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‘Reverend’ Billy preaches for sustainability

Photos by Erin Brodwin. Reverend Billy Talen delivers a sermon on the banks of the Bronx River on Oct. 5, urging the public to consume fewer resources.

A 20-voice choir sings praises to the Bronx River and its guardians

For Billy Talen, a place of worship doesn’t need four walls, or even a roof.

Talen, who goes by the stage name Reverend Billy Talen, marched through Hunts Point with his New York City-based Earthalujah Choir to the banks of the Bronx River on Oct. 5, where he gave a sermon warning listeners about the perils of climate change.

Talen also praised the efforts of local groups like Rocking the Boat that have helped clean the river in recent years, and that helped create the Waterwash ABC project he had come to bless, on the grounds of a local furniture warehouse on the banks of the river.

“We’re here to change consumer habits so we can stop damaging the Earth,” said Talen, who is originally from the midwest. “As we like to say, change-alujah.”

Talen said he loves to preach because “it’s singing and talking at the same time.”

A crowd gathered at Waterwash ABC to hear the Earthalujah Choir perform.

Artist Lillian Ball, who designed the miniature wetland on the grounds of ABC Carpet in Soundview where the sermon was delivered, stopped to thank representatives from Rocking the Boat and others in attendance who had helped implement the design for her project.

“The plants have done so well,” she said with a smile. Glancing at the native plants, like white butterfly bush and bright goldenrod now blooming in the area that was once a garbage dump, she added, “They’re really happy here.”

Ball’s efforts began in 2011, when the state Attorney General allocated $5 million for projects like hers to clean up the river. The area has been a focal point for environmental organizations looking to bring the river back to health after decades of contamination by industrial uses and neglect by politicians.

For 12-year-old Jodry Rodriguez, the section of the river near the wetlands is the only place close to his Hunts Point home where he can go to hear birds. Rodriguez said he and his family came to the river all summer to watch and listen to the wildlife that has begun returning to the area since the wetlands project began.

“There aren’t that many places around here where you can see animals,” said Rodriguez, who says he plans to enroll at Rocking the Boat to help keep the river clean. “For that, I love it here.”

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