn” its destruction. I believe we should read this as an invitation into mourning. Because mourning is important. Mourning means that we aren’t changing the channel. That we aren’t distracting ourselves and that instead, we are encountering the problems of the world honestly–with open hearts and open eyes. We are letting those problems change us. Alchemizing them into the tears in our eyes and the pain in our gut. This is what Jeremiah desired for his people and it is what we have an opportunity to do now. The first step toward action and repentance is seeing clearly and being moved by what we see. I know this first hand.

 

When I first began environmental work, I was a student of sustainable development just over the mountain at Appalachian State University. After learning that it was the poor and systemically oppressed who bear the brunt of climate change and ecological collapse, I felt called to work in the environmental sector. My upbringing within the Chrisitan church taught me that the greatest commandments were to love God and my neighbor–and my neighbors couldn’t breathe the air in their communities, eat the food grown in their local soil, or drink the water coming from their faucet. To me, this was a clear issue of faith. And so, I threw myself into learning. But I was overwhelmed by my studies, and rather quickly, I found myself racked with anxiety and depression.

 

My story is not unique. Though I didn’t know it at the time, there are terms for what I was experiencing: eco-anxiety and climate grief. And many people are experiencing these complex and often misunderstood emotions. They are feeling the weight of the world that they love in pain. And they are moved by the pain that they are witnessing. Ultimately, as a college student, I attempted to silence my disquiet by turning to my faith–reminding myself that there is always hope in God. But what I didn’t understand at the time, and I thankfully have come to understand now, is that hope is not the only faithful response to a world in crisis. One of the greatest gifts that faith can offer the movement to care for people and planet are tools for lament.

 

In recognition of this need, the organization I direct, the Creation Care Alliance, began offering 7-week eco-grief groups in 2020. These offerings have been transformative. I have witnessed people come back from the brink of burnout and utter despair because they have a community that can be present with them. Friends, we need each other. 

 

As a college student, I needed help feeling what I was learning. I couldn’t process the scale of the loss that I was reading about in my classes intellectually in the same way that it is nearly impossible to process the many tragedies that we scroll across on our Facebook feeds in any given day. I needed community for that. I needed the witness of the prophets and their permission to cry out. I needed someone to sit with me in the pain and tell me that God was there in that brokenness. I needed to be told that my tears were faithful and that my worry was a sign of my love…  When we see our neighbors suffering, it is right to be heartbroken. This shows us that we still remember what it is to do good; that we have a finger on the pulse on the heartbeat of God. 

 

This brings us to the second lesson of Jeremiah: the actual good-doing. In today’s passage, Jeremiah says that the people “do not know how to do good.” In order to respond to the needs of the world, we must act in response to those needs. In other words, we must remember how to “do good” and then do it. We have already identified that the first step in this process is taking time to feel, mourning the pain of all who have been harmed, and processing the loss of that which cannot be recovered. But from this place of heartbreak comes another offering–that of our time, resources, and gifts. 

 

I cannot tell you exactly what your offering will be because it will be dictated by who you are. But this is an invitation. If you are a writer, use your gifts of writing. If you are someone who loves to be outside, get your hands dirty. If you are a teacher, teach wisdom and discernment. If you are an artist, make art. If you are a caretaker of children, shape your children to be loving. If you have financial resources, give generously, spend sustainably, and divest when necessary. The one thing that is certain is that all of us are called to act from that well of compassion that springs up in us when we encounter the need of our neighbors–human or non-human. And we are called to act as ourselves. With our particular gifts in our particular contexts. All of our gifts, in all their diversity, are needed. 

 

For Jeremiah, doing good and knowing God were inextricably connected. And so, if ever there is a time when we don’t know what we should do, when the heartbreak of fires and flood and species loss is too much and we are unsure how to act, I think his sound advice would be to turn toward God through prayer. Pope Francis has said that “the one who listens attentively to the Word of God, and truly prays, always asks the Lord: what is your will for me?” I believe that this practice is wise and particularly useful in times of uncertainty about how to create change. If we continually take stock of our lives and the needs around us, and openly ask God what God’s will is for us, then we will likely find our path forward. Walking in faith in this time of ecological and social upheaval requires openness to the radical love of God–and all the unexpected places that God might lead us. 

 

It is said that the task of the preacher is to preach good news. So let me say this. Later in the book of Jeremiah, after the people have been driven into exile in Babylon, Jeremiah tells them to: “[b]uild houses and live in them. Settle in the land. Plant gardens and eat the food you grow. Get married and have children.” Even after the world as the people have known it has ended, Jeremiah calls for them to start again. To grow food. To become acquainted with a new place. To be in community with one another. To become family. As the world around us shifts and changes, as we mourn and respond to the needs of the grieving, may we also plant our gardens and eat their fruit. Exile felt like the end of the world to the people of Israel. Wildfires, floods, and other climate impacts can feel the same. But if we have the courage to be community in these times–to show up for each other emotionally and physically–then we can weather the storms together. 

 

And so, beloved, remember that your tears are holy. Try not to turn away. Allow yourselves to be fully awake. Be present with each other. And through your presence, offer the gifts of your heart to a world in need. Remember that what this particular moment needs most is you.

 

Amen.

Eco-Grief Circle starting soon

Join us on September 21st at 12:00 pm for our first meeting of our fall eco-grief group. Meeting weekly on Wednesdays, this seven-week online experience will be offered in sessions that last about 1 hour and fifteen minutes. Together we will explore grief and sorrow, anxiety and fear, guilt and shame, anger, and despair. This experience is designed to offer mutual support, healing, insight, and love but is not a grief therapy experience. Past participants expressed profound gratitude for being among people who could talk honestly about grief, suffering, and the ecological and social challenges of our time. The leadership team includes counselors, pastors, and environmental advocates. All times are Eastern time. There is limited space for this online experience. Sign up to let us know you are interested in joining us. Read about Climate Change and Mental Health in the Mountain Xpress Sustainability Issue here. Register here.

Book Study of Making Peace with the Land beginning this fall

Join us in reading Making Peace with the Land: God’s Call to Reconcile with Creation by Fred Bahnson and Norman Wirzba this fall!

We will offer two reading groups for this study: one virtual and one in-person. Each group will meet weekly for seven weeks. Our virtual group will be led by Sarah Ogletree and will begin meeting on Monday, September 26th (7-8 pm). Our in-person group will be led by Rev. Kevin Bates and will begin meeting at the WNC Outdoor Collective in Black Mountain on Tuesday, September 27th (6-7 pm). 

What is this book about? 

This theological read dives into what the Christian tradition has to say about the care of God’s world, encouraging Christians to engage in ecological care and wellbeing as a central tenet of living their faith. This is a beautiful book that will inspire Christians to look more closely at their tradition and discover the richness of their faith and its many implications for caring for all our neighbors–human and non-human.

Learn more and register at the links below. There is limited space for these studies, so we encourage you to register soon! 

Our Love Led Us Here: A Reflection on the NCUC Carbon Plan Hearing

This post was written by CCA Director Sarah Ogletree. She is pictured here (right) beside CCA summer intern Liz Richardson (left). The posters being held by Sarah and Liz were made by volunteers Jan Williams Ritter and Kaete Syed. Thank you for helping us spread this message through the sharing of your artistic gifts! 

 

Not quite two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to join our congregations and members of our community in calling for a more just and sustainable carbon plan during the North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) hearing in Asheville. During the hearing, I heard from countless people from throughout western North Carolina. Each of them spoke from their hearts and all of them spoke about climate change. 

Grandparents, engineers, teachers, college students, lawyers, faith leaders, and more than a few self-identified “climate migrants” (folks who’ve made their home in western North Carolina after fleeing fire in California, flood in Florida, and drought in Montana)–all spoke about the severe dangers posed by climate inaction and the need for those in power to respond accordingly. In reference to the 4 potential carbon plans presented by Duke Energy, the consensus of the people was clear.

We need a plan that doesn’t invest in fossil fuels or nuclear. We need a plan that takes into account the impacts of methane as a greenhouse gas in addition to carbon. We need a plan that considers the needs of our neighbors and puts the cost on those who can afford a bill increase. We need a plan that moves at the speed of the problem and not politics. We need a plan that is shaped by marginalized communities and others on the frontlines. We need a plan that does the most, the quickest, in the most just way–and it doesn’t have to come from Duke Energy. In fact, it probably shouldn’t. 

Nearly all of the speakers reminded the NCUC that their responsbility is not to Duke but to the people. They don’t have to go with one of the 4 plans presented by Duke Energy. Instead, they can and should consider alternative plans from sustainable energy groups and other organizations rooted in justice. This was a clear point held by the vast majority of those who spoke during the hearing. And notably, no one spoke in favor of Duke’s presented plans. 

I’ve shared much of what I heard during the hearing, where I joined our neighbors in offering testimony on behalf of a better carbon plan. But what I havn’t shared just yet is the love that I felt in that room. Every single person who testified, spoke up on behalf of their love–their love for their children and grandchildren, love for their communities, love for non-human species, love for the planet and life itself. Behind every tear shed and ever waivering voice was the resounding sound of love. Because love it what brings us to halls of power. Love is what encouages us to sit through hours of jargon and legislative process. And love is what keeps us moving and breathing and striving for a better way. 

During the pre-hearing rally, I was lucky enough to lead those gathered in a time of prayer and grounding alongside CCA summer intern Liz Richardson. We centered our time around love, striving to help all present remember that their grief, rage, and hope all come from a place of love for each other and this world. I call this love holy.  In my faith tradition, I would argue, that this kind of love is a part of what it means to be made in the image of God and to strive to reflect that image in the world. 

Below I will share the litany that Liz and I read before the hearing. It is my hope, that in it, you can remember your own love for the world–your own “Holy Why” as to what keeps you going in this work of caring for creation. And if you were unable to testify during the NCUC hearing on the 27th but would still like to raise your voice, you can learn more about upcoming virtual NCUC public hearings here. These hearings will be held on August 23rd.

 

A litany of love from the July 27th Pre-Hearing Rally organized by Appalachian Voices and Asheville Sunrise Movement: 

 

Voice 1: 

We gather here because of our love. Love within us, and around us, before us, and after us. We gather to witness to our love for this world. 

 

Voice 2: 

For oceans, 

For rivers, 

For forests, 

For gardens, 

For clear night skies, 

For sunrises stretched across plains, 

And for mountains–ancient and alive,

we gather. 

 

Voice 1:
We gather because, as these places have held us, we long to hold each other… We gather in the spirit of neighbors who share sugar and bread and strangers who care for one another in sacred and beloved community. We gather in the spirit of family to witness to our love for one another. 

 

Voice 2: 

For those, we know

And those we don’t. 

For siblings near and far.

For friends,

And families,

For children

And elders, 

And all of us

yearning for and relying on,

Clean air to breathe 

and clear water to drink. 

For all of us

we gather. 

 

Voice 1: 

Together with the fullness of creation, we gather. In this circle, we name our connection to and love for the salamander, bear, deer, fox, cardinal, luna moth, and firefly…

Voice 2: 

For cats curled on couches and minnows in the creek, 

For dogs announcing visitors and wolves howling on the ridgeline, 

We gather. 

 

Voice 1: 

We gather together grounded in love. Holy love that calls us to action and holds our leaders accountable. We gather here with love in our hearts and our hopes–however fragile they may sometimes feel. We each carry our stories, our reasons, our desires, our imaginings. 

 

Voice 2:
We invite you now to speak your love into this space. In a collective chorus, as we all speak at once, tell us: what do you love? How has love brought you here tonight? Speak now, quietly or loudly, in a whisper or a roar, and we will listen. 



(SPEAKING) 



Thank you.

What’s So Bad About Plastics?

It may be August, but this piece written by CCA steering team member and covenant partner congregation congregant is too good not to share again. Written by Enrique Sanchez, this article outlines the dangers of plastic and how we can find our way to a more just and sustainable life. Check it out and let us know how you’re lessening the plastic in your life!

In July, coinciding with the worldwide campaign against plastics, Trinity Presbyterian in Hendersonville had an ugly sight in the narthex: the Bag-Monster. The average American goes through 250 pounds of plastics every year. In the US, we use 100 billion plastic bags a year, and we barely use them for 12 minutes. This begs the question on the title: What’s so bad about plastics?

Without going into a treatise, let’s start from the basics, with an invitation to click on the hyperlinks if you want more information. Plastics have been mass-produced since the 1950s. Global production grew from 1.5 million tons in 1950 to 359 million tons in 2018, causing a global environmental catastrophe. In short, plastics are destroying our planet. Watch this 2-minutes video from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) .

From the early stages of production, plastic starts damaging the earth. Its main components are petrochemicals, and fossil fuels are used to extract, transport, refine and even try to dispose of plastics. But plastics are not easily disposable. It takes at least 500 years to biodegrade most plastics, and the lifespan of a styrofoam cup is estimated at 1,000,000 years. We are not even going to address the fact that most petrochemical refineries in the US are located in, or close to BIPOC neighborhoods (Blacks, Indigenous and People of Color), and cause severe impact on their health (think the “cancer alleys” in Newark, NJ and Louisiana).

Plastics break down into tiny little pieces known as “microplastics” –smaller than a micron–, that are transported by rainwater into our streams, rivers and oceans, and even fly in the air, damaging animals of all kinds, particularly fish and aquatic life. They’ve been found in Arctic and Antarctic fresh snow and in the deepest parts of the ocean. This one-hour PBS documentary provides more detail. Researchers have found microplastics in our lungs, in the bloodstream, and even in the bloodstream of unborn babies. According to this article on The Week, “studies have found that plastics contain chemicals that can act as ‘endocrine disruptors,’ meaning that they can affect and even mimic hormones; in theory, this means microplastics in the body may cause cancer, reproductive disorders, chronic inflammation, autoimmune diseases, obesity, and neurological impairment in developing fetuses and children.” Research on this is in its infancy, yet quickly denied (without evidence) by the plastic and fossil fuels industries. We ingest 5 mg of plastics a week –the equivalent of one credit card! According to the World Economic Forum, at the current rate of use and recycling, by 2050, pound for pound, we’ll have more plastics than fish alive in all our oceans.

How about recycling? Well, it’s not that simple. The article in The Week reveals “the dirty secret of the plastics industry”: it has transferred the responsibility for recycling to the consumers, and made the recycling process complicated, confusing and ineffective. The small triangle with the recycling symbol and a number from 1 to 7 in it, has led us to believe that every number can be recycled. Not true. In Henderson County we can only recycle #1, 2, 4, and 5 (rinsed and dry; lids and labels are O.K.). But, at the end only 33% of these are actually recycled at the recycling centers (mostly bottles). This means that #3, 6 and 7 cannot be recycled. Plus, all the other plastics without the recycling symbol and numbers, and all items smaller than 3 inches that cannot be processed by the recycling equipment. Visit this interactive NPR website to see visually how much cannot be recycled. According to The Week, in 2021 only 6% of plastics in the US were recycled, down from 9% in 2014. In addition, recycled plastic cannot be recycled more than two times. And what’s worse, some recyclers even burn plastics as fuel to generate electricity, thus emitting more noxious gasses into the environment. As a result of this, BeyondPlastics.org strongly argues that “Plastics Recycling Is a Big, Fat Lie.”

Bringing the problem to our own backyard in Western North Carolina: Over the past couple of years Mountain True has analyzed our Western NC rivers and streams, collecting water samples regularly and analyzing the local aquatic life in our “clean crystalline” waters we are proud of. They found that all contain alarming levels of plastics. Check this article and videos released in April. These studies have led Mountain True to create extensive programs to get rid of plastics in our environment and stop plastic pollution at its source. Read about making Plastic-free Western NC. Even Hendersonville is working on going plastic-free! Learn about it here and support the businesses that have already committed to it.

The problem is so large and urgent that in March 2022, 175 nations agreed to work on a global agreement and have it ready by 2024.

By now you must be raising the question: what can we do? In simple terms: educate ourselves on the severity of the problem, cut down consumption of single-use plastic, keep what we use out of the environment, and advocate for going plastic-free. At a personal level, at a community level (church, town, region, etc), and at a policy level.

So, at a personal level, we’ll need to change simple habits, one at a time. That’s a challenge, but it can be done. Here are concrete, simple actions that, when we act as a community, can make a difference. (Tip: print this list, post it on your refrigerator, give yourself a star every time that you do one of these actions, focus on 2-3 points every month, and keep adding 2-3 different ones the following month):

  • Keep a reusable bag in the car at all times. Use it and return it to the car right away.
  • Choose Paper: if you are asked “paper or plastic” at a check out, say “paper, please.” Recycle the paper bag. (Better yet, beat them to the punch: even before they ask. tell them “paper, please”)
  • Just say “no”: If the cashier asks you if “you need a bag?” Say, “no, thanks … and thanks for asking.”
  • Beat them to the punch: If you only have a few items that you can carry in your hand, tell the cashier: “No bagging, please.” (If they already put them in the bag…have them take them out and explain why.)
  • Reject straws when offered at a restaurant: if the waiter leaves it at the table, even if unused, they still have to toss it, and it’ll end up in the ocean.
  • Skip plastic utensils when ordering “take out”, and encourage restaurants not to give them out automatically.
  • Support the Hendo businesses that are working on going plastic free. See list here.
  • Endorse the Mountain True campaigns to go Plastic-Free in Western NC
  • Avoid plastic wraps to keep leftovers. Use beeswax wrapping or glass reusable containers instead.
  • Shop for sustainable and environmentally friendly products. Check out the Grove Collaborative.
  • Tell retailers why you want less plastic in what they sell to you.
  • Build these simple habits gradually, 2-3 in a month, then add others, and share new ideas with us in the comments. Join the millions of people across the globe who have gone plastic free in July.
  • Keep updated and work on building a future beyond plastics: by regularly visiting the BeyondPlastics.org website to sharply reduce the use of plastics, while, at the same time, we continue recycling as much as possible.

Finally, watch out for future articles and eco-tips in Trinity Tidings and on the Trinity blog; talk about the plastics crisis with friends and family members; take action, and share your experiences and eco-tips with us on the Trinity blog (send them to Nancy Williard or to me).

This is surely an Earth Caring matter! We must take care of Mother Earth (Genesis 2:15).

Enrique P. Sanchez

P.S. Many thanks to Barb T. for the initial draft and thoughts and to Cindy Ann B. for feedback and edits.

Welcoming The Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration

On June 12th 2022, CCA Director Sarah Ogletree visited The Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration in Saluda to welcome them as our newest covenant partner. During her visit, she preached during their two services and also offered a discernment workshop to help the congregation identify their first step in the creation care journey they are embarking on. It was a beautiful and wonderful experience! To learn more about covenant partnership and other ways to get involved with CCA, go here: https://creationcarealliance.org/get-involved/. Above, you will see a photo of Rev. Chip Broadfoot and Sarah after she presented him with the congregation’s certificate of covenant partnership. Below you can read Sarah’s sermon from the day. The sermon comes from Psalm 8 : 1-9.

I am here this morning to speak about creation care–what it means to care for the fullness of this world that God loves and how this is the work of faith that we are invited into through our baptism. I’m excited to broach these questions with you, and I’m further grateful for the chance to enter this conversation through the door provided by Psalm 8. Because this hymn offers a clear path. 

You see, in this passage, we encounter a series of ideas. First, the psalmist marvels at the sheer majesty of God and the vastness of the universe shaped by God’s hands. Then, they consider our role in creation, stating, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are humans that you are mindful of them… that you have made them a little lower than God… and given them dominion over the works of your hands…” Despite what the psalmist understands as a relatively unimportant existence, we humans are made in God’s image. God saw us and said we were good. And more than that, our role in creation is active. God has charged us with the task of caring for that which God loves–articulated here in the text as “dominion.” 

As people made in the image of God, we wield a power that has long been misunderstood. Generations of leaders have burned land and poisoned water because of it. But destruction has never been condoned by God or the concept we know as “dominion.” Instead, when we look to biblical commentaries, we find that God’s offering of dominion to humankind, this newly created being made to mirror God’s likeness in the world, was ultimately an offer to share power. This was never an invitation to domination or destruction. Instead, God was, God is, inviting humankind to share in God’s own dominion, God’s own power, God’s own ability to care for, and be in the world. The commentators go as far as to say that this is God’s democratizing effort. Friends, this is the dominion that we are called to in Psalm 8. We are called to responsible, compassionate, co-creative power that does the work of love God believes we are capable of–no matter how insignificant we may feel. 

Psalm 8 reminds us why we are here in the vastness of God’s world–why we have been created. Friends, we are here to love God. We are here to be moved by wonder and awe like the psalmist. We are here to be the image of God to each other. We are here to be God’s hands by caring for what God’s hands have made. You, me, the monarch, the bear, the star, the fox, the stream–all of us. We are all the work of God’s hands, and caring for all of us–that is what dominion entails, and that is what the calling to creation care is all about. 

So, how do we do it? 

How do we, like the psalmist, remember our calling? How do we use the power shared with us by God to act as God’s hands? How do we, as the image of God in this world, act as a blessing to all we encounter? How do we live like our lives matter and have the ability to create change for the better? Because they do. 

Thankfully, we are not alone in asking these questions. People of faith worldwide, and many here in western North Carolina, are striving to walk this path. They are striving to love God, the world, and each other and recognize their place within the web of creation. And let me tell you, these folks have a lot of beautiful ideas. In my work with the Creation Care Alliance, I am privileged with the opportunity to get to know some of these communities and the people coming together to ensure that our prayers have legs. Folks who are doing the work of love and are committed to continuing to learn how to do that work better. Folks like you. As we welcome you formally into the Creation Care Alliance as a covenant partner, I want to share with you some of the work that congregations in our network are leading–work that makes wonder come alive, that exercises the power we have been given by God, and help us see God’s image in the faces of each other. 

First, there is Way in the Wilderness. Located in Black Mountain, this congregation offers outdoor opportunities to help their congregants and community connect with God outside of church walls. And they do so beautifully. In fact, when I think about the movement of Psalm 8 from awe to our active role in the caretaking of creation, the approach of Way in the Wilderness immediately comes to mind. Through the use of Celtic liturgies and a reclaiming of nature spirituality, Way in the Wilderness is helping people see the sacred in the world and ultimately, remember who they are as both creatures and caretakers within the Christian tradition.

One of their offerings that sticks out to me the most is their “Wild Eucharist” service. These services, which sometimes happen on the top of a mountain following a hike or beside a river after a picnic, rely on the simple, ordinary stuff of the world–stripping this ritual of its gold and silver, and reminding us that all we need for this miracle is bread and wine. The stuff of Earth. Grain grown in soil. Grapes from the vine. Accompanying liturgies remind us that it is through the effort of others–people who nourished the vineyard and bees who acted as pollinators–that we are able to participate in this holy moment. It is through the efforts of others, human and non-human, that we are able to taste God’s love on our lips. In recognition of this and our deep connection to one another, whatever wine is left over is poured into the soil, while the bread is left for the squirrels, ants, and other members of God’s family we so often forget. 

Through this radically open table, the fullness of creation is invited to celebrate. And I believe that just in witnessing this kind of openness, something transformative and powerful happens within us. Perhaps, it’s that we see a glimpse of what the kin-dom of God can look like when we let go of our understanding of dominion as destructive ownership and instead, embrace relationship and responsibility. Perhaps, that feeling of joy is because things are right for a moment… Through the Wild Eucharist and services like it, Way in the Wilderness affirms that we are all “the work of God’s hands,” and all worthy of the love of God and its expression in all its many forms. This deeply theological and imaginative act invites us to move through the world differently. To go from that space with more reverence and awareness for how God shows Godself to us through a stream, or a chattering bird, or a farmer of grain. This work of wonder is one example of the work that we can help lead as caretakers of creation. 

Then, there is Cruso United Methodist Church (UMC). Last August, Tropical Storm Fred devastated the community of Cruso. Six people died. Countless others lost their homes. In response, the community came together. During the storm, they invited each other to higher ground—opening their doors to strangers during a global pandemic. When the storm passed, they strapped on their boots and went searching for survivors. They raised money to rebuild, they shared their clothing and their food, they knocked on doors to find out how they could be most helpful, they sorted and dried family photos found in the debris, and they offered comfort to those grieving. Cruso UMC served as a place to receive hot meals and other supplies. And now, nearly a year later, they are still working–but on a different project. These days, the emphasis is climate resilience. 

Due to the impacts of climate change, it’s likely that we will experience more extreme weather events in the coming years, and in the southeast United States, flooding is of particular concern. But there are ways to help our communities meet these challenges. One of those ways is working to increase the health of our rivers and streams. When rivers are unhealthy, their banks are easily eroded. And when you have a significant weather event, that erosion can become fatal. But by caring for riverbanks, ensuring that there is adequate vegetation along the water’s edge, we can help mitigate this concern. And that’s exactly what Cruso UMC is doing. Together with the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, youth volunteers, partner congregations from throughout the region, and secular environmental organizations, Cruso UMC is leading an effort to clean up the river and make sure that flood plains and necessary riparian buffers like river cane are protected and preserved. 

They are looking to the needs of their community beyond this moment. They are thinking long-term. They are considering what it means to love their neighbor into the next decade, and the decade after that, and the decade after that. They are exercising that co-creative power of dominion by holding the river in their hands and bringing it back to life–back to health–for the good of us all. Again, this work of tending the river and meeting our neighbors needs, both today and tomorrow, is the work that creation care invites us into. 

Lastly, there is Grace Episcopal Church in Waynesville, North Carolina, and their Grace Giving Garden. This garden feeds both people and pollinators in Haywood County. As a part of the church’s mission to do the work of creation care and the broader work of love, congregational volunteers dedicate long hours to tilling the soil, weeding the plots, and bringing forth the harvest. By growing food organically, they care for the life of the soil and the lives of those who will consume the fruits of their labor. Many of the crops planted here become offerings to food-insecure members of the community while a wildlife habitat provides nourishment to the non-human animals that frequent church land. Because of the Grace Giving Garden, more of God’s children are fed–both physically and spiritually. Whether through a meal, fresh food, or restorative time spent with neighbors outdoors, this ministry offers people a place where they can know that they are loved–where they both experience the image of God and be it to another.

Like many congregations, Grace Episcopal is loving creation in more ways than one. They have a monthly prayer service dedicated to prayers for creation. They are a collaborative community partner working to lessen the use of single-use plastics in the region. This summer, they’re organizing a day retreat alongside another covenant partner congregation, First United Methodist of Waynesville, to help reconnect people to land, God, and the healing we find in nature. All this is happening as FUMC Waynesville is busy hosting workshops on energy efficiency, preparing for a series of children’s camps on the care of creation, and looking ahead toward their annual “Concert for Conservation” in which they’ll raise money for an endangered species through a community gathering that celebrates art, music, and all of God’s miraculous creatures.

Each of these congregations is doing their part to repair the sinful misinterpretations of dominion that have separated us from the inherent goodness of creation. By living in awe and practicing compassion and justice for this world, each other, and the patch of Earth they steward, these communities are showing us how we can make a difference by using our God-given power to build the kin-dom of God here and now. 

Today, we will be discussing what gifts and resources you all hold as a congregation entering this work. There are so many paths that you can take to live this calling, and I am excited to walk alongside you as you discern what your offering will be. In the meantime, I invite you to begin thinking about what living in awe and practicing your power might look like individually. Perhaps it’s cultivating a patch of milkweed in your backyard. Perhaps it’s stopping and helping the turtle cross the road. Perhaps it’s choosing the aluminum can over the plastic bottle. Perhaps it’s simply not squishing the spider. Whatever it is, know that every step you take brings us closer to the love God envisions for us. And when you feel insignificant, remember that we have been born for such a time as this.

Amen.

Take Action to Support a Strong Decarbonization Plan!

The Creation Care Alliance of WNC (CCA), MountainTrue, and other local renewable energy advocates are pushing for a stronger decarbonization plan to help North Carolina meet the renewable energy goals laid out in HB 951, the “Energy Solutions for North Carolina” bill passed by the NC General Assembly in October 2021.

The North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) is hosting a series of hearings in the coming months to receive public feedback on Duke Energy’s draft Carbon Plan. CCA, MountainTrue, NC Interfaith Power and Light (NCIPL), the NC Sierra Club, and other local groups are encouraging the public to show their support for a stronger decarbonization plan at NCUC’s hearing in Asheville on July 27.

What: NCUC Hearing on Duke Energy’s Proposed Carbon Plan

When: Wednesday, July 27, 2022, at 7:00 p.m.

Where: Buncombe County Courthouse, Courtroom 1-A, 60 Court Plaza, Asheville, NC 28801

MountainTrue, CCA, and NCIPL hosted a free webinar about Duke Energy’s draft Carbon Plan on Wednesday, July 13. The webinar featured MountainTrue Central Regional Director Gray Jernigan and NCIPL Director Susannah Tuttle, M.Div, as guest speakers. Webinar attendees learned about the implications and shortcomings of Duke Energy’s Carbon Plan and left with the information needed to take action in support of our state’s clean energy future at the upcoming NCUC hearing on July 27. Click here to watch the webinar recording on MountainTrue’s YouTube channel.

During the public hearings, NCUC asks that only one representative from a given organization speak. In addition to organizational representatives, independent individuals may offer testimony and those that do not wish to testify may observe the proceedings and/or gather and demonstrate outside of the hearing venue. Demonstrations are not allowed in the hearing room. A virtual statewide hearing is scheduled for August 23, 2022. More information on the process, schedule, and opportunities for public input can be found here. 

Advocating for a just, equitable, and science-based carbon plan is central to MountainTrue and CCA’s green energy and climate change-focused work. Everyone has the right to clean and affordable energy with the assurance of equitable energy production, transmission, and distribution. Our consumption of energy should not harm our health, the health of non-human creatures, or the climate,” says CCA Director Sarah Ogletree. “We invite all who are interested to attend this webinar and we look forward to working together to shape North Carolina’s clean energy future.” 

The details of Duke’s draft Carbon Plan:

HB 951 charges NCUC with developing a Carbon Plan that takes reasonable steps toward achieving our state’s clean energy future and addresses the threats posed by climate change — click here to learn more about HB 951. The bill directs state regulators to cut carbon emissions from energy plants owned and/or operated by Duke Energy by 70% from 2005 levels by 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2050. Last November, NCUC ordered Duke Energy to file a draft Carbon Plan by May 16, 2022. 

Duke Energy is proposing four different portfolios to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, and they are requesting that NCUC approve all four options, essentially asking for blanket approval for whatever strategies and infrastructure the company wants to employ. Only one of the portfolios achieves HB 951’s interim goal of 70% carbon reduction by 2030, and that portfolio is the most costly of the four according to Duke’s analysis. All four portfolios achieve the 2050 carbon neutrality goal, though the means used to achieve said goal are starkly different from one another. Here are the highlights: 

Portfolio 1: Achieves 70% CO2 emissions reductions by 2030 with 800 megawatts (one 800 megawatt block) of offshore wind to be placed in service by the end of 2029, new solar interconnections ramping up to 1,800 megawatts per year by the end of 2028, and the addition of nearly 1,800 megawatts of new battery energy storage capacity. The average annual bill impact estimated by Duke’s analysis is 2.5%.

Portfolio 2: Achieves 70% CO2 emissions reductions by 2032 with two 800 megawatt blocks of offshore wind, the first in 2029 and the second in 2031. The average annual bill impact estimated by Duke’s analysis is 2.4%.

Portfolio 3:  Achieves 70% CO2 emissions reductions by 2034 with new nuclear and without any offshore wind. The average annual bill impact estimated by Duke’s analysis is 1.9%.

Portfolio 4: Achieves 70% CO2 emissions reductions by 2034 with both offshore wind and new nuclear. The average annual bill impact estimated by Duke’s analysis is 2.0%.

“Duke Energy’s draft Carbon Plan makes significant advances in the development of solar and wind energy resources and battery storage. However,” explains MountainTrue’s Gray Jernigan, “Duke’s draft plan falls short because it relies too heavily on unproven technologies like small modular nuclear reactors, perpetuates the use of gas-burning facilities, and fails to use cost assumptions that reflect market realities of the affordability of renewable energy generation when compared to gas, among other concerns.” Click here to review Duke Energy’s entire draft Carbon Plan and its summaries

HB 951 places the responsibility of developing our state’s final Carbon Plan on NCUC rather than Duke Energy, requiring NCUC to incorporate public input into the planning process. NCUC should carry out its public input process in a way that meaningfully involves and seeks input from historically marginalized communities, including communities of color. 

NCUC has the ultimate authority to adopt the best Carbon Plan for the state — not necessarily one of the portfolios proposed by Duke Energy. We believe that NCUC should develop a carbon plan that centers the wellbeing of NC communities, prioritizes a climate justice-based legislative approach and reduces our state’s dependency on fossil fuels to mitigate the effects of climate change. Therefore, MountainTrue is encouraging NCUC to exercise its authority to the fullest extent to achieve the goals of HB 951 and protect the people and environment of North Carolina.

MountainTrue and CCA urge NCUC to consider the following points to improve the Carbon Plan:

  1. No New Gas. All four of Duke’s draft Carbon Plan scenarios rely on large quantities of new gas-fired generation. The Carbon Plan should avoid committing to new natural gas facility construction.
  1. If Duke is going to miss the 2030 goal, miss it because of wind investments and not nuclear. Only Portfolio 1 meets the 70% reduction by 2030 goal, while the other three portfolios miss the  2030 target date. If that deadline is going to be missed, Portfolio 2 is the only other acceptable starting point with its expanded investments in offshore wind, although it will not meet the interim goal until 2032. Portfolios 3 and 4, which include new nuclear generation and miss the 2030 deadline, should be scrapped. 

“While we understand these are the costliest options to meet decarbonization goals, the additional investment in green renewable energy sources rather than unproven small nuclear energy sources and the faster timeline justify the increased cost when we are racing against the clock to mitigate the impacts of global climate change. Additionally, we will be joining others in advocating for rate structures that protect the most vulnerable populations and low to moderate income households who bear disproportionate impacts from environmental and financial standpoints.” -Gray Jernigan, MountainTrue Central Regional Director

  1. No Reliance on Commercially Unproven Technology. NCUC’s Carbon Plan must not rely on commercially unproven technologies like nuclear small modular reactors or gas plants that could theoretically be converted to hydrogen.
  1. Use Energy Efficiency and Demand Side Management Before Building New Fossil Generation.* Energy Efficiency and Demand Response proposals are consistent across scenarios, at levels that were rejected by stakeholders in the Energy Efficiency and Demand Side Management Programs (EE/DSM) collaborative as insufficient. Essentially, NCUC should focus on maximizing energy efficiency and reducing demand instead of generating more power. EE/DSM programs can be used to reduce the need for new generation, and NCUC should follow the example of utilities in other states in dramatically expanding these programs rather than proposing goals that fall below energy efficiency gains achieved by the utility in recent years.

*New generation: refers to Duke Energy-owned versus third party-owned energy  generation such as wind, solar, etc. 

  1. Don’t Rely on the Utility’s Inflated Cost Assumptions. Utility ownership of generation increases the cost of new generation. NCUC must ensure that the Carbon Plan mandates the least cost, proven clean technology and does not rely on inflated utility cost assumptions for new generation and transmission.
  1. Protect Historically Marginalized Communities. Prioritize the retirement of fossil fuel plants near communities that have been disproportionately burdened by the negative impacts of fossil fuels. Don’t let the utility site a new fossil fuel plant or pipelines in already burdened NC coal plant communities.  
  1. Transmission. Transmission is the bottleneck limiting NC’s access to renewables. The Carbon Plan must order Duke to build sufficient transmission capacity to access the full potential of offshore wind, onshore wind, and solar power in a timely manner. 

8. Securitization. The Carbon Plan must clarify that Duke Energy will use securitization in a timely fashion to retire coal facilities and to lower costs for customers. The sooner coal plants are retired the more customers will benefit from savings from securitization.

9. The Carbon Plan should increase the resiliency of the state’s energy system. Energy systems are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and resource availability, and the Carbon Plan that is ultimately approved should increase the system’s resilience in the face of these threats. 

10. Alternative Plans Achieve the Carbon Plan Goals Without Reliance on New Gas and Should be Accorded Equal Weight with Duke Energy’s Draft Plan. Through the process, alternative plans may be submitted, and those should be given equal consideration by the NCUC.