Rev. Susan Hendershot, President of Interfaith Power & Light, spoke at the Chicago Annual Celebration & Fundraiser breakfast on December 6, 2018 in Chicago. She shared reflections about how people of faith have a moral opportunity in addressing climate change. As the Illinois affiliate of Interfaith Power & Light, Faith in Place joins a movement with people across the country to be leaders in caring for the Earth.
Thank you to all of you for taking the time to be here, and to celebrate all that you have accomplished during 2018.
It is inspiring to me to hear your stories not only of WHAT you and your congregations have been working on, but also WHY—your motivation for engaging in this mission to be leaders in caring for the earth.
I want to share with you my own story for how I came to this work.
When I was a pastor serving local congregations, the issue that I was most passionate about was hunger. I knew global warming was an issue that people were talking about, and I thought I was doing my part—recycling, composting, I had changed my light bulbs in my home. But I wasn’t compelled by that issue in the same way I was by the issue of hunger, which felt much more local and tangible.
And then, I read an article on the geopolitics of food that connected the dots for me between the destruction of the Russian wheat harvest due to drought and wildfire that were fueled by climate change, the resulting food shortages in the Middle East and the rise of conflict in that region. That was the moment that I knew that if I wanted to work on solving hunger, I needed to work on climate change.
And as I learned more about the issue, I realized that my sons and their generation would be even more impacted by this issue than I would be, and I needed to be able to look them in the eyes and tell them I had done everything in my power to work for solutions.
And now, fast forward to this year, when ten inches of rain fell in under four hours in Des Moines, Iowa, overwhelming the storm sewers and flooding the basement of the home that I still owned there with four feet of water. My entire street, not located in a flood zone, was turned into a river, with families losing furnaces and water heaters and precious possessions and no one had insurance that would cover the losses.
I never expected to be touched by a climate disaster myself, or to see my neighbors impacted directly. Unfortunately we know that it may not be a matter of if, but when a disaster strikes someone we know and love.
But we are not powerless to act. In fact, climate change is not just a moral issue, it is a moral opportunity for people of faith to lead on this issue, and to cast a vision for the kind of hopeful world in which we want to live and to leave for our children and grandchildren.
Photo: Faith in Place, Interfaith Power & Light, and many other faith-based organizations marched together as the "Keepers of Faith" at the People's Climate March in Washington D.C., April 2017
I firmly believe that our calling as people of faith is to meet people where they are, in what issues are already important to them, and to connect the dots to how these are exacerbated by climate change. The issue could be hunger or access to healthy food, as it was for me. It could be immigration and population migration, it could be clean water, it could be jobs for returning citizens and foster care alumni, it could be racial and economic justice.
And by the way, these are all issues that Faith in Place is working on—that YOU are working on as a supporter.
Interfaith Power & Light is the only national, interfaith organization focused on solutions to climate change with 40 state affiliates building grassroots power for lasting change.
What makes us unique is our motivation for this work: We come to this from an ethic of love and compassion. Love for the sacred, our brothers and sisters, and the earth, which inspires us to take action.
While you may think that you are supporting an organization with your gifts, your time, your advocacy, what you are actually doing is building a movement – here in Illinois, and joining with the more than 20,000 congregations that our network represents around the country.
We are a powerful movement for change.
Let’s go out and change the world.
2008 Des Moines Flood, June 11, Court Avenue Area: Photo by Synthesizers [CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Flickr