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Feeling overwhelmed by dire climate news? A central Pa. interfaith service offers hope amid despair

Protesters march in the street while carrying banners and signs urging for action on climate change.
India Krug
90.5 WESA
Demonstrators take to the streets at the Youth Climate Strike event on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022.

Climate change is a major concern for a majority of religious Americans, but it’s not discussed much in congregations, according to the Pew Research Center. This has led to increased feelings of sadness, loss, and despair as people witness negative effects on the environment.

This is known as “ecological grief,” which has led some to turn to religion for comfort and support. In response, leaders from the four biggest faiths in Pennsylvania (Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism) will gather at the Gettysburg Seminary Chapel for an Earth Day interfaith service focused on environmental stewardship.

Judy Young, a former pastor who organized the event, said the service is part of a process called “grieving and growing,” which seeks to provide people with a place where they can find peace by acknowledging that we’re in a state of grief about the impact of climate change.

“It’s trying to give people a place where they can find peace by acknowledging that we’re in a state of grief about this,” she said. “And then once they accept that, then you can start absorbing the information that you need to to get to work.”

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All four faith traditions represented by the service teach the importance of caring for the Earth.

In Christianity, Psalm 24:1 states, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”

Buddhists honor the precept of non-harming – which encourages people to avoid harming any living being.

In Islam, the Quran states, “It is He who has made you successors (khala’ifa) upon the earth,” emphasizing that people must use their power to care for the environment.

Judaism teaches the concept of “tikkun olam,” or repairing the world, which is a central tradition to the faith.

Judy Young said many she’s spoken to are worried about politicians who deny climate change exists.

“So, the fact that we actually have some of this very tiny percentage of the population writing legislation is pretty horrifying,” she said. “Part of this realization that we’ve come to, that we’re in the majority here. We need to act like it.”

As climate change continues to pose challenges to life on Earth, Young said it’s important to recognize the impact of ecological grief and find ways to cope with it.

“It’s not that we don’t know and haven’t spoken and haven’t heard these words, but we want to hear them again and recognize that all the traditions are agreed about and then move on,” she said.

The service is open to the public and will take place on Sunday, Apr. 23.