1998 NCC News Archives

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Women Gather for Unique National Environmental Training

COLUMBIA, Miss., April 23, 1998 -- Fifty women from a variety of faith traditions will participate in an historic national environmental event in Columbia, Miss., April 30- May 3. "Environmental Threats to Women's Health & Well-Being," sponsored by the Eco-Justice working group of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC), is the first event of its kind, explained NCC staff person Lynne West.

"To our knowledge, no one has ever hosted a national training bringing together environmental justice activists from faith-based groups and secular non-profits to focus on developing women's leadership and making the connections between faith, women's health and the environment," Ms West said. "God's intention of health, healing and restoration for the earth and its people are central dimensions of the faith we profess."

The training will honor the late Dr. Jean Sindab, a former NCC Eco-Justice Director, who was a prominent national and international leader in the environmental justice movement.

The event will bring leading environmental justice activists from faith-based groups and secular non-profits to train women selected for their leadership potential from a national pool of candidates. The planning committee chose Columbia, Miss., as the site for this one-of-a-kind event because the community is emblematic of low-income and mostly minority communities across the country experiencing severe contamination.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has designated the Reichhold Chemical plant site in Columbia for the National Priority List of the Superfund cleanup program. The site is contaminated with deadly dioxins and other poisons such as benzene and arsenic.

Training participants include those from the following Christian communions (denominations): American Baptist; African Methodist Episcopal; Catholic; Episcopal, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America; Greek Orthodox; Presbyterian Church USA; Progressive National Baptist Convention; Quaker; United Church of Christ and United Methodist Church.

Jesus People Against Pollution is the local host for the training. JPAP organized in 1992 in response to concerns about the health of Columbia residents living near the Reichhold site. The community has a high rate of cancer and premature death. Residents suffer from immune system disorders, respiratory diseases and skin rashes. Women and children of Columbia seem to be the most vulnerable part of the population.

The Mississippi Rural Center (MRC), a community center affiliated with the United Methodist Church as one of its national mission institutions, will be the primary site for the training event. MRC Executive Director Joyce Stepney and Lynette Hamilton, another staff member, will also participate in the training.

Highlights of the conference will include a prayer breakfast in the Columbia town square, a panel discussion on environmental justice, a tour of the contaminated area, theological reflection on environmental justice issues, and workshops on such topics as leadership skills, understanding the economics behind pollution, and the basics of community organizing.

The prayer breakfast, from 9-11 a.m. on Saturday, May 2, in the town square is open to all. Local residents and representatives from various religious groups and churches across the state have been invited to attend. Breakfast speakers will discuss the current state of Columbia's clean-up process and similar situations in other US communities.

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NOTE TO EDITORS AND REPORTERS: The prayer breakfast (9-11 a.m. Saturday, May 2) is open to news media; other sessions are closed. Participants will be available for interviews through the contacts listed below.

Contacts: NCC News

Lynne West, NCC Staff, New York, 212-870-2386
In Columbia, Miss., Charlotte Keys, JPAP, 601-736-0686

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