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The People’s Climate March: A Transforming Interfaith Experience

March 25, 2015

by Dr. Kusumita P. Pedersen
This article was originally published on November 10, 2014 by the Interfaith Center of New York.
A little before noon on Sunday, September 21, I walked towards 58th Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues to join the faith communities contingent of the People’s Climate March. I had no idea that I was about to have a life-changing experience which would transform my understanding of what interfaith can be. It is hard to do justice to this experience in words, but let me try. The People’s Climate March was a historic event. About 400,000 people marched and marches took place in more than 160 countries around the world. Mayor de Blasio, Al Gore and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon were there. As I approached the meeting point, in the gathering crowds there was already a thrill in the air, a sense that something extraordinary was happening.
The first thing I saw telling me that I had arrived at the interfaith location was an inflatable mosque with minarets ten or twelve feet tall. A few yards away was the Ark, even bigger, with passengers of diverse faiths including ICNY’s Executive Director, the Reverend Chloe Breyer. The block was packed with ten thousand people of many religious traditions, the whole range of ICNY’s partners. From the stage the voice of gospel singer Roosevelt Credit resounded, reminding us that “We have the whole world in our hands.” Then came Peter Yarrow’s mournfully tender “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” and Neshama Carlebach’s stirring “Return Again.” The cry of the shofar and pulse of drums filled the air. Even more moving than the music were the prayers, beginning with ICNY Board Member Dr. Uma Mysorekar, President of the Hindu Temple Society of North America, a Buddhist chant of lovingkindness by the Reverend T. K. Nakagaki, also an ICNY Board member, and a reading from the creation narrative of Genesis by Rabbi Larry Troster and the Reverend Dr. Melanie Harris which charged every word with meaning. People of every tradition referred to Earth as our Mother and to all beings as our family. What was profoundly moving was not only the intensity of feeling and commitment, but the way it was shared by all. After two hours of our immersion in this deep community, the Reverend Fletcher Harper of Greenfaith shouted, “Are you ready to march?” and we moved off. I was shoulder to shoulder with ICNY’s Director of Development, Ellen Greeley. As we looked down Sixth Avenue it was full of marchers as far as the eye could see.
For more than thirty years in the interfaith movement I have heard, “We must accept each other” and “We must understand each other.” But now I was hearing and feeling something new, something I had begun to be aware of the previous day during the Religions for the Earth conference (of which ICNY was a Partner Organization). It was “We need each other.” Others I talked to afterwards said they felt the same change. We have to engage the climate crisis together. An unprecedented global challenge may bring us the blessing of really knowing how much we need each other – a new phase in interfaith oneness.
Climate March Photo Credit: Patricia K. Tull, A. B. Rhodes Professor Emerita of Old Testament, Louisville Presbyterian Seminary &  Affiliate Developer, Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light.
Published with the author’s permission.