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Faith inspires Old Lyme pastor to work toward peace

Old Lyme — For the Rev. Christine Caton, faith is the constant behind everything she does and has inspired her activism.

Caton, a town resident and the pastor of South Lyme Union Chapel on Mile Creek Road, recently traveled to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota with a group from the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship.

"Everything I do is faith-based," she said. "I really felt God pulling me there."

"For me, it's a spiritual experience. I feel God calling me to act for justice in the world," she added about her activism for peace and justice. She then referenced Matthew 25:40, the parable of the Sheep and the Goats: “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’"

During her trip to Standing Rock, Caton traveled with the group in a 1991 Chevy van from New York City to North Dakota over the week of Thanksgiving and set up camp at the Oceti Sakowin Camp.

People in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline, who call themselves water protectors, had been gathering at Standing Rock to oppose the pipeline, which members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe say would harm their water source and sacred lands.

On the first night there, Caton's group was invited to a sacred fire with speakers, dancing and prayers.

"It's completely a camp of prayer and ceremony," she said. "As people of faith, that was one thing we really connected with."

"Everybody was coming together in the spirit of nonviolence and peace," she added.

During the day, volunteers worked in kitchens, sorted clothes and donations, and worked on construction.

Caton said she didn't feel she could participate in some of those activities, due to some health issues, but what she felt she could do was pray. She prayed constantly and prayed for peaceful resolution of the conflict and for people on both sides of the issue.

Her visit came prior to the Army Corps of Engineers' decision on Dec. 4 to not grant an easement for the pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe in North Dakota.

Caton said the people at the Oceti Sakowin Camp welcomed her, and the powerful experience she had at Standing Rock grounded her in her faith even more.

"The spirit of the movement was very powerful," she said. "The people are grounded in prayer and spirituality. People of all different faiths are there. It's not one religion, which is very powerful."

Caton said she has been a peace worker and a Presbyterian her whole life.

She grew up in Waterford and worshiped at the Crossroads Presbyterian Church. She was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1991 and has worked as a pastor, campus minister and associate pastor for youth and young adults, among other positions.

About eight years after being ordained, Caton found a two-year stipend position at Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, which advocates for peace and justice causes. The position put her on the path toward activism for peace and nonviolence, which she always had wanted to work more on, she said.

Caton spent time in Hebron in the West Bank, where she documented human rights abuses. She also accompanied the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to Colombia, where she practiced the ministry of presence and accompanied members of the Presbyterian Church there who worked to help displaced people.

She became pastor of the South Lyme Union Chapel — which was founded more than 100 years ago and is affiliated with the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme — in the summer of 2015. She said she loves leading the small congregation of about 20 people, who are warm, open, faithful to the church and each other and serve the community.

When Caton recently returned to Connecticut from Standing Rock, she delivered a sermon to the congregation about her experience. She asked them to contact the president, senators and members of Congress, and other politicians about the pipeline, if they would like, and to pray about the situation.

She asked them to "listen to the voices of the voiceless and those who struggle to protect their land and water, sacred and precious."

"My friends, the time is now," she said in the sermon. "God is calling us. So do what you can, where you are, in whatever your situation in life might be. We are called, as it says in the book of Esther, for just such a time as this. Be strong. Take courage. Be of good faith. And act and pray, for those who cannot."

Editor's Note: This version corrects the Presbyterian denomination.


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