Meet the Church of the Palms Social Justice Champions: Pam & Paul Clark

Each year, the Social Justice Action Team selects an individual(s) to receive the Social Justice Champion Award. The person(s) chosen best exemplifies our guiding scripture “And what does the LORD require of us but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God” Micah 6:8. Selection criteria includes: History of being active in social justice ministries, personal actions challenging injustices and effecting change though education, advocacy, activism. Pam and Paul clearly meet these criteria.

Pam Clark

Pam began her advocacy work while living in Douglas, AZ, on the border with Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico in the mid ‘60s. Her church helped a congregation in Agua Prieta, Mexico, to refurbish their own church and, working together across the border, they collected clothing for children living in poverty. It was while in Douglas that Pam’s passion for creation justice was born.

Douglas was controlled by the economic presence of Phelps Dodge copper mining in nearby Bisbee and smelting operations at the town smelter. Douglas also was the gateway to Mexico. When the first Earth Day was created in 1970, Pam became acutely aware that Phelps Dodge was a huge polluter in the area and also was the source of employment for most of the local residents. The smelter worked at peak levels at night because the nighttime winds carried the acrid sulfur dioxide smoke into Mexico, rather than Douglas. People who objected were told that the smoke represented dollars in paychecks.

From that early awakening to this day, Pam continues to work to protect the environment and advocate for those marginalized. She adopted a plant-based diet in 2013 and learned about the plight of animals in contemporary mass farming and slaughter operations, which has a direct and negative influence on global warming and climate change.

When Pam came to Church of the Palms, she joined the Mission and Outreach Board, where she and Paul worked to establish the original Social Justice Committee, which preceded the Social Justice Action Team. In 2012, they examined the issue of undocumented youth, now known as DACA students. Pam has worked with Shadow Rock UCC in its refugee/sanctuary program. In 2008, Pam while with Paul in Indonesia, worked with young women to help them better understand money, saving and planning their future. Finally, Pam has been involved with UMOM’s New Day Center in central Phoenix, as well as outreach programs for several churches along the Mexican border.

Rev. Paul Clark, retired

In 1957, while Paul served at Tenafly Presbyterian Church in New Jersey, he was invited to visit mission personnel in Hong Kong. The Head of Church World Service (an agency supported by Church of the Palms UCC) urged Paul to visit a large group of White Russian refugees (non-Communist Christians) who were stranded in Hong Kong. Paul had an opportunity to visit the refugees, an experience he found to be deeply moving.

When Paul returned to the Tenafly Church, he preached a sermon asking congregants to write to government officials urging them to act on behalf of the stranded refugees. As a result, Paul was invited to appear before U.S. Senate Sub-Committee on Refugees. He also secured an invitation for the local young Russian Orthodox priest to go to Washington with him. As a result, the U.S. Senate Sub-Committee on Refugees reassigned more than $60,000 to help relocate the refugee families, some to the U.S. and some to Brazil.

So began Paul’s journey in the world of social justice challenges and projects. While living near New York City, Paul served on the U. S. Committee for Refugees. In Ithaca, New York, Paul helped to assemble five busloads of Cornell students and staff, community clergy and others as they became part of the “March on Washington.” Paul led one of the committees of clergy traveling to Washington as “Clergy Concerned Regarding the Vietnam War.” In Tenafly, Ithaca, and San Diego, Paul secured housing for the poor or newcomers to those communities, including those from Vietnam, Central America and Cuba.

In 2012, Paul and Pam began the original Church of the Palms Social Justice Committee.

Despite some recent health challenges Pam and Paul Clark continue to be advocates for social justice. Congratulations for being this year’s Social Justice Champions.