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Today in the Mission Yearbook

Churches can respond to extreme heat and climate change


Creation Justice Ministries webinar offers tips, ideas and precautions as communities swelter

August 28, 2023

People of color and community members with low incomes are more likely than other groups to live in historically redlined neighborhoods that are today’s “intra-urban heat islands,” which are neighborhood-level hotspots, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (Photo by Frank McKenna via Unsplash)

With climate change and other factors contributing to scorching conditions in various parts of the world, Creation Justice Ministries recently hosted a webinar to help churches spring into action, from becoming cooling centers to advocating for environmentally friendly legislation. Watch the recording of the webinar here.

One example came from the Rev. Sylvia Harris of Wesley United Methodist Church in Phoenix. The church converted a dormant preschool into a cooling and respite center in the city’s south mountain area, where many people struggle with the effects of systemic oppression, homelessness and poverty. With the help of seed grants, community partnerships and some donated labor and goods, the center has given people — and their pets — a cool, comfortable place to stay while also providing food, showers, a laundry facility and referrals for other services, such as housing.

“What we have found is the more that we reach out and make known what we’re doing, the more God shows up to provide in the spaces and places that we would not have been able to do this otherwise,” Harris said. “We served over 700 people over the course of four months last summer through this work” and received heartfelt testimony, such as, “I really thought I was going to die this summer and then found you guys, and now, I was able to live one more summer.”

Creation Justice Ministries hosted the webinar “Extreme Heat: How Can Churches Respond?” (Screenshot)

People also have talked about the love, acceptance and peace they’ve experienced at the center. That’s because “they were seen as people,” Harris said. “They weren’t seen as a problem, and they were welcomed fully, as they were.”

Harris was among a handful of speakers featured during the webinar, which included consultant Christian Brooks, formerly of the Presbyterian Office of Public Witness. Brooks announced that CJM has released a heat and health resource and toolkit, which can be downloaded here. Some of the content will include a research paper covering topics such as extreme heat, water justice and heat islands, to help with advocacy efforts. There also will be information about how to recognize heat-related illness, how to become a cooling station, how to protect vulnerable populations, and sermon starters on the impact of climate change and the responsibility of Christians to care for Creation.

Fellow speaker Ella Mendonsa, a health equity program manager for the Natural Resources Defense Council, pointed out that churches have some advantages when pushing for policies or raising awareness. Those advantages include trust and community connections. “I think you guys are at a really powerful place to be doing this work,” she said.

Actions by humans have contributed to the climate crisis, experts say. (Photo by Markus Spiske via Unsplash)

If your church isn’t strong on a particular topic of thing, “partner up,” Brooks said. “Pool your resources so that you can have an amplified voice.”

Legislation that can prove helpful, according to Mendonsa, includes the Green New Deal for Health and proposals related to air quality, which tends to be worse during heat waves.

Earlier, Mendonsa had outlined some of the ways that humans are contributing to the Earth’s climate crisis.

“Why are we experiencing this growing heat?” she said. “Well, we’ve known for decades that human activities have been the main driver of our warming planet, so as we dig coal, oil and pipe gas out of the Earth and burn it for fuel and energy, this leads to emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, that make up greenhouse gas emissions. Those get trapped and then they warm the planet, and so this fossil fuel … really accounts for about 75% of global GHGs or greenhouse (gas) emissions.”

Also, “there are other choices that we make that lead to a hotter planet like cutting down forests that absorb carbon dioxide; car and freight transportation; food production; and just general overconsumption,” she said.

Mendonsa suggested several action steps, from urging cities to begin switching to electric vehicles and pushing for the planting of trees to supporting community cooling centers and using environmentally friendly transportation such as biking and walking.

For more information about topics related to heat, go to

Interested in Creation Care? Learn about Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Earth Care Congregations and read the Eco-Justice Journey blog of the Presbyterian Hunger Program.

Darla Carter, Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Today’s Focus: Creation Justice Ministries webinar

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Luciano Kovacs, Coordinator, Middle East, Europe & Central Asia Office, World Mission, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Laurie Kraus, Associate Director (Humanitarian and Global Ecumenical Engagement) Compassion, Peace & Justice, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Let us pray

O Lord, grant to all your servants the joy of being in your community and the courage to work faithfully for your kingdom. May willing spirits be drawn ever closer into your covenant. By your Holy Spirit, equip your servants for the glorious calling to be your people. Amen.