Connecting with our environment
“Our oldest unity is our relationship with the earth,” writes John Philip Newell, an internationally acclaimed spiritual teacher and author. He encourages us to awaken to the sacredness and challenges us to take action to transform the world. As inter-faith communities, our Adirondacks environmental groups are also taking action.
Members of the Keene Valley Congregational Church have been working under the Creation Justice Church Task Force since May 2020 to improve their faith-based community. Rev. John Sampson, pastor at KVCC, asked that we reflect on the past and lead the congregation in a time of listening to God’s calling.
To encourage this listening, the Task Force sponsored spiritual-based explorations in the Adirondack woods and waters – a number of silent paddle trips and Forest Bathing gatherings. These events allowed us to connect with the natural world through our senses.
Silent Paddle on Church Pond. Photo by Merle Tanis
On our silent paddling trip last fall, six of us spent two hours on Osgood and Church ponds where we spoke not a word and communed with the waters, the trees, the blue sky and the clouds – in our own way. As we waited at the launch site, we shared what our experiences were. Merle Tanis, a member of the Task Force, broke into song, singing the first verse from Peggy Lynn’s song “Sanctuary”:
You can hear the paddle dipping in the distance.
It is quiet enough to hear the water rippling
I take in the stillness of the beauty and breathe in it.
This is my Sanctuary
A week later, Merle emailed her latest thoughts, “I find Peggy’s words to be so real, personal, perfect… they surely described my thoughts and feelings throughout our silent paddle. It is my hope that these will transport us back to those glorious, unforgettable moments we all experienced in our own ways last week.”
A church community is active
The church community found ways to honor the Earth and reduce our carbon footprint while working within the constraints of Covid-19. We commissioned an energy audit which resulted in our taking specific actions, including repairs to our buildings to minimize heating loss, the purchase and installation of energy efficient lighting, enhancing our recycling program, and the use of clean-green products/consumables.
The church’s financial strategy now includes socially responsible investing. Thanks to the generosity of church members, we will soon install solar panel roofs on one of the church buildings.
Online solstice/equinox services were created in honor of our connection with Mother Earth and the cycle of seasons and life. The flowers that adorn the church sanctuary are often pickings from our own gardens and nearby fields of wild flowers, or are locally sourced – a practice I specifically love because it is so visible. Thanks to a generous donor, a pollinator garden will soon be planted on the church ground next spring with native shrubs and plants. grant we received from the Adirondack Garden Club.
The Creation Justice Church program
The Keene Valley congregational church follows the Creation Justice Church program from the United Church of Christ (UCC) to assist our congregation in making the ministry of environmental justice an integral strand in the DNA in our faith community. The Creation Justice Task Force is currently led by three co-chairs –Pam Gothner, Katharine Preston, and me. Shawn Lamarche Merle Tanis Monique Weston Naj Wykoff and Rev. Sampson, ex-officio.
KVCC was officially recognized as a creation justice congregation in November 2021. It is the third UCC church in New York to have this status. See the articles Lake Placid NewsThe Sun Community News.
The UCC program required that the church congregation take the Creation Justice Covenant as a commitment to healing the earth.
Keene Valley Congregational Church affirms that the global environmental crisis is the most pressing spiritual challenge of human history. This moment calls us to understand our mission statement’s charge to, “strive lovingly to serve others with justice and compassion,” to broadly include both the human and non-human Creation. We declare our congregation a Creation Justice Church. We commit ourselves to thoughtfully engage in acts of compassion to heal the world, mitigate the effects of the environmental crisis, and advocate for justice on behalf of all Creation.
Katharine Preston shares her thoughts on what we can do together:
Each day I try to live deliberately, carefully, and as lightly on the earth as I can – being respectful of my neighbors and neighborhood, which includes the land itself, the soil, plants and animals as well as the human beings ….”
Pictured at top: KVCC Creation Justice Church Task Force. Photo by Naj Wikoff
Lorraine Duvall is an award-winning author who writes about her paddling adventures. In Praise Of Quiet Waters: Finding Solitude & Adventure in the Wild Adirondacks. Some of her memories, And I Know Too Much To Pretend, led her to research a woman’s commune north of Warrensburg, resulting in the 2019 book, Finding A Woman’s Place: The story of a 1970s feminist collective in the Adirondacks. Duvall is a resident of Keene and serves on the board for Protect the Adirondacks.