Responding to the Climate Crisis – with Karenna Gore

In the Sept. 19 McClendon Scholar webinar, A Spiritual and Moral Response to the Climate Crisis, Karenna Gore spoke with Rev. Heather Shortlidge from a wide variety of perspectives: scripture, science, grief, and communication.

Gore, who directs the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary in New York, answered questions from Rev. Shortlidge, Megan Janicki, a member of the McClendon Scholar in Residence Council, and the audience. In her answers, Gore combined statements about the stark reality of climate change with suggestions for action and with hope.

“The Earth is the Lord’s”
Her conversation with Rev. Shortlidge began with a quote from Psalm 24: “The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” While we often look to Genesis for scriptural affirmation about care of the earth, Gore noted that Genesis creation stories have frequently been distorted to support property ownership and domination.

“I like Psalm 24 as a reminder that we are not God, the earth does not belong to us, we are of the earth,” she said. “This notion of separation is illusion.” In addition, she often looks to portions of scripture that address truth, power, and the idolatry of money when she addresses climate change.

Allowing Others to Join You
In one question, Rev. Shortlidge quoted Ruth Bader Ginsberg: “’Fight for the things you care about, but do so in a way that will allow others to join you.’ How do we do that?” she asked.  

In response, Gore emphasized pastoral care. The climate crisis provokes fear, anxiety and grief, even shame, which can cause people to freeze up, project, be angry or go into denial, she said. Instead of pointing to data and experts and science, she recommended we talk about observing the world around us. “If you are a person of faith … if you believe in creator and creation, what better way to be close to the creator than to observe those processes?”

She referenced Katherine Hayhoe, an evangelical Christian and scientist who warns of communications that include an “underlying disdain” for others. Instead of emphasizing data, we can go to common sense language, value systems and our human ability to make change, she said. There is resistance and resentment of “experts,” who are perceived as acting “better” than others. There’s “a genuinely righteous indignation about that,” Gore noted, adding, “technology without wisdom can do terrible things.”

“I don’t have the key to brilliant communication,” she added, but everyone has a role. We can try to avoid the culture war lens. We all have to take responsibility for it. Some of the lessons we learn in our personal lives also apply in the civic space. We need to dial back the anger and have compassion for people who are not yet there.

However, Gore drew a sharp distinction between having compassion and “caving to really wealthy and powerful interests that have a stranglehold on our government.”

“Despite everything we know now, there still are people in power who want to go explore, dig, and burn more fossil fuels, including the arctic. … We need to be clear we are in this situation because of a lavishly funded lobbying and misinformation campaign.”

Learning from History and Looking Ahead
Some of the greatest moral clarity is coming from those most affected by climate change, said Gore. Union Seminary’s Center for Earth Ethics, which she founded, has included indigenous peoples in their discussions about environmental issues. One revelation for Gore has been understanding “the history of colonization as intertwined with environmental destruction,” she said, pointing to the 15th Century papal bulls that called on colonizers to “conquer, vanquish and subdue” all the flora and fauna. And “non-Christian people were part of the flora and fauna,” she said. Out of this comes white privilege, manifest destiny, property law and how we relate to nature.

Looking forward, Gore noted that the United Nations has estimated there could be as many as 200 million climate “refugees,” around the world, including in our own nation, where some have projected a migration double that of the Great Migration of the mid-20th century.

To respond,  Gore called on people of faith to be ready by returning to first principles, to the “values we hold most dear: Love your neighbor. The golden rule. Aspects of morality that are central to religious traditions. Welcome the Stranger.”

“We need to … teach these ethics and morals and the thinking behind them. … We’ve ceded a lot of our values to market-oriented things, to viewing ourselves as consumers.” Gore said. “How we behave as consumers is important, but we are more than consumers.”

Surviving the Grief
How do we keep going in the midst of so much loss? “On the other side of grief is usually love,” she said. Our grief leads us to think about what it is we cherish so much. We’re living in a time when there has been a more enforced sense of separation [from the earth] as we spend 90% of our time inside.” This has mental and physical health impacts. “So this is a chance to have a kind of awakening and renaissance.”

In addition, grief is a feeling of empathy, she added. We feel it as subjects interwoven with the earth, she said, quoting William Blake, who said “Grief and joy are woven.”

The Moral and the Practical
The fundamental question, said Gore, “is what moral obligations we owe to others across time and space and to species.” We think of what monetary resources we will leave to future generations;  “Why would you not take care of the ocean for your children and grandchildren.”

This is not work we can expect of people who are struggling to make ends meet, she said, noting that another lesson the pandemic has taught is exactly who are our essential workers. But working toward eliminating carbon emissions will actually lead to new jobs, she said, citing statistics about job growth in renewable energy. Five years ago, she said, renewable energy was cheaper in only 5% of the world. Today, it is cheaper in two-thirds of the world.

What Individuals and Congregations Can Do
Gore urged the audience to use our voices. She noted that because the topic of climate change has become politicized and because it invokes feelings of anxiety, it’s become “taboo.”

She also noted that we need systemic change to move the needle. Still, she said, individual changes  can make us more aware of the crisis, and this consciousness can affect the larger systems, and increase the likelihood of collective action. In addition, voting and fighting voter suppression are also key to the possibility of systemic change.

She encouraged congregations to look beyond solar panels and recycling programs, even though those are good things to do. She pointed to opportunities for spiritual communities to practice humility and look for opportunities for spiritual growth. She suggested that churches find out what watershed they are in, and look for ways to connect to the natural environment in a spiritually meaningful way, asking questions like: “Who are the communities near us who bear the burden of the waste of our society?” and “Who were the indigenous people here?” What were their practices?

The pandemic has shown us that it is possible to do things differently – while no one would ever call the pandemic positive, it has shifted some perceptions and led to some lifestyle changes, showing how change is possible.

Gore concluded with this advice from one of her friends in the climate movement.

Let us leave three empty chairs in every meeting we have about the climate crisis: one for people who do not usually have a voice, one for future generations, and one for our fellow creatures.

Coming This Sunday: Our Money Story

Dear Friends,

Join us in worship this Sunday September 27th at 10:00am via Zoom. We’re starting a new four week preaching series called Our Money Story. Whether we recognize it or not, each of us has a money story. Together, we’ll discover our own money stories in light of God’s money story of liberation and love.

The music this week will include something new and something old. We will sing a new response to the confession but use the familiar Scottish tune of O Waly Waly that dates from the 16th century. “Waly” translates as “Woe” and the lyrics in the original “Water is Wide” depicted a loving couple that were separated by a wide body of water (the sea or ocean perhaps). There are many hymns built on this lovely tune so we will enjoy singing it.

Join us for 10:00am Sunday Worship here
Dial-in: 1-929-436-2866 Meeting ID: 150 620 342

In conjunction with the new preaching series, the church is launching its 2021 Stewardship Campaign on Sunday. You’ll hear from Stewardship Co-Chair, Tracy Branding, in worship and depending on the speed of your mail, will be receiving a letter and pledge card in the coming days. As COVID-19 continues to create challenges and uncertainties for the church, we ask you to prayerfully consider making a financial commitment for the coming year.

Finally, as you heard last week, NYAPC is losing 100% of its office staff this fall which means significant changes for work flow and requests for assistance. Please know that the Personnel Committee is moving quickly to hire a temp for the next twelve weeks to fill Nicole Johnson’s role as Office Manager. However, please expect delays and the reality that we will need your help in completing administrative tasks in the coming weeks.

And a poem by Rev. Sarah Are, “Not Too Many Times,” to nourish your hearts this week:

My great-grandfather would
come home from work
To find his love at the
kitchen sink—
Scrubbing potatoes or freeing
the corn,
Holy ordinary types of things.

And he would slide,
Arms around waist,
To draw near enough
To ask her the phrase,
“My dear,
Have I told you today?”
“Have I told you today that
I love you?”

Day after day
It was always the same,
Because some things
You can’t not say.
So she would smile
And with heartbeat to spine,
She would reply,
“Not too many times.”

And it seems to me
That he must have known
That certain truths
Must be told
Over and over
And over again
So that love has a chance
To slowly sink in.

And it seems to me
That she must have known
That stories of love
Cannot be told
Too many times.
So tell me again
Of the love that serves
As beginning and end.

I guess what I’m trying to say
Is that we are forgetful people
most days.
We remember the melody but
forget the words.
We remember the past but forget
the hurt.
We remember the face but forget
the name.
We remember who God is but
forget that God stays.

So when Jesus said,
“Do this in remembrance of me,”
Maybe he was standing with us
at the sink
Saying to us, “Have I told
you today?”
For some things you can’t not say.

So tell me that story
And tell me again
Until my whole world
Is caught up in
A love that lasts
And a God that saves.

And if you ask,
I will say,
“Not too many times.”


A Poem and Prayer to Start Your Day

Blessed are the humble
for they are close to the sacred earth.
(Matthew 5:5)


It is in the depths of life that we find you
at the heart of this moment
at the center of our soul
deep in the earth and its eternal stirrings.
You are the Ground of all being
the Well-Spring of time
Womb of the earth
the Seed-Force of stars.
And so at the opening of this day
we wait
not for blessings from afar but for You
the very Soil of our soul
the early Freshness of morning
the first Breath of day.


God lifts up those who are bowed down.
(Psalm 146:8)


Whoever wishes to be great among you
must be a servant among you.
(Matthew 20:26)


Be Still and Aware

From Praying with the Earth, by John Philip Newell

From Rev. Rachel Pacheco

Dear Friends,

Join us this Sunday, September 20th, for online worship at 10:00am. I (Pastor Rachel) am preaching about Bartimaeus, a man on the side of the road on the outskirts of Jericho.

This week’s music features the New York Avenue Sanctuary Choir appearing virtually in the famous Renaissance motet, “If Ye Love Me” by Thomas Tallis. The words are from the Gospel of John, where Jesus talks to his disciples and says that God will send the Holy Spirit to be with them. Text Summary: “If ye love me, keep my commandments, and I will pray the Father…and the Comforter (Holy Spirit) will abide with you forever in truth.”

Join us for 10:00am Sunday Worship here
Dial-in: 1-929-436-2866 Meeting ID: 150 620 342

Sunday School classes for pre-K and 2nd graders will be at 9:15am, and classes for middle and high school students will be at 11:30am, all via Zoom. You can register until just before the class, but registering now is helpful for planning purposes. Registration links are listed below.

As we enter this weekend, anticipating Karenna Gore’s conversation about climate change tomorrow, here is a poem by Langston Hughes.

“The Negro Speaks of Rivers” by Langston Hughes

I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older
than the flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy
bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.


What’s Going On with NYAPC’s Tenants?

By Hal Hiemstra

It’s been six months since our congregation began social distancing and worshiping online.  During that same time period, The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church’s many tenants have also had to drastically alter their own programs and revise their ways of operating. 

One of our largest tenants – the Downtown Day Services Center had been serving 150 or more clients per day prior to mid-March.  With the closure of our building those services were abruptly halted – but the needs continued.  To meet some of those needs, a new partnership developed between our church and World Central Kitchen resulting in a new lunch program that was launched in Triangle Park next to the church.  Piggybacking off of the new lunch program, the Day Services Center began offering limited services by appointment only during the hours that meals were being served.  When the District of Columbia moved into Phase II reopening in late June, the Day Services program expanded its own program.  Restrooms, showers, laundry, phone charging and emergency clothing are now being offered between the hours of 9:00 am and 5:00 pm, along with lunchtime meal services seven days a week in Triangle Park.  The Day Services Center is operating at about 30% capacity and hopes to begin operating at 60% capacity by the end of this year.

The group counseling focus of the McClendon Center has meant that it has been unable to restart its own Day Services program at the church at this time.   The McClendon Center’s Day Program identifies different learning levels for clients, who are grouped according to their cognitive ability and degree of motivation. These learning levels, or tracks, include substance abuse recovery groups as well as early recovery groups for those individuals who are beginning to consider the process of recovery.  Because most McClendon clients travel by public transit, and because most McClendon sessions are group sessions, current social distancing requirements make it particularly difficult at this time for the McClendon Center to restart its program at NYAPC.  McClendon Center staff are occasionally using their offices, but the counseling programs that are offered in morning and afternoon sessions at the church remain on hold.

Similarly, Capitol Clubhouse – another group counseling program operated out of NYAPC – primarily utilizing the Radcliffe Room – is also currently on hold.  The Clubhouse model provides mental health services in a clubhouse setting that offers members a path to recovery from mental illness through friendship, meaningful work, and access to education and housing.  Because their client base also primarily travels by bus, and because they work with clients in a group setting, Capitol Clubhouse leaders have not yet felt that they can safely restart in-person meetings.  Some Clubhouse staff have occasionally been using their offices off the Radcliffe Room, but are not yet back in the building on a regular basis.

Fabrangen, a Jewish fellowship founded in 1971, has been renting our sanctuary and holding its High Holiday Services at NYAPC for the last 34 years. This year it is unable to do so. Fabrangen is a havurah, a fellowship that is led by its members, not by one rabbi, with services that are known for their vitality and depth.  The High Holidays provide an essential spiritual practice of critical introspection and self-awareness, delineating a holy time for thoughtful re-examination of actions and inactions – and times when we have failed to follow our values. This year, Fabrangen writes that current events have focused their fellowship on systemic racism and have highlighted societal norms that have discriminatory impacts. The Fabrangen fellowship recognizes that “we must engage in the work of confronting racism to create a reality that honors the fact that Black Lives Matter.”  In support of NYAPC’s own ministry around social justice issues, even though Fabrangen is not able to worship in our sanctuary this year, they have pledged to make a significant donation to our church in support of our social justice efforts.

The Downtown Cluster of Congregations, directed by Terry Lynch, has more frequently used their office space, the Thelma Odem room located just off the main lobby, but is not back in our building on a regular basis.

Other tenants, including the DC Concert Orchestra, which typically practices on Sunday afternoons in Peter Marshall Hall, has been unable to restart its program at this time and is struggling for funding but is hopeful that its program can restart by January 2021.

Two smaller congregations – Kingdom Life Ministries, and Faith Temple also typically hold Sunday afternoon services at our church. Kingdom Life Ministries is well-known for its enthusiastic musical performers and singing.  Neither congregation has been able to worship at NYAPC since mid-March and will not be able to do so until our own congregation is once again back in our sanctuary.

All of these tenants are part of the New York Avenue family and mission, and they need our prayers and support as they, like us, work to stay together and come out on the other side of this pandemic.

From Rev. Heather Shortlidge

Dear Friends,

Join us this Sunday, September 13th, for online worship at 10:00am. I’m preaching the wonderful story of the Daughters of Zelophehad from Numbers 26:63-27:1-11.

This week our music features Taisha Estrada in a fun and joyous spiritual, “I Got Shoes,” also known as “I’m Gonna Shout All Over God’s Heaven.”

Other special music includes the blues favorite “Come Sunday,” by DC composer Duke Ellington. This beautiful ballad opened one of Ellington’s longest and most ambitious compositions, entitled Black, Brown, & Beige in his first Carnegie Hall concert in 1943. Originally billed by the Duke as “a parallel to the history of the Negro in America,” Mahalia Jackson later recorded and popularized it in a jazz album in 195

Join us for 10:00am Sunday Worship here
Dial-in: 1-929-436-2866 Meeting ID: 150 620 342

Sunday School begins for children and youth this Sunday with a large group gathering at 9:15am.

Adult Education kicks off on Saturday at 4:00pm with Jonathan Lacock-Nisly of Interfaith Power and Light presenting “Genesis in Reverse: Addressing Climate Grief and Our Role as Co-Creators with God.” There is a wide array of educational opportunities being offered this fall. Click here for the full list.

Your Pastoral Nominating Committee (PNC) has been hard at work, meeting every Sunday evening. Over the next several weeks, they are asking all members and staff to participate in an online congregational assessment, which will help them in their work of seeking your next pastor. Click here for an important update from the PNC.

Just a head’s up that I’ll be on vacation next Tuesday 9/15, Wednesday 9/16, and Thursday 9/17. Please reach out to Rachel Pacheco ( or 267.981.1373) with any pastoral care needs.

Finally, a poem by Toni Morrison to help us reflect upon this tragic day nineteen years ago:

The Dead of September 11

Some have God’s words; others have songs of comfort
for the bereaved. If I can pluck courage here, I would
like to speak directly to the dead–the September dead.
Those children of ancestors born in every continent
on the planet: Asia, Europe, Africa, the Americas…;
born of ancestors who wore kilts, obis, saris, geles,
wide straw hats, yarmulkes, goatskin, wooden shoes,
feathers and cloths to cover their hair. But I would not say
a word until I could set aside all I know or believe about
nations, wars, leaders, the governed and ungovernable;
all I suspect about armor and entrails. First I would freshen
my tongue, abandon sentences crafted to know evil—wanton
or studied; explosive or quietly sinister; whether born of
a sated appetite or hunger; of vengeance or the simple
compulsion to stand up before falling down. I would purge
my language of hyperbole; of its eagerness to analyze
the levels of wickedness; ranking them; calculating their
higher or lower status among others of its kind.

Speaking to the broken and the dead is too difficult for
a mouth full of blood. Too holy an act for impure thoughts.
Because the dead are free, absolute; they cannot be
seduced by blitz.

To speak to you, the dead of September 11, I must not claim
false intimacy or summon an overheated heart glazed
just in time for a camera. I must be steady and I must be clear,
knowing all the time that I have nothing to say–no words
stronger than the steel that pressed you into itself; no scripture
older or more elegant than the ancient atoms you
have become.

And I have nothing to give either–except this gesture,
this thread thrown between your humanity and mine:
I want to hold you in my arms and as your soul got shot of its box of flesh to understand,
as you have done, the wit
of eternity: its gift of unhinged release tearing through
the darkness of its knell.

Peace and Courage,

What’s Going On: Community Club Goes Virtual

by Paul Dornan

Last Thursday, Community Club entered its  59th season of tutoring and mentoring D.C. public school students in a virtual mode. Like all other ministries of the New York Avenue congregation during the Covid pandemic, this fall it will not gather in the church itself. Rather, both tutors and students will “gather” in the confines of their separate homes and meet virtually. 

How it Works. Using the Zoom video meeting platform, each Community Club leader assigned to a class first brings her/his flock together and then assigns each tutor/student pair or small groups to a breakout room.  There each pair does exactly what would have done if they had met in the Peter Marshall Hall:  Work on and review homework assignments and on math and language skills; prepare for the SATs; draft college essays and applications; view educational materials; and just talk.  The shared-screen feature of Zoom permits student and tutor to share math problems, textbook explanations and draft paragraphs online. Moreover, members of the Math/Science Zone will be only a request away from helping any pair who needs some help with math and science questions.

Of course, not every aspect of Community Club can be replicated on line. There will be no common meal before the Club starts and no camp at Prince William Forest Park this fall. 

However, the Club will continue to award Stay-in-School Scholarships to our high school students who maintain good grades and regular attendance in study hall and College Scholarships to graduates now in college.  Over 40 of our current college students met virtually together in June to discuss college survival strategies in this new world of distance learning.

Keeping the “Community” in Community Club. How can we keep the “community” in Community Club during a pandemic?  That’s a challenging question for us all.  Community Club fortunately can claim a wonderfully committed and resourceful leadership that is keeping that question foremost in their minds as they grapple with the task of how to keep the essence of Community Club intact until we can all meet again on the fifth floor of the church.

In the meantime, we welcome new tutors.  If you are interested in that possibility, please contact Phil Telfeyan,, to join Club orientation any Thursday evening starting at 6:15 PM. 

For more information on Community Club, go to our website at

From Rev. Heather Shortlidge

Dear Friends,

Join us this Sunday for Zoom worship at 10:00am. I’m preaching from Luke 23:44-56, the story of Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Jewish establishment who had the guts to go to Pilate and ask for the dead body of Jesus so he could give it a decent burial.

Join us for 10:00am Sunday Worship here
Dial-in: 1-929-436-2866 Meeting ID: 150 620 342

The music for this coming Sunday celebrates communion while remembering Labor Day. It is also officially our first Sunday of fall! Normally this would be a time of celebrating together in the sanctuary but this year of course, we celebrate together but from afar online! The up-side is that wherever you are around the world (and we have several members abroad), you can dial in and always be an important part of NYAPC which is a delightful “benefit” of Covid, (if we can say such a thing!).

Taisha Estrada is our featured soloist this week in the hymns and in a moving rendition of Let Us Break Bread Together arranged by the great spiritual arranger Moses Hogan. She is an amazing artist building her career in jazz and popular music in the DC area and will be a major future force in this field, I predict! We are blessed to have her with us.

This Sunday, there will be a special time during worship to pray for students, teachers, parents, and school staff who are starting a new school year. Have some of your virtual school materials and devices with you for worship.

Additionally, the sacrament of communion will be served. Remember to gather your elements in advance. Any bread and drink are acceptable in the midst of a pandemic. Set your table and be prepared to welcome the Spirit of God into your space.

And a tiny prayer this week for anyone who is finding it difficult to be optimistic:

May you welcome the non-binary knowledge
that optimism and pessimism are not your only choices,
and may you commit to a truth in between,
a truth that exists even when you don’t remember it,
that you have resources, community,
and your own gifts to offer,
that there is meaning,
even when the path ahead is unclear,
and may you stop trying to force assured steps
and instead wander with the rest of us for a while.

– From Tiny Prayers for Protests

Peace and Courage,