Monday, December 10, 2018

The Hope Candle Burns the Longest

I spent the first days of Advent in warm and sunny San Antonio, to meet and strategize with my fellow Jurisdiction Guides about the UMW Climate Justice goals for 2019.

This year we brought together several community organizations for a UMW event in Rio Texas Conference.  We introduced our Just Energy 4 All campaign, which focuses our advocacy and action around decarbonization of the transportation and energy sectors. We are doing corporate engagement with Ford and Chevron, advocating for stronger environmental standards at the EPA, and educating our members on our 13 Steps to Sustainability. We do these things together--big policy and systemic change in addition to small personal change--because there is no silver bullet to solve the climate crisis. We need all of it.

We heard about the dangers of oil and gas industry from many perspectives. We heard from Sister Elizabeth Riebschlaeger, who has concerns about oil and gas workers and the lies they've been told about the health impacts of their work. She understands that the poor, rural residents of Karnes County, TX have been taken advantage of, promised tax revenue and jobs in return for leases to their land. Instead, drinking water wells have been poisoned, habitats destroyed, and the promised profits never materialized. Being good, neighborly folks, though, the residents don't want to make any trouble. So they allow the fracking to continue. But as Sister Elizabeth says, we're all children of God and deserve to live with clean land, air, and water.

We heard from Adelita Gonzalez Cantu from the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments. She shared the health impacts of the oil and gas industry in Karnes County, TX. It's true that unemployment has decreased since fracking arrived, but health issues like rashes, cancer, STDs, respiratory problems, crime, and pregnancy complications have increased. Another little known effect of fracking: increased traffic, noise and light pollution, insomnia, and stress. The fracking pads run day and night and are brightly lit. This makes it difficult for residents to sleep. And people who don't sleep well can suffer a host of other issues--addiction and marriage and family problems most notably. As one of her patients told her, "I know we can't make them [fracking companies] go away, all I want is for them to be good neighbors."

We also heard from Eloisa Portillo-Morales from the Office of Sustainability in the City of San Antonio talk about their Climate Action and Adaptation Plan. Efforts to retire coal plants, increase solar, plant trees, and welcome climate refugees have been largely successful and ongoing. Their goal is an, "equitable, environmentally resilient, and economically viable future."

The UMW attendees listened and asked questions. They prayed and reflected. They participated in a Climate Justice Simulation Experience using a scenario from the Little Village community in Chicago that suffered environmental injustice from some dangerous coal and industrial plants. This was perhaps the most impactful part of the event, as participants were asked to assume the role of a member of the impacted community. Tears were shed and anger and despair were expressed. 

To be honest, though the event was a success, I felt weary. I'd heard and seen the health impacts of oil and gas this very same week last year in Pennsylvania. It was upsetting to know that these injustices were not isolated and that they were continuing.

I arrived back in southern IL tired from my travel and missing my family and routines. In my attempts to set things right, I unpacked our Advent wreath and Jesse Tree devotional. In our move this summer, our Advent candles were damaged (or perhaps melted from the heat) and replacements were needed. But as I held the lumpy purple and pink wax in my hands, I noticed the difference in size. One purple candle was quite small in comparison to the others. Having grown up lighting an Advent wreath, I knew why: the first candle of Advent, the Hope candle, burns the longest.

I was immediately comforted. When I feel like the world is falling apart and I alone can save it (LOL), I'm reminded that Christians were made for such a time as this. We've long been on the front lines of social change, and we can be here at the peak of the climate crisis, too. Sometimes that will look like testifying at an EPA hearing, as I did on behalf of UMW in September. Sometimes that will look like encouraging our churches to stop using styrofoam or starting to compost. We do all of this because we hope--hope to change, hope to save, hope to create a better world for our children.

The hope candle burns the longest. It will burn all throughout Advent. And it can burn in us well after. My prayer is that it might kindle our hope into action, and that those actions will catch fire in our churches and communities.


  1. Christine, thank you for sharig our common expirience so beautifully. What a moving piece you wrote. You stated so well our face to face annual meeting with
    such a sensibility and a moving heart. Indeed, the hope candle burns the longest...

  2. I misspelled your name, sorry, dear Christina. By the way, it's written by me, Miok Fowler from Denver.

  3. Christina, thanks for your reflection, especially that the hope candle burns the longest. We so need action that accompanies hope for a cleaner and safer world for all! A blessed Christmas in your new home. Phyllis T.


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