Tennessee Interfaith Power and Light holds climate prayer vigil at Greenbelt Park
By J.J. Kindred | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Promoting sustainable energy and giving spiritual responses to climate change was the purpose of a climate prayer vigil held Sunday at Greenbelt Park.
Several people from different church denominations attended the event, sponsored by Tennessee Interfaith Power and Light (TIPL), an organization that promotes sustainable energy use among faith communities. According to its website, TIPL is part of a growing national movement of state affiliates, supporting congregations and other partner organizations through leadership development, developing and providing written and electronic resources, and building a network of concerned, committed people throughout the state.
Besides a candlelight vigil, Sunday’s event featured songs, prayers, meditation and a message from Adrienne Schwarte, an associate professor of design at Maryville College who is heavily involved in sustainability issues on campus.
“What we’ve been doing is having all these climate vigils and we’ve been gathering people of other faiths communities together,” said Ginny Ayers, who serves on TIPL’s steering committee and coordinator of Sunday’s event. “There have been several in East Tennessee, including Knoxville, Crossville, Nashville and Chattanooga, but this is our first one in Maryville. We’ve gathered people and put the word out.”
Gene Burr, a member of Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville who serves on the church’s environmental committee, said the vigil is part of the efforts for TIPL to create more awareness and understanding of climate change and what the implications are for the world.
“This is one way of drawing attention to that effort,” Burr said. “We did one of these last fall in Knoxville at Market Square. When Ginny organized this one in Maryville, she thought Greenbelt Park would be a good location for it. It’s kind of a quiet, effective way of drawing attention to something we should all be concerned about.”
Burr said his church has reinstalled 117 solar panels on its roof as part of reducing their carbon footprint.
“That required a major commitment on the part of the church,” he said. “We felt good about that because people have been enthusiastic about taking on that kind of obligation. We felt like it was important for us to demonstrate what we were talking about, putting our money where our mouth was.”
Schwarte, who has taught at Maryville College for eight years, shared that her grandfather, who is about to celebrate his 101st birthday next month in western Pennsylvania, had always been environmentally conscious and is one of her inspirations for involvement in climate change issues.
“He has always been someone who has been working for what he has,” Schwarte said. “He does his own gardening. I was in Pittsburgh about two weeks ago, and he was trying to get some work done with garden. He brought my 3 1/2 year-old son in the yard and he showed him where all the wild berries were.
“He is a very spiritual person and very concerned about the land,” Schwarte continued. “He lives in a beautiful area in western rural Pennsylvania that is facing a lot of challenges.”
Schwarte said she knew she wanted to be involved in sustainability issues when she first moved to Tennessee. Some of her students became involved with small scale projects such as energy audits.
“I teach design and saw a lot of important things that would impact my students when it came to the issue of climate change,” she said. “They did this in residential communities and got some feedback and collected data.”
Ayers said Sunday’s vigil was an example of getting TIPL back on track.
“The organization existed years ago, but it kind of fizzled,” Ayers said. “This is one of the efforts to try to get it reenergized. One of the things we want to do is encourage individuals and faith communities to join in membership. They are just committing to something — there are no dues or anything like that. They’re just committing to dealing with climate change issues.”