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Faith Leaders Tackle Climate Resilience, Create Map of Vulnerable Coastal Churches

GIS map of coastal North Carolina churches. (Creation Justice Ministries)
GIS map of coastal North Carolina churches. (Creation Justice Ministries)
August 13, 2020

AURORA, N.C. -- Faith leaders across the Southeast recently held the first Faith Communities and Climate Resilience Summit, aimed at addressing how congregations can become more resilient in the face of increasing floods, extreme weather events, and other climate-change impacts.

Gerald Godette, minister of St. Paul A.M.E. Zion Church in Aurora said his church has been flooded and blown down numerous times, including in 2011 after Hurricane Irene, and again in 2018 after Hurricane Florence.

Both hurricanes caused more than $120,000 in damage. Godette said for his small, predominantly African-American congregation, climate change is another battle, alongside struggles with food insecurity, social injustice and health disparities.

"It just brings an overall burden that causes the faith community to retreat, in not only leaving the area, but retreat almost even in thinking that faith works for them," Godette said. "So, it is the job of myself, my wife and other faith leaders to teach, and that's what we're doing now."

A new geographic information system map unveiled at the virtual summit pinpoints which churches and congregations across eastern coastal North Carolina are most susceptible to climate change based on models of sea-level rise.

Susannah Tuttle, director of North Carolina Interfaith Power and Light, the Creation Care Program of the North Carolina Council of Churches, sees the mapping tool as an addition to Gov. Roy Cooper's Climate Risk Assessment and Resilience plan released earlier this summer.

She said faith communities are beginning to step into the realm of climate action.

"As that happens, policymakers, people that sit in the political realm, who have been attempting to address these issues, are actually hearing from the community members themselves," Tuttle said. "What is it that we're going to need? What does resilience mean to us? What is the actual issue that we're trying to design the policy to address?"

Sarah Ogletree, program coordinator at North Carolina Interfaith Power and Light, said the overlapping crises of hurricane season and the coronavirus pandemic have galvanized North Carolina's religious leaders to help prepare their congregations and offer tools to build community climate resilience.

"Ultimately we want to educate and inspire and mobilize congregations to think about climate change beyond mitigation, and begin a conversation about what it looks like to be spiritually and physically resilient," Ogletree said.

Predictive models have shown climate change is leading to hotter weather for longer durations across the state, along with more frequent and extreme hurricanes, due in part to warming ocean temperatures.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - NC