Creation Care

Creation Care in the ‘Third Act’ of Life

March 20, 2023
Creation Care

By Mary Jane Cherry

Deacon Mary Jane Cherry stands outside the offices of The Mountain Eagle, a legendary newspaper in Whitesburg, Kentucky, one of the hardest hit communities in the eastern Kentucky flooding.  

Ten days before Christmas 2021, the unexpected occurred in my state: Tornadoes unleashed their fury in far western Kentucky, and a mile-wide EF4 devastated the city of Mayfield. All told, 81 people died that fateful night. Six months later, the state was again traumatized by disaster. On July 28, 2022, historic and deadly flooding occurred in eastern Kentucky, washing away thousands of homes and businesses in six counties, and, as of last count, killing 44 people.

Tornadoes are not unusual threats in the state, but they usually come in spring and are seldom so destructive. Historically, flooding also has been a menace, but the extent of last summer’s flash flooding was unprecedented and, arguably, unnatural. As one local news commentator and others observed, the flash flooding was a “perfect-storm consequence” of land degradation from strip mining, mountaintop removal and logging, and historically intense and prolonged rainfall. 

These disasters brought the climate crisis home to me, a native Kentuckian. Retired, I watched the tragedies from the comfort of my Louisville home, hundreds of miles from the devastated communities I had once visited as a family member and volunteer. To say I felt powerless and hopeless is an understatement. I live in a “red” state where coal was once “king” and environmentalists are often blamed for the closed mines and loss of good-paying jobs.

It’s easy to throw up your hands in despair, as I was tempted to do. What, after all, can a senior citizen do during a pandemic in the wake of such disasters? Well, plenty, if she joins other elders pooling their resources in the Third Act. That’s the inspiration of the organization founded by activist Bill McKibben to recruit people age 60+ to join movements addressing the assaults on our democracy and planet. Who is better suited to join this work? McKibben is known to ask, then answer: As a group, the nation’s seniors hold 70 percent of its private wealth, they vote in large numbers, they bring a lifetime of experience, and they are likely to have time to volunteer.

And volunteering they are. A little over a year old, Third Act has organized 21 “working groups,” where much of Third Act’s advocacy is organized. (To date, there are 16 location-based groups and five “affinity” groups.) Coming from a state without a local group, I joined an “affinity” group, Third Act Faith. The interfaith group of laity and clergy seeks to bring a spiritual voice to Third Act campaigns and a pastoral presence to support its members, whether they are “in the trenches” protesting or lobbying legislators and executives.

Actions planned for Third Act’s Day of Action on March 21. See map here.

The faith group has been actively supporting Third Act’s “Banking on the Future” pledge campaign and its signature culminating event, the “3.21.23 Day of Action,” featuring a constellation of local events intended to repudiate four megabanks for their ongoing, climate-disastrous funding of the fossil fuel industry. 

In addition to assisting with local group actions, the faith group is hosting a virtual interfaith service the evening before the Day of Action, and preparing spiritual resources for use at the local actions. The faith group, however, is also looking beyond these campaigns and gathering resources to address spiritual and pastoral needs arising from activism and living in a climate-changed world.

Third Act’s appreciation of the gifts that elders bring to this work and its awareness of life matters that may affect their participation make involvement with Third Act especially appealing. As Third Act Faith co-facilitator Pat Almonrode said, Third “Actors” have an “easy on-ramp” to advocacy. Not all members will want “to take to the street,” so Third Act supports various activities, such as writing letters to the editor. Because of their potential for contacting and mobilizing thousands of faith communities and congregations, he said, faith group members have an important networking role to play.

“We need to remember and claim the power we have.  We are a huge demographic bubble,” he said. “We can leverage our wisdom, our connections, and our gravitas in lobbying legislators … and bank presidents.”

You don’t have to be old nor a Third Act member to participate, so check out the Day of Action map for a local event.

Mary Jane Cherry is a retired deacon and chaplain in the Episcopal Diocese of Kentucky, and a member of Third Act Faith.

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The Rev. Melanie Mullen

Director, Reconciliation, Justice and Creation Care

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Phoebe Chatfield

Associate for Creation Care and Justice

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