Submitted by Ellen Sims, Pastor of Open Table UCC
and Rhoda Vanderhart, Moderator of Open Table
Rhoda Vanderhart, Moderator of Open Table UCC in Mobile, has written as part of the training program she’s taking to be a Climate Reality Leader. Rhoda applied for and was recently accepted into their training program. She will be one of two Climate Reality Leaders in the Mobile area, and maybe in all of Alabama.
Rhoda also has been instrumental in the Gulf Coast Creation Care group, which Open Table and All Saints Episcopal founded early this year and which is now an interfaith 501(c)(3) with about 10 other congregations/faith groups participating. The group is planning a virtual three-day Climate Reality symposium in September with guest speakers.
Rhoda Vanderhart’s Climate Story
I grew up on a farm in Nebraska, the daughter of devout evangelical Christian parents. I took for granted the smell of fertile earth in the spring, the flavor of fresh vegetables from my father’s 2-acre garden, and the clean water that bubbled over the beaver dam in the creek that cut through the cornfield behind my house.
At 17 years old I left that place, where one of my brothers and his large family still live, and set out to discover the world. My journeys took me from a coconut and cattle farm in Higuerote, Venezuela to nursing school at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. They took me from the suburbs of Kansas City to the cobblestone streets of Rome, Italy, and then down to the beautiful Gulf Coast of Mobile, Alabama.
Along the way, I learned that fresh vegetables, clean water, and fertile earth are not promised, but have to be cultivated and treasured. I married a marine biologist and started hearing about this thing called Climate Change. I made friends with an herbalist, a lover of nature who encouraged me to see the connection between all living things.
I had long ago left the church of my childhood that taught me it wasn’t necessary to care about this planet because one day it was going to be destroyed and God was going to give us a new heaven and a new earth. For 28 years I was churchless, and fed my soul by loving my neighbor and learning about Creation, God’s first Bible, written 13 billion years before the second one.
Then another friend from the League of Women Voters invited me to visit a new fledgling church in Mobile, one with a female pastor who espoused something called Progressive Christianity. I was hooked. At Open Table United Church of Christ, I eagerly started on a spiritual journey of questions I had never been allowed to ask. I began to consider the possibility that when Jesus exhorted us to begin building his Kingdom of justice right here on earth, maybe he meant it. Because he commanded us to stand up for the poor, the hungry, and the oppressed, maybe it was wrong to simply sit around acting righteous and waiting for God to rescue us in a miraculous rapture.
Our Sunday school class decided to read Climate Church, Climate World by Rev. Jim Antal and the book struck us numb and inspired us to do something besides discuss and intellectualize about the killing of our Earth Home. We asked a local climate activist to come and speak to our group, and I met my first Climate Reality Leader. She introduced me to Greta Thunberg and the Climate Reality Project.
We reached out to other churches, the local Jewish temple and synagogue, and our local mosques and found other faith communities that wanted to join with us to do something about climate change. We don’t know where the journey will take us, but we see the most appropriate role for our group is to shine a light on the moral imperative people of faith have to care for God’s creation and for those on the margins. We know that climate change will affect first and to a greater degree the most vulnerable in our world who we are charged to care for and fight for. Another role we see for Gulf Coast Creation Care is to support those who will despair and grieve as our way of life begins to unravel. We will serve as builders of psychological resilience, spiritual inspiration, and active hope.
This is my climate story.