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African-American Congregations Look to ‘Go Green’

A large choir sings as the Rev. Otis Moss III, senior pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ, leads the service, in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Nancy Stone)

At Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, members and neighbors buy fruits and vegetables from a black farmers market and work in an organic garden named after botanist George Washington Carver.

They recycle their church bulletins, plan to renovate their building with a “green” roof and have purchased 27 acres for a community project that will include an urban farm.

“By any greens necessary,” the Rev. Otis Moss III, the church’s pastor, likes to say.

When it comes to African-American churches and a focus on the environment, Moss and his congregation are the exception rather than the rule.

Moss said many of his black clergy colleagues are less interested in conservation and tell him: “That’s your thing.”

Black congregations have tended to focus on their members’ basic needs — getting jobs, rearing children, pursuing higher education.

Environmental matters have been a lower priority, said the Rev. Dianne Glave, author of “Rooted in the Earth: Reclaiming the African American Environmental Heritage.”

But although often reluctant to get on board, African-American churches are being encouraged to be advocates for conservation and environmental policy. And some have already answered the call. At a White House event this week (Feb. 25), three black clergy spoke at panel discussions on environmental justice and climate action.

The Rev. Lennox Yearwood, CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus, which works to engage young minorities on policy issues, takes part in marches on the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. that challenge the fossil fuel industry. That’s why GreenFaith, a national organization that builds environmental leadership through congregations, drafted Yearwood to lead a Black History Month webinar to discuss “eco-leadership and divestment” with African-American churches.

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