A ringing appeal for action on climate change

November 20, 2008

Church bells around New England will be ringing this month to send the alarm about climate change and call legislators regionally and nationally to action.


In a memo to clergy of the Diocese of Massachusetts, Suffragan Bishop Bud Cedarholm urged Episcopal participation in a worldwide campaign to address climate change called "350." By ringing their bells 350 times during the eight days beginning with the Feast of Christ King, November 23, and ending with the First Sunday in Advent, November 30, churches will be calling attention to the excessive level of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.

The themes of Christ's lordship of creation, thanksgiving for creation's bounty, and alertness as we watch for the redemption of all creation by Christ in his final coming, all give opportunities for celebration and sermonizing about creation and human responsibility, Cedarholm pointed out.

Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, writer, climate activist and priest associate at Grace Church, Amherst, in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts underscores that "climate change is not just a political or economic issue. It is also a moral and spiritual issue."

Last week, Bullitt-Jonas and a chemistry professor from Hampshire College knelt on the floor of the parish hall and sketched the outline of the numbers 350 on a 12 X 15 foot piece of canvas to be hung from Grace Church's steeple. "Having a priest and a scientist working together...seems like an auspicious sign of the collaborations that we will form in this country in the years ahead as we face the realities of the climate crisis, peak oil, and economic dislocation," reflected Bullitt-Jonas in an interview. A few days later, Sunday School children gathered to paint in the numbers on the banner while acolytes practiced their bell-ringing techniques.

Children and adults plan to ring bells in many other congregations. Lnda King, middle school Sunday School teacher, said she hopes people of all ages will be ringing the bell at Emmanuel Church in Braintree, Massachusetts, 50 times a day for seven days, ending on November 30.

In Weston, Massachusetts, the clergy association's annual interfaith Thanksgiving service will be held this year on Monday, November 24, at First Parish Unitarian Church, Weston. After worship and an address on the 350 movement by the Rev. Jim Antal, president of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ, youth, coordinated by the Rev. Hall Kirkham assistant rector, will ring the bell of St. Peter's Episcopal Church 350 times.

"I am especially pleased that this effort to draw us towards deeper stewardship of God's creation is in the context of an inter-faith gathering," says the Rev. Stephen Voysey, rector or St. Peter's.

Grace Burson, curate at Grace Church, Manchester, New Hampshire, hopes that 350 rings of the bell on November 23, when she will be preaching on Christ's kingship of creation, will be the start of an ongoing conversation on environmental questions. "We've recently revived the 'creation team'" she said, a team of parishioners that are concerned with environmental issues. In addition to promoting recycling and writing for the parish newsletter, they have located land for a community garden and are exploring using geothermal energy to heat the church.

The 350 campaign asserts that it is "the most important number on the planet." Its goal is to educate people about the need to reduce the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from the current level of 387 to 350 parts per million, and by raising awareness to put pressure on political leaders around the globe. Dr. James Hansen of NASA, the United States' space agency, and his colleagues, proposed the target level in a scientific paper after using observations, data analysis, and computer simulation.

Bullitt-Jonas notes that her congregation, among others, has "been working hard to reduce its own carbon footprint - getting an energy audit, installing compact fluorescent lights, adding insulation, and educating parishioners about the importance of taking similar steps at home."

"But making individual changes in life-style doesn't address the problem of climate change at the scale that it needs to be addressed," she concludes. "That is why political advocacy at a state and national level is so important."

Cedarholm points out that there is a New England tradition of using church steeples for communication, such as the incident during the American Revolution in which two lanterns hung in the steeple of Boston's Old North Church signaled the movement of British troops to American patriots. "This fall we will ring a new alarm from steeples across New England: a call to our nation to take swift, bold action to address global warming before it is too late," he said.


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