Jim Antal, climate hero
The Rev. Dr. Jim Antal is retiring as President and Minister of the Massachusetts Conference, United Church of Christ. I will miss him! Here’s what I said at his retirement celebration in Worcester.
What a blessing to be here as we honor our friend Jim. I’ve been invited to speak about his leadership in protecting God’s Creation and taking action on climate change.
Not everyone who wanted to be here today was able to make it. Someone who dearly wanted to come sent a letter that he asked me to share, and I brought it with me. The missing person is Scott Pruitt.
Jim, you need to know that he wanted to have a few words with you and to share his feelings about your climate ministry. He delivered his letter in a 12-foot limousine that gets 5 miles per gallon. Here’s what he wrote.
Dear Reverend Dr. Antal,
You know how hard I’m working to dismantle every regulation that protects the integrity of our environment. You know how hard I’m trying to convince the American public that science doesn’t matter, climate change is nothing to worry about, and God put all that wonderful coal, gas, and oil in the ground so that we could dig it up and burn it, and, incidentally, so that some of us could get rich.
Reverend, I must tell you that you are a thorn in my side, a burr under my saddle, and a monkey on my back. If my work comes to nothing, it will be because you, and people like you, rose up to stop me. I fear your energy, your eloquence, your moral conviction, and your persistence. But there is one thing about you for which I am grateful: you make my speeches easy to write. I read what you say, and then I say the exact opposite.
Thanks for sharing, Scott.
Here’s what I want to say: eleven years ago, in 2007, I met Jim on a sidewalk somewhere between Newton and Cambridge, near the end of the Interfaith Walk for Climate Rescue, a 9-day walk from Northampton to Boston that I helped organize to raise awareness about the climate crisis. The march ended with an interfaith service at Old South Church, and when the congregation stepped into Copley Square, we held what was until then the biggest climate rally in U.S. history.
I love it that Jim and I made friends on a climate walk. As we walked along together, we immediately launched into a spirited conversation about everything from the nature of hope to the moral call to care for the Earth. I wondered to myself: Who is this brilliant guy with the big-picture mind, the passionate dedication to solving the climate crisis, and such an extraordinary zest for life? His laugh could light up a room.
In the years since then, Jim has been an intrepid ally, friend, and visionary thinker in countless other climate actions. We dangled our legs over the side of a pipeline trench in West Roxbury as we prayed and sang before the police handcuffed us and took us away. On another occasion, Jim declared “A New Awakening,” and we co-led workshops on prophetic preaching about climate. We spoke on panels. We marched in D.C. We visited the State Department to weigh in on the upcoming climate talks at the U.N.
In 2012, when Mitt Romney was running for President against Barack Obama, we joined Bill McKibben in delivering to Romney’s local headquarters more than 52,000 signatures on a climate letter. In 2013, we co-organized the Climate Revival in downtown Boston. In 2017, when Trump announced his intention to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord, we co-wrote an ecumenical statement of Christian protest, “An Opportunity for Which the Church Was Born” – that title came from Jim.
This is only a glimpse of Jim’s leadership on climate. I should mention, by the way, that he was a key player in persuading the United Church of Christ to become the first denomination to move toward divestment from fossil fuels.
Jim, you are an incomparable friend and an incomparable leader on climate. Thank you for hearing the cry of the Earth, the cry of the poor, and the cry of future generations. I couldn’t say it better than Bill McKibben, who wrote, in the foreword to your new book, Climate Church, Climate World: “…For as long as there has been a serious climate movement in the United States, Jim Antal has been at the forefront… He is on the short list of heroes who have given their all.”
Maybe one day Scott Pruitt will stop by your house in a Tesla – or on a bike! – shake your hand, and thank you for converting his heart. If he asks to plug his Tesla into your outlet, I know you will be generous and say yes. Until then, I’ll be with you in the struggle. Let’s keep walking.
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