After prayers for Mother Earth, congregants of United Church of Christ blessed half a dozen people as they set off on a Palm Sunday-style walk for the climate, ending up in Salem in a week to — if they get an appointment — plead with Gov. Kate Brown to stand up against any future fossil fuel pipelines in the state. 

The marchers and bicyclers will only walk a few hours in the morning and afternoon and get bused the rest of the way. It was planned as a big protest against the Jordan Cove natural gas pipeline from the Klamath Falls area to Coos Bay, but license applications for the pipeline and an export facility were recently denied by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The decisions could be appealed. 

Before its denial, Brown, a Democrat, did not oppose it, despite many marches and protests.

In a sendoff blessing Saturday evening at Ashland First Congregational United Church of Christ, its new minister, Christina Kukuk, linked God to nature and the planet, noting, “We’re asking politicians to make decisions that are better for people and the planet.” 

In a news release, the group said since rejection of the pipeline application and passage of last month of a Coal to Clean Energy bill, the next most important goal is putting a price on carbon and other greenhouse gases to reduce the states contribution to climate change.

Kukuk, who was born and raised in Ashland, Ohio, said there’s been “obstruction in our care for the Earth and we need to repent for it. We’re now living out his (God’s) stewardship.” (This paragraph has been changed to indicate Kukuk is from Ashland, Ohio, not Oregon.)

The march set out Sunday morning from the UCC church in Medford. It's planned to cover 235 miles, the same distance as the proposed natural gas pipeline across Southern Oregon.

Marchers will be received each evening by congregations of many faiths for dinner and a place to rest. Kukuk says our culture is self-centered, feeling it’s OK to secure what it wants at any cost, but “Our faith traditions lead to the light and are a way of connecting, caring and being united in our very different religions.” 

Parishioners circled the marchers, laid on hands and prayed and sang their blessings. Assisting was Rabbi David Zaslow of Havurah Shir Hadash, who told them, “We’re here to help raise awareness of the critical nature of our planet now. In the Hebrew tradition, we see the planet as life, not separate or inanimate — and if we harm a living being, we harm ourselves. There’s no distance between God and nature.” 

Noting “our win against the pipeline,” UCC Associate Minister Paula Sohl said the church is meeting with local climate activists in the state, “building solidarity and support ... and reminding us of the sacredness of the Earth as we make the transition to cleaner energy” and limit carbon with cap-and-trade. 

Churches are becoming responsible to each other now and to “generations after us, not to wreck the one precious Earth," Sohl said. "I was shocked and delighted when the pipeline was denied. They knew we were coming. We worked against it for 11 years to keep LNG underground and stop fracking.” 

UCC has partnered with churches in Honduras and Sohl spoke of their grief at the murder three weeks ago of Berta Caceras, winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize for her activism for indigenous folk and against dams and logging. That nation is the most dangerous on Earth, Sohl said, for environmental workers. 

Ogranizers say the march to Salem is called a "caminata," “an intentional walk, often practiced in Latin America to demonstrate and mobilize resistance to injustice."

Details are at www.facebook.com/walkfortheclimate.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.