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A pilgrimage for 
climate change



Last modified: Tuesday, January 12, 2016
Deeply rooted in religious practices, a group of Quakers from New England and beyond have converged at the proposed Kinder Morgan gas pipeline route on a pilgrimage for climate change.

A nearly 150-mile and 12-day journey across all of the towns affected by the pipeline proposal, the Young Adult Friends are hoping to find the answers within to enact change.

“This is much more than a property rights issue,” said Rindge resident Craig Jensen. “We need to start moving away from our dependency on fossil fuels and explore other options. As a church, we are led by a spirit to do better.”

Rather than having a traditional protest, those involved with this pilgrimage are relying on peace and inward reflection to find answers to the climate change crisis. Using the issue of the Kinder Morgan gas pipeline proposal as their guide, the Quakers are leaning on spiritual guidance to find a solution.

“It has been a blessing to carry this message,” said pilgrimage organizer Jay O’Hara, a Bourne, Massachusetts, resident said Tuesday evening in Fitzwilliam, where the group stayed

for the night. “The purpose of this walk is for inward reflection. This process is not a demand, it’s a question.”

According to O’Hara, the pilgrimage is deeply rooted in attempting to find solutions to the climate change crisis currently facing the world. During a retreat in January, a group of young adult quakers converged and decided that the pilgrimage needed to be completed.

“We have no idea who gave voice to the concept of a pilgrimage, it was more a prompting of the divine spirit,” said O’Hara. “All of a sudden, there was a real clarity about what needed to be done.”

With a vision in their minds, O’Hara and the rest of the young adult Quakers began to plan and organize the pilgrimage. Since many portions of the proposed pipeline run through the woods, the group opted to travel along nearby roads and highways, in the hopes that people would see them and be able to join if they wished.

While cold temperatures and steep terrain have been challenging, the pilgrims say the kindness and goodwill of local residents has been heartwarming. Whether walking with them and asking questions, offering food or a place to stay, or simply honking to show support, those who have endured the pilgrimage have had their spirits lifted.

“We have had an over abundance of food on our journey so far,” said pilgrimage organizer Emily Newmann of Brighton, Massachusetts. “We had a woman track us down and give us candy and tonic water, and had a woman bring us a whole bag of handmade scarves, because she thought that we needed the additional warmth. The kindness of strangers has been amazing.”

While this is a Quaker pilgrimage, anyone who wants to walk in opposition to the pipeline are encouraged to join. As of Wednesday when the group walked from Fitzwilliam to New Ipswich, pilgrimage organizers estimated that nearly 100 people had joined their walk at one point or another, ranging in ages from one-month to 77.

“We had a 77-year-old woman who joined us at one point and she was to the point where she was stumbling more than she walked,” said Meg Klepack of Burlington, Vermont. “She just kept going along at her own pace. It was a remarkable thing to see.”

The Quakers may be appreciative of the local support they have received on their journey, but in many communities those feelings are reciprocated by those fighting against the pipeline.

“The only good thing that has come out of this pipeline battle is all of the wonderful people that have come out and helped fight against the pipeline,” said Rindge resident Maryann Harper. “This walk has shown a great sense of community.”

While the Quakers have an answer to their question about how to help in the climate control crisis, they are sure that this pilgrimage will help them to find the answers. Much like how the inspiration for the walk came to them on a whim, the answers to their question will come in due time.

“One of my favorite quotes is from Paul’s letter to the Hebrews,” said O’Hara. “It says, ‘Faith is the turning of dreams into deeds. It is betting your life on unseen realities.’ I think that climate change is the ultimate unseen reality.”