Environmental Justice

Marching in the Light of God

United Methodist Women joins the People’s Climate March to tell global leaders that now is the time for environmental justice.

Marching in the Light of God

On Sunday, Sept. 21, I took part in the People’s Climate March, which organizers predicted was going to be “the biggest, most amazing show of strength the climate movement has ever put forward.” Before the march, the initial expectation was an attendance of 200,000. Organizers now estimate that about 400,000 concerned citizens took to the Manhattan streets that day to march. We wanted to send global leaders the message that we cared about global warming and climate change, right before the September Climate Summit called by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

My day started at 9:30 with the United Methodist meet-up at the church of St. Paul and St. Andrew on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. We all donned “Caretakers of God’s Creation” T-shirts distributed by Methodist organizers. Before departing for the march we held a prayer and had brief introductions.

“The world’s at a precipice, and we have to do anything we can to stir the pot and move the pieces forward. The hope is by putting thousands and thousands of boots on the ground at this time Ban Ki-moon will have some support and so will those who want to make a difference to change the dynamics of those conversations,” said the Rev. Kathleen Stone, executive for the Office of Environmental and Economic Justice for United Methodist Women.

We joined the interfaith contingent gathered on West 58th Street. It was a diverse group from just about every religion. The march organizers say that about 10,000 people of faith marched as part of this contingent. Among them were United Methodists and United Methodist Women members.

“I can’t think of any place more important to be than standing with people from all over the world to say we need to change the way we deal with our climate,” said Harriett Olson, General Secretary and CEO of United Methodist Women. “It’s important for us as disciples to be here, to be invested, to be visible and to be working.”

The atmosphere while we waited to march was exuberant and anticipatory. There was the feeling that this was something to be remembered.

“I think it’s historic,” said Siobhan Sargent, associate pastor of St. Paul and St. Andrew. “As Christians we’re committed to the sustainability of God’s creation and God’s earth. It feels like we’re finally gathering together our voices to say that we cannot treat our climate this way, that we cannot treat our world this way anymore. I’m so excited to walk with everyone.”

Phyllis Terwilliger came all the way from Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania. “United Methodist Women have always had a history of being on the front lines of important issues,” she said. “I think that climate justice is a really important one. I was motivated to come to join in this march to join with other United Methodist Women to be a part of this event.”

Young people were especially motivated. Rosina Pohlmann created a Green Team over a year ago at St. Paul and St. Andrew as a way to address her growing concern about environmental issues and climate change.

“It’s kind of a natural sympathy to be a Christian and want to follow what it says in Genesis to hold up the abundance that was given to us in the beginning,” Pohlmann said. She also organized housing for groups of young out-of-town marchers to stay at St. Paul and St. Andrew overnight. “I went to Assembly 2014, and that reinforced this positivity, propelling it forward in a really strong way. I’m really happy to be a part of this march.”

The overall feeling of the day was a common solidarity to a commitment to the environment and the future.

“I stand here not just for myself but for those who come here after me,” said Sally Vonner.

By 3:30 p.m., I had walked from Columbus Circle on 58th Street to Times Square, just over 1.5 miles. I knew something had been accomplished. I went home feeling the people been heard.

My favorite memory of the day was from before we had even started marching. One of the clergy at the main dais, which was piped to the wait stations, started us on several joyous choruses of the song “Marching in the Light of God.” It perfectly expressed my feeling that we were in the light of God, marching for the sustainment of that light.

Daquel Harris is an executive assistant and FTI Consulting and witness and communications chair at United Methodist Church of the Village in New York, N.Y.

Posted or updated: 9/23/2014 11:00:00 PM