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Upper Valley faith groups get traction with climate change as a critical issue

  • Katie Aman, of White River Junction, Vt., won the Climate Justice Award for her work in environmental activism, in part for what she does with her church, the Church of Christ at Dartmouth College. A large maple in front of the church shows some color on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021, in Hanover, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/9/2021 9:45:23 PM
Modified: 10/9/2021 9:45:23 PM

HANOVER — The “Green Team” at the Church of Christ at Dartmouth College is a hub of intergenerational climate activism. The youngest members are in elementary school, and the oldest is in her 90s. Katie Aman, 24, is a founding member of the group.

“We need a spectrum of people,” she said. “The older people on our Green Team are very aware; they’re like, ‘We need to take responsibility for some of the things that we feel that our generation has done.’ ”

Aman recently won the inaugural New Hampshire Conference of the United Church of Christ’s Climate Justice Award, along with Pat Brady Martin, of Rindge, and Katharine Gage, of Windham.

Between semiprofessional cycling and her research work at Dartmouth, Aman had little time to attend climate organizing meetings before the pandemic. But over the last 18 months or so, she has gone from an engaged observer of environmental issues to a climate activist, pushing religious organizations to focus more on climate issues.

Beyond the green team, she is active in 350.org and its local partner organizations as well as the Granite State Organizing Project, a state-level interfaith group. She and other young voices in her church have put energy behind a pivot toward climate issues.

Although he may be more widely known as a longtime soccer coach, Rob Grabill is also an associate pastor at the Church of Christ at Dartmouth College and nominated Aman for the award. He is a climate activist himself. He attended a protest at the construction of an oil pipeline running from Canada through Minnesota.

“I was at the first Earth Day 50 years ago,” he said. “I’m not tired of doing it, but it is so nice to have young voices like Katie’s.”

He argues that engaging with climate issues may benefit the church. Recent statistics for Christian churches reveal decline: In 2019, Gallup reported that half of Americans are church members, down from 70% in 1999.

“If I was advising churches during a time of falling church attendance, I’d tell them: Church isn’t relevant. They will go when it’s relevant. Climate is relevant,” Grabill said. “Young people are less interested in personal salvation and more interested in care for each other. And they are more interested in the climate movement.”

Grabill also said that it is “so logical” to have the church take a leading role in the climate crisis.

“It’s a moral crisis. It’s a moral failure,” he said. As he sees it, “love your neighbor” is inextricable from “love your creation.”

With the church group’s leadership, the Church of Christ became a “climate justice church,” one of the first two in New Hampshire. In July, the national United Church of Christ became the first mainline Protestant denomination to explicitly affirm that nature has rights when it issued a “Resolution of Witness.”

Aman is not the only young person to become more involved at Church of Christ through its focus on climate issues. Lydia Hansberry, a sophomore at Hanover High School, joined the Green Team last year soon after her family started attending the church.

“There’s always a phrase, ‘all of God’s creation,’ and that really resonates with climate activism and caring for all of creation — not just humans,” Hansberry said.

She was the team’s youngest member once Grabill invited her to join. Sometimes she has heard older people describe how climate change was not something they were aware of when they were younger, and even apologize for their generation’s role in problems hers will face.

“It is something that will affect and is affecting every living thing on this planet. Every human,” she said. She has an “we’re all in it together” attitude.

Since it first formed in early 2020, the church group has been busy. It has worked to “green” the church, swapping in LED lights last year and installing a solar array at the church next month. The team has been pushing the entire congregation to engage more with climate issues.

“We had to get (the solar project) approved by the board, which took a really long time at our church, and a lot of persuasion,” Aman said.

Last year, the members also worked together to write a “creation justice covenant” that committed the congregation to advocate for those who are “vulnerable, exploited, and disenfranchised, but the devastating effects of a degraded plant” and fight climate change. The entire congregation approved the covenant in a vote last year.

Now, the group is raising money to defray the legal expenses of the 18 arrested at a protest at a coal-powered power plant in Bow, N.H., this month.

“I think (the award) elevates our Green Team in general,” Aman said. “I haven’t done this work alone.” She hopes that she may “inspire other young people, or other people in general, to start a green team or get more involved in environmental justice.”

Aman has also been a voice for climate action in state-level religious groups.

Grabill nominated her for the award in part because she “helped the grassroots organizing group Granite State Organizing Project pivot hard to include climate as an area of concern.”

Since GSOP began in 2004, its focus has been social and economic justice. For Aman, climate activism connects seamlessly to GSOP’s traditional focus on social issues.

“My line is climate justice is racial justice, because of the impacts,” she said, referencing the example of Tropical Storm Ida’s disproportionate impact on poor and minority communities. She and Potter have pushed GSOP to focus on climate issues.

Aman has worked closely with Chris Potter, a young community organizer at GSOP, to pressure the interfaith organization to incorporate climate activism into its mission.

“I try to show up, to be there for Chris, so that he’s not the only one who’s defending why we should be working on climate right now,” she said. “But I’m really glad they’re starting that up, and it feels like there’s a good amount of interest and momentum there as well.”

She and Potter are the young voices on GSOP’s five-member “Climate Explorers Team,” which has led workshops on climate issues.

“Three of the members are older, and two of us are younger — we’re all about action,” she said, with a strong emphasis on the last word. “I have been very persistent. In the last meeting, I was like, ‘We need to act now guys, no more research, we’ve done research for half a year.’ ”

When asked about her plans for the fall, she was not short on ideas: Holding Climate Explorer workshops on how to “stop the money pipeline” by moving money out of large banks, supporting protests at the coal plant in Bow, and helping get more clean energy projects off the ground.

Claire Potter is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at cpotter@vnews.com or 603-727- 3242.




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