“The Most Important Number on Earth” – A Sermon by Rev. Fred Small

Rev. Fred Small is one of the real heroes of the climate movement. I know I can speak for more than just myself when I say that he’s been a tremendous inspiration for many who now identify as a dedicated climate activists. His moral, spiritual perspective on the climate crisis and his equally moral and spiritual response offer a profound, yet clear vision for the purpose of our movement.

I had the pleasure of sharing a bit of carpooling time with Fred a few months ago in Massachusetts, USA, where he lives. As we drove back from the event we had attended he mentioned to me that he was considering a new sermon for his parish, the First Parish Cambridge. Well, a bit earlier this month I got an email from Fred with a copy of his sermon, “The Most Important Number on Earth.”

What a gift. The sermon not only clearly outlined the scientific significance of 350, it also offered a clear vision for a moral response to such a daunting number. First, Fred told the story of a 350 bell ringing campaign that churches across the New England states in the US have been leading for several months.

“Throughout history, church bells have tolled to warn townspeople of imminent danger. Last month, First Parish in Cambridge joined a half dozen other Cambridge churches and hundreds across the country in the 350 Rings campaign. Beginning at exactly 3:50 pm on the 350th day of the year, volunteers from our congregation rang our church bell 350 times.”

It’s particularly remarkable to imagine the bells of First Parish Cambridge ringing — a bold, public statement coming from one of New England’s oldest and notorious churches. The church has an impressive 400 year history, which includes helping to establish Harvard College in 1636 and hosting Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous “The American Scholar” oration in 1837.

It was in that same place this past December when the church bells rang in unison with dozens of other churches in the area — 350 times. But the bell ringing was just the start.

Fred identified multiple upcoming occasions for advocacy and organizing training for taking action on climate change. He shared news of the thousands of young people he would be joining in Washington D.C. in late February for Power Shift 2009. And finally, he stated, “And some will go still further.”

On Monday, March 2, activists will stage a mass civil disobedience at the Washington D.C. Capitol Coal Plant. Fred’s sermon continues,

Their message will be that coal is dirty to produce and dirty to burn, killing miners from black lung and city kids from asthma. They will call for energy conservation, efficiency, and renewables to reach the 350 target and stop global warming. Participants must pledge nonviolence in word and deed.

It will be a moral call to action in the tradition of the civil rights movement—as indeed it is a civil rights movement to protect future generations and the most vulnerable among us today.

…Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of peaceful protesters are expected to risk arrest. I will be among them.

I would be honored to go to jail with my friends and fellow Unitarian Universalists from First Parish in Cambridge. If you’d like to join me in Washington, DC, either for Power Shift or the Capitol Coal civil disobedience, please let me know.

And if Fred’s own personal commitment and active response wasn’t inspiration enough, he concludes his sermon with the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. while addressing clergy and laity at New York’s historic Riverside Church On April 4, 1967,

“We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. . . . Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, ‘Too late.’ . . . Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world.”

Fred’s sermon re-inspired me, and I hope it, and hundreds or perhaps thousands of sermons like it, will help grow and guide this movement. The world needs to get CO2 back below 350 ppm. To do that will require moral conviction, and our actions must match that conviction. Fred, I’ll look forward to joining you on March 2.

  • HAPPENING NOW: “Years of Living Dangerously” watch-parties and web-chat. More at 350.org/years

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