Anglican and Episcopal churches around the world mark Earth Hour

April 3, 2009

The bells of Grace Church, Amherst, Massachusetts, pealed down the seconds to the start of Earth Hour, a global energy conservation action of the World Wildlife Fund, on March 28. More than 200 people gathered in the adjacent town common to declare their support for legislation requiring reduced greenhouse gases. Most had turned out the lights and other power uses at their homes to join the celebration, which included entertainment by musicians, fire throwers and fire eaters.

When Lucy Robinson, a member of Grace Church, saw an internet reminder about Earth Hour, she remembered marking the occasion with her granddaughter in 2008, and thought, "Why not a town celebration this year?"

Because the church's location adjacent to the common made it a natural place to mark the one-hour dimming of the lights, Robinson turned first to the congregation's Greening of Grace committee for their endorsement. After conversations with local government and environmental organization leaders, she persuaded the Board of Selectmen to issue a proclamation declaring Amherst an official Earth Hour community, one of about 4000 in 88 countries.

Most nearby businesses supported the effort and dimmed at least some of their lights. Parishioner Jim Mead climbed up the steeple to capture the darkened town center on camera.

Robinson added that the church bells also led them out of the hour of darkness and Amherst went back "to being a sleepy little town. But for one hour we [were of] one voice, with millions and millions of people around the world calling for change."

Other Episcopal churches in other cities and towns joined in Earth Hour, all at 8:30 p.m., local time. Grace Cathedral in San Francisco dimmed lights on the steeple at the same time nearby Nob Hill hotels dimmed their rooftop lights for the second year in a row.

By far the most common effort of Episcopal congregations was to encourage domestic celebrations of Earth Hour. At Calvary Church in Memphis, Tennessee, the Young Adult Ministry gathered at the home of a member for a candlelight dessert party. Parishioner Elizabeth Madden invited her extended family for dessert. Heirloom family recipes graced the table and the grandchildren stayed up a little later, share in the lighting of candles, and getting to sense the special nature of the event. Madden noted that beyond the treats and candles "the real theme is that all of us will share a special occasion that makes a point - the importance of conserving our energy resources."

This is the third year communities around the world have marked Earth Hour. Begun in one city, Sydney, Australia, in 2006, the celebration spread to 371 cities last year, and attracts support from Anglican leaders globally.

The World Wildlife Fund cited the endorsement of retired South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. The Church in Southern Africa also encouraged participation.

The Anglican Church of Canada supported the push of the ecumenical justice organization Kairos to observe the hour nationwide. "I think churches have a unique role to play in Earth Hour," reflected Deacon Maylanne Maybee, coordinator of Ecojustice Networks in the Anglican Church of Canada. "The church is one of the few remaining networks of live and functioning communities, which collectively have enormous potential for influencing the world around them," she added. Earth Hour is the kind of opportunity, she said, "not only to speak prophetically to power, but also to act prophetically. The world is changed by small gestures and large ones. [Earth Hour] is a beautiful combination of both."

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