Bishop meets students, hears gas disaster stories - Episcopal leader brings message of hope
by Paul Tennant, Eagle Tribune
The Most Rev. Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, brought a message of hope and love of God and neighbor to Lawrence.
He began his visit at Esperanza Academy, which holds classes in the parish hall of the adjacent Grace Episcopal Church. The middle-schoolers gave him a welcome fit for a rock star.
After meeting with the students and answering numerous questions, he headed next door to Grace Episcopal Church, where he listened to local residents' experiences of the Sept. 13 gas disaster. Many of those who spoke called for environmental justice and Curry clearly supported their pleas.
The Rev. Joel Almono, rector of the church, said the fires and explosions of the disaster destroyed 140 homes. Thousands of residents were displaced, he noted.
Yet the crisis brought the faith community together and clergy members of many denominations helped to bring pressure on Columbia Gas to fix the failed energy system, he pointed out.
Sadia Jiminian, a Lawrence, was at her job in Boston when she got a call that there was a fire in her house. A boiler had caught fire.
She and her family were not able to return to their home until Thanksgiving, she said.
"This is not over," she said of the disaster.
Susan Almono, Joel's wife, talked about the interfaith team, which she said was "part of a huge outpouring of aid."
While a "lack of proper safety procedures" was the immediate cause of the disaster, the root cause goes deeper than that.
"Our energy system is too dependent of natural gas. That's a problem first, because natural gas is dangerous – we found out just how easily it can explode and destroy lives and property. And secondly it emits carbon and methane pollution that contribute to climate change," she said.
Curry, a strong advocate for "creation care," protecting the environment in other words, agreed with Almono's call for environmental justice. It is a nationwide need, he said.
Episcopal bishops met in Detroit recently and visited Flint, Michigan, where people "still could not drink the water," Curry said. He also mentioned the construction of an oil pipeline under American Indian burial grounds in the Dakotas.
"You don't do that to anyone," he said.
The pipeline was held up temporarily by a court, but then "a new pharaoh" came to power in Washington, he said, insisting he was being "biblical and not political."