Religious order welcomes gas pipeline opponents to pray at new 'chapel'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Mark Clatterbuck, cour

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON
(CNS) — As chapels go, the simple structure on property owned by the Adorers of the Blood of Christ
congregation in Columbia,
Pennsylvania, is not much.

It’s
more of an arbor, really: four posts and several cross boards built on property
the sisters own that includes a leased cornfield. Several pewlike benches are
arranged around it.

Still, said
the sisters, it stands as a symbol of resistance by people of faith to a
planned natural gas pipeline called Atlantic Sunrise that developers want to build through miles of
farmland and small towns of picturesque Lancaster County.

The pipeline’s
path takes it through a strip of land the congregation owns in the Harrisburg Diocese that includes
farmland and the sisters contend that construction poses a danger to God’s
creation. They have declined repeated offers of compensation from Transco, the project’s
developer, to allow an easement for it to be built.

“This
is something that we felt as a matter of conscience,” said Sister Sara Dwyer, coordinator of
the congregation’s justice, peace and integrity of creation ministry.
“We had to look at it more deeply and take a stronger stand.”

Allowing
the pipeline through the property would run contrary to the congregation’s Land Ethic, she explained. Adopted
in 2005, the document upholds the sacredness of creation, reverences the earth as a
“sanctuary where all life is protected” and treasures the earth’s beauty
and sustenance that must be protected for future generations.

The
Adorers’ stance has inspired others who have opposed the entire 183-mile pipeline since it
was proposed three years ago by Transco, which is owned by Tulsa, Oklahoma-based pipeline
company Williams. The
pipeline will carry natural gas from hydraulic fracturing wells in northeastern
Pennsylvania to existing pipelines that run 10,200 miles from New York to
Texas.

Sister
Sara told Catholic News Service July 12 the congregation was pleased to allow construction
of the chapel after it was proposed earlier this year by Lancaster Against Pipelines,
a community group working to stop the project.

The
chapel was dedicated July 9 with about 300 people attending. People prayed for
guidance in their effort to oppose the project, listened to the Land Ethic
being read, and heard from a group of Sisters of Loretto from Kentucky, who joined
religious and community groups in a 2013 campaign to oppose another pipeline
project by Williams in the state. Williams pulled out of the venture in 2014 citing
market forces.

Mark Clatterbuck, Lancaster Against
Pipelines co-founder, said the Adorers have inspired the effort to stop
the pipeline.

“Having
the sisters publicly involved reinforced the moral and religious anchor that
has guided this movement,” he told CNS.

“Lancaster
Against Pipelines has never been a religious organization,” Clatterbuck
added, “but for a lot of the leadership and core folks doing the work, it’s
always been a spiritual and religious battle for us. This is care of creation,
stewardship of the earth.”

News of
the chapel caught the company’s attention, said Chris Stockton, a Williams spokesman. Company lawyers
filed an emergency motion in U.S.
District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to take
immediate control of the land through eminent domain, which allows the
government to appropriate land for the public good.

A
federal judge, however, denied the emergency request July 7. The judge said that
although the project had been approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, an already-scheduled
court hearing set for July 17 in cases filed against all landowners who have
turned down Transco’s monetary offers for easements would be the appropriate
venue to hear arguments.

Stockton
told CNS said company was concerned that the chapel was going to be a more involved
“permanent structure” and it responded to head off any effort that
would delay pipeline construction, which is set to begin this fall.

He said
the easement being sought from the Adorers involves about an acre.

“The
reality also is (the property) is a cornfield and farmed by a tenant farmer.
Once (the pipeline is) constructed, it can still be farmed and still be
utilized for the same purpose if they want to put the arbor up again. Or they
can put it up in any other location,” Stockton said.

Taking
such a public stance is new to the Adorers, said Sister Janet McCann, a member of the congregation’s
leadership team in St. Louis. She offered a reflection at the chapel
dedication. She said if energy companies wanted to invest in sustainable or
renewable energy projects on their property, the order would listen.

“We
want the energy companies to invest all this time and money and resources into
finding sustainable energy sources,” she said. “That’s how this is
going to happen. The system has got to change. That’s why we’re standing up to
this.

“And
we are extremely encouraged by the amount of support we’re getting from all
sorts of people, from all sorts of faith tradition and people from no faith
tradition who have a love for the earth.”

Lancaster
Against Pipelines planned a picnic and prayer service at the chapel July 14 in
advance of the court hearing. Some of the Adorers planned to be there.

The
sisters realize the courts could clear the way for construction, which would
force the chapel to be removed.

“From
a congregational point of view,” Sister Sara said, “we’re just taking
it one step at a time and seeing what happens next.”

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Editor’s
Note: The Adorers of the Blood of Christ’s Land Ethic can be read in full at http://adorers.org/asc-land-ethic.

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Follow
Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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