“We want to be a voice for change,” says Jim O’Dowd of Interfaith Earth Action, a coalition of individuals from diverse faith backgrounds recently formed to address local environmental issues through grassroots action. “We express our spirituality and core beliefs through community outreach, learning projects and inclusive calls for environmental action in New Paltz and neighboring areas,” is their stated mission.
The group’s members represent houses of worship that include (so far) the Reformed Church of New Paltz, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church, Jewish Congregation of New Paltz, St. Augustine Catholic Church, New Paltz Friends Meeting, New Paltz United Methodist Church, Kol Hai Hudson Valley Jewish Renewal, Budding Flower (Buddhist) Sangha, Bahai’s of Hudson Valley, Schaghticoke First Nations, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Catskills and Wallkill Reformed Church.
New members are always welcome, says O’Dowd; they’d like to have a group that represents those of all faiths, including the Islamic. People not affiliated with specific houses of worship may join from their own spiritual or ethical perspectives.
Interfaith Earth Action meets every other Wednesday at 7 p.m., rotating the location for each meeting between the different houses of worship. The next meeting will be held Wednesday, February 17 at 7 p.m. at Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church, 90 Route 32, across from SUNY New Paltz.
As a longtime member of the Reformed Church of New Paltz’s Caring For Creation committee, O’Dowd has been active in that church’s efforts to ‘green’ its own property and inspire other houses of worship (as well as individuals) to do the same. The idea of an interfaith group getting behind those principles has been talked of for a while, he says, and when he attended some meetings at St. Joseph Church in New Paltz and got to talking with parishioners Emilie Trautman and Mara Kearney, he found they were on the same wavelength. At the same time, they were inspired by the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris last fall and the release of Pope Francis’ encyclical, in which he addressed global environmental deterioration. “The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all,” it reads. “The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.”
Interfaith Earth Action has been set up to be inclusive, intended to cross the boundaries of religious faith while working within the support system of houses of worship. O’Dowd points out that churches and synagogues working together were instrumental in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. “Why not work together on today’s environmental movement? For decades, religious organizations have been talking about the importance of caring for creation. But somehow this hasn’t really been mobilized at the local level. And that’s the way change occurs.”
The group also works in partnership with non-faith-based organizations including New Paltz Climate Action Coalition. And in addition to reaching across the religious spectrum, the group intends to bridge the political divide, as well. “The environment is not a partisan issue,” O’Dowd says. “This is not a liberal issue. What’s happening today with our environment is a real crisis. And if we don’t make changes, there will be catastrophic consequences.”
The first project Interfaith Earth Action will undertake will be the annual Earth Day Fair at the Reformed Church of New Paltz at 92 Huguenot St. on Saturday, April 16. The fair is moving from its usual Sunday to a Saturday so that more houses of worship can participate, and its hours will be extended, open this year from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The event has been organized by the Reformed Church’s Caring For Creation Committee these past 12 years, but O’Dowd says this will be a transition year for the annual fair, as it moves under the auspices of the new Interfaith Earth Action coalition to broaden its scope. The 13th annual Earth Day Fair will still be a day of music and entertainment, refreshments, programs for children and ‘green’ living activities and information from a range of local environmental groups.
Down the road, the coalition is planning to sponsor film screenings of documentaries about environmental issues and to set up workshops, partnering with organizations such as Rural Ulster Preservation Company (RUPCO) to do community outreach. One way people can make a big impact on the environment, says O’Dowd, is to buy energy from companies whose supply of energy comes from renewable sources. “And NYSERDA [New York State Energy Research and Development Authority] does free energy audits. If people were able to reduce their heating costs by even ten percent through insulation and other energy saving measures, that would make a big impact environmentally and also save people money.”
For information about joining Interfaith Earth Action, contact Jim O’Dowd at (845) 255-4170 or firstname.lastname@example.org.