The Call to Radical Hope

In word and in song, former minister-turned-environmental activist Fred Small urged the Middlesex community to embrace hope rather than helplessness in the face of advancing climate change.

Speaking at an all-school evening chapel on October 20, 2017, Reverend Small mentioned several of the indications that global warming is a scientific fact, from melting Alaskan permafrost and Arctic Sea ice to increasingly devastating hurricanes, monsoons, and wild fires. In the face of these threats, he stated, “Any climate change discussion is a meditation on hope.” And while many things on Earth – ancient forests, polar bears, Cape Cod, food supplies – may prove transient, Reverend Small asserted that love, faith, and hope are permanent. Quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he reiterated, “Everything that is done in the world is done by hope.”

A Unitarian Universalist parish minister for nearly two decades, Reverend Small is also a singer-songwriter and environmental lawyer. In October 2015, he left parish ministry to devote his energies to climate advocacy. Despite the gravity of his address at Middlesex, he endeavored to inspire students to embrace “radical hope” – the idea that “something good will emerge” from a seemingly dire situation.

“Preventing climate change is no longer possible,” he allowed, “but addressing it is a necessity, a calling. All of us are called to act.” Through global treaties and policies, Reverend Small hopes that the world might transition as quickly as possible to a carbon-free existence. “The obstacles we face are political,” he noted. “Political and community change go hand in hand. We must be bolder, smarter, more creative, and more faithful than ever.”

With a voice that reminded many of legendary folk singer Pete Seeger, Reverend Small performed five songs, starting out with Phil Ochs’ patriotic anthem, “Power and Glory,” and concluding with a song seemingly made for climate change: “The Tide is Rising and So Are We.”

Believing that “it is never too late to save the next life or species, to offer love, to feed the hungry, to repair the world, to change,” Reverend Small encouraged students to “turn from complaint” and instead consider how they can respond, serve, and sacrifice. “We are called into a future beyond our comprehension,” he concluded. “We are called to radical hope.”