*UPDATE, 1/6/2012* With climate change still a pressing issue, the U.S. Baha’is are again participating in the Interfaith Power and Light national “Preach-In on Global Warming” Feb. 10-12, 2012. Register before Jan. 17 and have the DVD & and print materials shipped to you! This is another opportunity to focus on the themes of environmental stewardship and justice, as encouraged by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the U.S. Last year’s response was inspiring, and no doubt this year’s will be even better.
Roles played by Baha’is in the national Preach-In on Global Warming Feb. 11–13 ranged widely in scale and scope. But they shared an optimistic spirit and a conviction that our individual actions can make a difference.
The National Spiritual Assembly, the governing body for the Baha’is of the United States, called in January for local Baha’i communities to participate in the Preach-In as an outgrowth of a seven-year action plan on climate change launched in November 2009 by the Baha’i International Community.
Part of that plan is to incorporate awareness of positive action for the environment in routine Baha’i community activities. Several communities report doing just that — as well as spreading the word among friends of the Faith.
The Preach-In was an initiative of Interfaith Power and Light (IPL), an organization that brings a variety of faith groups together in the interest of helping faith communities and congregations talk about climate change and take action to address its challenge. Several state chapters have Baha’is on their governing boards.
Many Baha’i activities for the Preach-In benefited from video and slide presentations available on the IPL website.
In fact, Baha’is appear to have accounted for a significant share of faith groups that participated, according to Peter Adriance, the national Baha’i liaison to nongovernmental organizations including IPL. Baha’i communities in 10 states from Hawaii to New Hampshire registered as participants and downloaded materials.
“The enthusiasm with which many communities responded to the Preach-In signaled the Baha’i community’s growing interest in engaging in contemporary discourses and social action,” Adriance said, noting that climate change is one of the topics of discourse that the world governing body of the Faith suggested to the Baha’is of the world in a major message April 2010. “Through reflection on principles of environmental stewardship and justice many were then inspired to engage in related acts of service and social action.”
In Nashville, Tennessee, attendance went up at the monthly public dinner and talk at the Baha’i Faith Community Center when the announced theme for Feb. 12 was “Respecting the Environment,” with the Spiritual Assembly of suburban Brentwood sponsoring. Among the more than 100 in attendance were a dozen religion students from an area university and a number of other new faces.
In addition to dinner, music from youths and children, and an “informative and entertaining talk about what we can do individually to sustain our environment” given by local Baha’i Carol Mansour, the group had an additional treat: a “mini-fashion show,” according to Carolyn Stalcup of the organizing committee. Two people circulated in the room modeling hooded sweatshirts made from recycled plastic bottles. “And they were so nice and soft,” Stalcup enthused. “You wouldn’t have believed it!”
The topic was carried over to a smaller neighborhood devotional gathering the next day, where people of all ages gathered and discussed Baha’i writings that indicate “lack of love and absence of altruism” are a principal cause of disrespect for the human and natural environments.
Meanwhile, on the western outskirts of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the small Baha’i group in unincorporated Delafield Township brought environmental consiousness into events all three days of the Preach-In — a fireside discussion of the teachings of the Faith, a study circle and a children’s class — involving 30 people in total.
One gathering featured a downloadable video showing how throwaway plastic bags can be hazardous to wildlife, and a guest named Bernice shared that her dog had almost died, and needed surgery, after ingesting one of the plastic bags. Several people responded by pledging to start using reusable bags instead, and guests were given fabric bags.
The community followed up by starting to plan a community garden and pooling information about buying locally produced goods.
“Everyone was excited to discover how much there was in the [Baha'i] Writings related to environmental stewardship,” reports local Baha’i Carolyn Paik. For instance, after reading the passage “Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements,” one Baha’i remarked that though she was familiar with the quote she had “never thought of it being applicable to environmental issues.”
Baha’is in Cornelius, North Carolina, decided that what’s good for the kids is good for everyone. A children’s class used a “How Big Is Your Footprint?” activity from the March/April 2009 issue of Brilliant Star children’s magazine to raise the children’s awareness of the amount of the earth’s resources they use.
The exercise was so revealing that the Cornelius Spiritual Assembly is encouraging the entire community to participate every 19 days at Feast, hoping that collectively they can gradually reduce their “footprint” score over the next few months.
In addition, on Feb. 13 the devotional, adult and children’s gathering that’s held bi-weekly in a Cornelius neighborhood focused on the theme “Going Green in the Carolinas.” Participants generated ideas on how to “go green” as individuals, in schools, in workplaces and in the community. They pledged as well to be on the lookout for news and announcements of projects in the area that foster sustainable living.
And at the next Assembly meeting? Task force members Tom and Kim Mennillo report, “Three people carpooled …, no agendas were printed (members were encouraged to bring laptops or other devices on which to read the agenda …), and no disposable items were used in serving refreshments.” They added that the community has been in touch with the North Carolina chapter of IP&L in recent months.
In Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, a solar energy expert who is the son of a relatively new Baha’i shared some history and recent developments in the field for a brunch gathering. About 25 people, well above normal attendance at the regular brunch gathering, had lively discussion about concrete actions they could take to balance their energy consumption.
“We want to plan more activities around environmental topics,” said Anne Bivans, a Baha’i in Whitehall. “We feel we can get a lot of community participation as well as interest from the wider community.”
Even a few weeks after the weekend had passed, the spirit of the occasion inspired a Baha’i to use the Preach-In materials at a devotional gathering on the Ohio State University campus in Columbus, where she works on staff. The Baha’is and guests at that event “talked about how the human experience is like a web where each individual’s outer and inner activity affects the environment around us both directly and indirectly,” said Valeria Wicker.
She added that several participants are “animators” for junior youth groups, which engage ages 11–14 in community service, so they have opportunities to pass the spirit of stewardship to the younger people.