Take Liturgy to the Street, the Pipeline, and the Tracks

Learn about liturgy protests by faith communities to end the adverse construction of new energy technologies leading to climate change crises.

| August 2018

  • Climate change rally
    The morning began when one hundred people gathered not far from the construction site for what appeared to be a rally. The rally was led by a variety of interfaith clergy and included singing, call and response, reading from scriptures, preaching, and prayer.
    Photo by Getty/chameleonseye
  • Book cover
    “Climate Church, Climate World by Jim Antal is an educational guide for people of all faiths, encouraging them to prompt humanity towards changes like a new moral era, one which honors and sustains God’s gift of creation.
    Cover courtesy Rowman Publishing

  • Climate change rally
  • Book cover

Climate Church, Climate World (Rowman Publishing, 2018) by Jim Antal is a guide for people of all faiths to find value and gain insight by focusing on how the church and people of the church can address the climate change crisis. Antal invites communities of faiths together to bear witness and acknowledge that God’s creation is suffering and in jeopardy. Viewing the climate crisis as a theological emergency brings together these groups and gives them a common goal to initiate an intervention.  The following excerpt is from Chapter 7 Prophetic Preaching.

The first time I participated in a public liturgy to block the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure was May 25, 2016. For months, local Boston residents and climate activists had been protesting Spectra Energy’s construction of the West Roxbury Lateral pipeline. The morning began when one hundred people gathered not far from the construction site for what appeared to be a rally. The rally was led by a variety of interfaith clergy and included singing, call and response, reading from scriptures, preaching, and prayer. The congregation then marched to the construction site where fifteen other clergy and I sat down on the pavement, dangling our legs into the six-foot-deep trench that had been gouged in the middle of the street. We were a diverse group, including American Baptist, Buddhist, Episcopal, Hindu, Jewish, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, and Unitarian Universalist. We continued singing, quoting scripture, preaching, and praying until one by one we were asked by the police officers to stand up and have our wrists cuffed behind our backs. After being packed into transport vehicles, we were driven to the police station where we were booked.

A month later, Karenna Gore, director of the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary and the daughter of former vice president Al Gore, joined twenty-two others in a similar street liturgy at the same site. After arriving at the construction site, the twelve clergy led a mass grave funeral for climate change victims, featuring eulogies, prayers, and mourning. After the funeral, several clergy and other resisters lay down beside the trench, halting construction. Others climbed into the trench and lay down, as if in their coffins. Their arrests attracted considerable media attention.

This nonviolent action to evoke a mass grave was inspired by a Reuters’ interview of a Pakistani grave digger a few weeks before. He had just finished digging graves for three hundred people in anticipation of the next heat wave like the recent one in which more than 1,300 people perished.



Moved by this story, climate activist and Unitarian Universalist Tim DeChristopher helped to organize this “die-in.” This was Tim’s first act of civil disobedience since 2008 when he disrupted a government oil and gas lease auction by posing as a buyer in the sale. The story of Tim’s courageous, prophetic witness is told in the film Bidder 70. He served twenty-one months in federal prison, after which he enrolled at Harvard Divinity School.

While the protest in metropolitan Boston was ongoing, the protest by the water protectors of Standing Rock was gathering momentum as they resisted the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline. In September 2014, Standing Rock Tribal Councilman Dave Archambault II had informed Dakota Access pipeline representatives that the tribe would not support this project. During the summer of 2016 the water protectors, representing scores of tribes, were joined by hundreds of others expressing solidarity with their witness. Their persistent, prayerful, nonviolent witness was met with water cannons, pepper spray, and attack dogs.



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