Editor's Note: This is the first of two articles exploring how local faith communities are getting involved in the green movement. The second part will be published next week. 

This is the first of two articles exploring how local faith communities are getting involved in the green movement. The second part will be published next week.

Local faith leaders and their members joined more than 50 groups that gathered at Zeigler-Union Park in Milwaukee Sept. 8 to call for action on climate change.

Held two months before the midterm elections, Kenosha area residents joined those in Southeastern Wisconsin, across the country and around the world to call upon elected officials to advocate and demand action for better air quality, clean energy and better jobs. The People’s Climate Rally and March highlighted many local issues that are connected to the themes of climate, jobs and justice. Milwaukee’s event was one of more than 100 held around the world.

The Rev. Jonathan Barker, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, led a carpool of 13 climate marchers and two pastors representing four congregations: Bradford Community Church Unitarian Universalist, Immanuel Methodist, St. Mary’s Lutheran (ELCA) and Grace Lutheran (ELCA).

“We held the rally at the park with the We Energies office in the background. Then we marched to Milwaukee City Hall with 350-400 others,” said Barker. “The topline specific ask of the march was for both We Energies and the city of Milwaukee to commit to a goal of 100 percent clean energy — this would mean solar, wind turbines, hydro, battery storage and the possible future addition of geothermal. Stanford Professor Mark Jacobsen has written extensively on how this is possible with our current technology.”

Barker added that the Milwaukee City Council is looking at mandating all new construction to include solar panels. This is one of many ideas to make communities flourish by transitioning to clean energy.

“First, this will lead our communities to flourish into future generations. After a year of extreme fires and hurricanes, it is clear that for future generations to flourish, we must protect our climate,” he said. “Second, this transition will lead to high paying green jobs. I have met teenagers from rural areas excited to be wind turbine technicians because they know that it is a good-paying job. I know of ministries in Los Angeles that are helping folks getting out of prison to get on their feet through high-paying solar jobs.”

As a member of the Kenosha Green Congregations Group, Barry Thomas, a member of Bradford Community Church, explained that respect for the environment is one the organization’s principles. They recognize that being good stewards of the Earth is a common value shared by all member-congregations.

“It has been a goal of our committee for some time to bring Kenosha’s religious community together to form a Kenosha Green Congregations group,” he said. “We were inspired by the work done in the Racine religious community by David Rhoads. His efforts have led to the formation of the Greening Greater Racine Organization. Presently, the Kenosha Green Congregations Group has been focusing on promoting recycling in Kenosha city parks and at special events and festivals. We also look forward to meeting with Mayor Antaramian to talk about signing the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy.”

If the world is powered by clean energy, the world will reap the benefits of clean air and water, explained Barker, who grew up in Los Angeles in the ‘80s and ‘90s where school recesses, sporting events and school were often canceled due to extreme smog.

“This contributed to asthma that I struggled with growing up,” he said, adding, “I used to serve out in western Racine County and the elementary schools only used bottled water because of heavy metal linked to the Oak Creek Power Plant. I want all the children of our world to flourish with clean air and water.”

Seeing communities flourish where extraction of fossil fuels is prevalent is another area important to Barker as he recalls teaching his first Vacation Bible School in an impoverished California community where extreme extraction occurred. Chemical trucks carrying workers wearing hazmat suits and ventilators, pumped chemicals into the ground just 50 feet from apartment buildings and children playing on the sidewalks.

“My faith demands mercy and justice guides my ethics.” Barker said. “Mercy demands I work to care for these children being impacted by extraction and justice demands that I say this is not fair and must stop.”