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St. Louis Pastor Wants To Help Black Churches Protect The Environment And People

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Andy Krumsieg
Jubilee Community Church
The Rev. Rodrick Burton's bus tour will stop at Jubilee Community Church in north St. Louis, where a 150,000-gallon underground cistern collects rainwater from the church's roof. It irrigates the half-acre urban orchard and farm behind the church.

When the Rev. Rodrick Burton became pastor of New Northside Missionary Baptist Church in north St. Louis in 2013, he looked for ways to cut costs to free up money for other ministries. That led him to install solar panels to reduce the church’s energy bill.

Burton talked to members of this congregation about the environment and did not want to stop there. Toward the end of 2019, he proposed an environmental bus tour for Black faith leaders to help them become more in tune with the environment.

This fall, about 20 pastors will examine St. Louis locations that have irrigation and air quality systems, sustainable buildings and repurposed sites to better understand how to protect the environment and keep their congregations healthy.

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Rodrick Burton
New Northside Missionary Baptist Church installed solar panels to conserve power and lower its energy bill.

Talking about the environment should be the norm in the Black community, Burton said.

“This will help to connect the dots, to raise, lift things up on the same level,” Burton said. “Some folks may be thinking, 'If it's not dealing with policing or if it's not dealing with reforming the justice system, it doesn't require our attention,' and it could not be further from the truth. It's all equal.”

In 2019, Burton’s church hosted a Green the Church summit. During the convention, attendees took a Green Bus Tour to several locations in the region to discuss how to grow food in the community, how congregations can make their church buildings more energy efficient and how they can determine if urban factories are poisoning communities of color.

The Nature Conservancy granted Burton $5,000 to host this fall’s bus ride, which is inspired by Green the Church’s bus tour.

The Black faith community should be at the forefront of environmental work, said Rebecca Weaver, cities program manager for The Nature Conservancy.

“They're a hub to reach neighbors, to reach community members and people around this issue that affects all of us,” Weaver said. “I think that there's a lot of power and opportunity to work directly alongside and support the leadership of pastors and other faith leaders that are leading the charge in this effort.”

Burton hopes his work to better the environment and a Green Bus tour this fall will encourage other Black faith leaders to join the environmental movement.

He plans for the pastors to visit Jubilee Community Church in north St. Louis, where they installed a drainage system on vacant land to divert water to its urban farm. Burton also wants others to see a net-zero energy-efficient home in Dogtown, a neighborhood near Forest Park.

The tour will also stop in areas where people and companies have illegally dumped trash. Environmentalists and other advocates will talk during the ride about how that harms the environment and tarnishes the neighborhood.

“We got areas where the environment is just shambles because people feel empowered to disrespect communities of color and just dump whatever,” Burton said.

Burton hopes Black faith leaders will become as passionate about the environment as he is, so they can pass the information along to their congregations and inspire young people to take care of the environment.

“We need the next generation to be trained and invited to join this work,” Burton said. “We need all the help we can get on this issue because it's a human issue.”

Follow Andrea on Twitter: @drebjournalist

Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.

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