Movement Builder: Rev. Lee Schaefer

Among the good reasons to work in the climate justice movement are the interesting and good-hearted people you meet on the way. People like the Rev. Lee Schaefer. Lee began volunteering as Movement Builder with Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light about a year ago and has already organized fellow members at his church, worked to get out the vote for this fall, and installed a solar array on his home.

Lee retired in 2019 after serving 30 years as an Episcopal priest in congregations across the southern United States. As part of his move back to his home town of Richfield, Minn., he knew he wanted to dedicate his energy to climate justice.

“Climate change has been a concern of mine since the early 90s after reading Al Gore’s book, Inconvenient Truth,” said Lee. “The last church I served was in Noblesville, Indiana, and I remember we began having thunderstorms in January! That of course had never happened in Indiana. It was another wake up call as to how the climate was changing. I could see it with my own eyes.”

Lee bought a modest home in his old neighborhood near Lake Nokomis. Not long after, he got connected to MNIPL through a Climate Conversation at the church he attends, St. Nicholas. He had completed the Climate Reality Project’s training and worked with MNIPL staff to follow up the MNIPL discussion with further talks with congregation members on the issues of climate change and ways they could respond.

This fall, Lee set a goal through MNIPL’s Climate Justice Voter Campaign to contact all the members of his congregation about voting. Using MNIPL resources, he helped dozens understand the ins-and-outs of voting during the pandemic. A large number of his congregation are retired and many are single and face isolation. Voter calling has been a way to make important human connections as well as encourage people to vote by mail or early voting, ways that may be less familiar.

In October, Lee celebrated the installation of an 8-panel solar array on his garage. The array will offset 100 percent of his energy usage. It cost him only $11,300 through MNIPL partner, All Energy Solar. Describing the final interconnect process, Lee said, “It was so fun to see Xcel turn on the system and watch my meter immediately start running backwards!”

In addition to his climate organizing work, Lee is a faithful attendee of MNIPL direct actions. He stood with MNIPL and MN350 to call on Gov. Walz to refile the Department of Commerce appeal of Line 3, submitted public comments at the 2019 Public Utilities Commission hearing on Line 3, offered prayers as part of the Sacred Water Ceremony in the Governor’s office, and continues to respond to calls for contacting public officials on climate justice issues.

“This is the issue of our generation,” said Lee. “It is like WWII and Hitler [were to a past generation.] We have to act. We have to do everything we can to help solve this crisis.”