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PC(USA)’s Washington Office plays key role in interfaith Earth Day Service of Celebration

The Washington Interfaith Staff Community includes more than 70 offices of national religious bodies and faith-based organizations

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Two members of the PC(USA)’s Office of Public Witness, Christina Cosby and the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, helped lead Thursday’s Earth Day Service of Celebration. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — Staff with the Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C., were among those participating in Thursday’s Earth Day Service of Celebration, a gathering of the Washington Interfaith Staff Community.

WISC is a network of more than 70 Washington offices of national religious bodies and faith-based organizations that collaborate on advocacy for U.S. government policies that advance a more just, peaceful and ecologically sustainable world. U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, sponsored Thursday’s gathering, which featured contributions from OPW staff members the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, the PC(USA)’s advocacy director, and Christina Cosby, OPW’s legislative representative for domestic policy and environmental justice.

Cosby used a “this or that” approach as an icebreaker, inviting attendees to move to one side of the room or the other based their preference on some hypothetical options — plant a vegetable garden or a flower garden, plant a tree or set up a bird feeder, carpool or public transportation, go on a bike ride or take a hike, buy in bulk or shop at a farmer’s market, wear clothing made of sustainable materials or sport second-hand clothing.

Then she got the room humming by asking everyone to consult the photo app on their smartphone to find a picture of Creation, “however you define that.” She asked attendees to determine what’s present in the photo, whether it’s being in nature or with fellow human beings. “What is the connection or contact? What emotions and feelings are in that picture?” Cosby then asked those who were comfortable to share their picture with someone standing nearby.

Hawkins offered up a prayer to start the service. “You have used your creative powers to bring so much diversity to the Earth,” Hawkins told the Almighty, acknowledging “our responsibility to be good stewards of the land, air and water. We live in a day when the effects of climate change are being experienced all around the world.”

“May we use our hands to pick up trash and our homes for recycling and moderate personal consumption,” Hawkins said. “May we use our hearts to care for your creatures and act to protect their habitats and very existence. May we recycle, reduce and reuse, and may we walk more and drive less.”

After asking legislators to also do their part by passing clean energy bills as well as those that “eliminate dangerous toxins from our children’s drinking water,” Hawkins said, “We humbly ask for your forgiveness, but also for repentance, and for action. This is the world you have made, and a primary way we can be thankful in it is to take better care of it.”

Marcus Coleman

Thursday’s keynoter was Marcus Coleman, director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Coleman offered greetings “on behalf of three people I report to directly” — FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and Melissa Rogers, “a stalwart champion of people of faith and no faith,” Coleman said. Rogers directs the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Coleman said since he began his current position in August 2021, “We have been on a pretty extensive journey.” Last year, for example, “every three days, a governor or someone who leads a territory had to raise their hand and say, ‘The natural disaster that we face is too much, and so we need the president’s help to declare it a disaster.’”

Unfortunately, in times of disaster, “people don’t really have mitigation in mind,” including “mitigating the impacts of natural hazards,” Coleman said. For Criswell, an important focus has been “to lead whole community climate resilience. What that means is not just looking at the impacts of climate change tomorrow but thinking about the exacerbating impacts of climate change today.”

“We know at FEMA we can’t do it without you all,” Coleman told the faith leaders.

On Wednesday, FEMA invited “a whole host of faith and community groups” to talk about FEMA’s available resources, “the people and technical assistance that we desperately want to pivot toward all the work you’ve been doing,” Coleman said. “We’ve got to be prepared because things are going to happen.”

Coleman said FEMA officials plan to return to faith leaders this summer “to continue the conversation we started [Wednesday] about where some practical opportunities are to fund more resilience hubs, to continue to push for investments in nature-based solutions, and to continue to rethink even when disasters happen the footprint that our agency and the federal government brings to communities.”

“Keep asking,” Coleman urged those gathered. “Keep advocating and keep educating.”

Arshan Khalid, director of the Islamic Society of North America’s Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances, recalled the message of Carl Sagan in his book, “Pale Blue Dot.”

“This is our home. It is our planet. It is where we learned everything we know. May God renew the planet,” Khalid said in a prayer. “May God put upon it water where there is no water, food where there is no food, shelter where there is no shelter. May God reverse the deterioration of our planet out of his generosity and mercy.”

“May God protect those most in need — the poor, the hungry and the ignored. May God use us in ways he finds most pleasing. May we safeguard the planet and all its beauty, creatures and people, and its acute balance and ecosystems. Amen.”

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