By Chelsea Blackmon
While researching methods to reduce the cost of electricity for his church, Rev. Rodrick Burton (pastor of New Northside Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis, MO) stumbled upon the concept of environmental sustainability. He started by purchasing solar panels for his church, then it was a snowball effect for him. The more he learned, the more he wanted to apply this knowledge to benefit his own community.
The goals that he has for St. Louis are simple: bring other congregations in, educate young people on the topic as it relates to their own communities, and eventually have a regional conference surrounding all things environmentally conscious.
Rev. Burton hopes for a future where young people will lead environmental sustainability efforts. He recognizes that the demographic is concerned about the topic, but he also wishes to show them what they can do in their own communities. According to Rev. Burton, one way to spark interest would be to enlighten the people in the St. Louis community about Ivory Perry, who is the environmental racism activist who noticed the correlation in lead poisoning within lower-income African-American communities.
In 1970, Perry was a driving force behind getting the St. Louis Board of Aldermen to pass legislation that would make landlords detoxify the lead from their rental properties. Rev. Burton believes that if the younger people are aware of examples in leadership like this, they will start to become concerned about what they can do for their own community as well.
‘Teamwork makes the dream work’ is definitely a statement that Rev. Burton can vouch for, and it’s evident in the way he seeks to help the residents of his neighborhood. Rev. Burton has partnered with Metropolitan Congregation United to set up a mutual aid so both his congregation and the organization can achieve their goals when it comes to providing assistance to the surrounding communities. He wishes to do the same with many of the congregations in St. Louis, believing that the more people he can get on board with environmental sustainability, the more people they can help.
COVID-19 has effectively halted many gatherings that his church would typically have, but that hasn’t stopped them from giving away essentials like food and diapers. It was just a matter of making the food pantry and the diaper-giveaway function in a society that now emphasizes social distancing.
After receiving the Growing Green Solutions Seed Funding grant from Green The Church and The Nature Conservancy, Rev. Burton planned to do a green bus tour with the members of his congregation to show them local activists who exemplify creating food security in their communities and fighting for environmental justice. Though COVID-19 has thrown the timeline off a bit, it is still a goal for him. The green bus tours would give Rev. Burton a chance to invite more people into the environmental sustainability movement. Through hands-on learning, residents can apply sustainable practices within their own neighborhoods.
Rev. Burton believes that environmental sustainability can be difficult to grasp simply because people are so unfamiliar. He seeks to alleviate the issue by eventually having a regional conference surrounding the topic. Congregations could gather to educate their communities in ways they may not have seen before, which could potentially create longevity for these communities. That way, Rev. Burton wouldn’t be the last leader to bring attention to the topic and his dream lives on.