This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Retreat explores climate change and ministry

Photo: Pastors struggle to coordinate their movements in an exercise designed to model the way a complex system like the earth’s climate functions. Amy Huser, sustainability and outdoor education director at Camp Friedenswald, introduced the challenge. Photo provided by Jennifer Schrock.

The first in a series of retreats for pastors exploring the intersections of climate change and ministry gathered Sept. 17-19 at Camp Friedenswald, Cassopolis, Michigan. Doug Kaufman and Amy Huser led the retreat. Kaufman is a pastor at Benton (Indiana) Mennonite Church and is the director of pastoral ecology for the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions, a new nonprofit partnered with Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Va., Goshen (Indiana) College and Mennonite Central Committee. Huser is the director of sustainability and environmental education at Camp Friedenswald.

Kaufman offered reflections on Scripture, noting how Job’s creation narrative invites people into wonder and awe and an ongoing dialogue with God. He said such work is rooted in Psalm 104’s vision of people as a part of God’s community of creation, that Jesus calls people to notice God’s provision for birds and flowers (Matthew 6), to what is needed and to beauty.

Referring to Ephesians 2, Jennifer Schrock, communication manager for the Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College and leader of Mennonite Creation Care Network, said Jesus deconstructs the dividing wall and recycles the materials into a doorway.

The dozen or so participants walked on planks through prairie fen, where endangered butterflies hibernate, wandered through tall stands of oak threatened by climate change.

Zacarías Arecio Bernabé of El Salvador, Sibonokuhle Ncube of Zimbabwe and Durga Sunchiuri of Nepal shared how climate crisis is already wreaking havoc on the most vulnerable and inspiring ways their communities are responding.

In a challenge to action, Ncube said, “Noah would say, ‘It’s gonna rain one day.’ One day everyone will see that today’s experience in the South will be the situation in the global North.”

Participants explored what they can do and will do. Among many ways to reduce our damaging carbon footprints, people mentioned installing solar panels on the sanctuary roof with the help of a grant through Mennonite Creation Care Network, eating less cheese and more chickpeas and advocating with the powers that be.

Most of the U.S. population believes global warming is important and is real. But few U.S. citizens name it as a priority for political action, according to Per Espen Stoknes in What We Think About When We Think About Global Warming.

Similarly, this key moral issue of our time is seldom touched on in sermons or addressed by congregational action, according to Jim Antal in his book Climate Church, Climate World. He notes that both black Protestants and Hispanic Catholics hear about climate change more in sermons than do white Protestants.

It is not that we don’t care, said Kaufman. But we do turn away from feelings of fear, despair, guilt and helplessness. Our distancing strategies create a spiritual numbing that gets in the way of healing lament and effective action, he said. Addressing that malaise is the work of the church. Week by week in worship and study, with God’s help, Scripture, poetry, images, reframing and regrounding can melt our frozen hearts.

Carol Rose, pastor at Shalom Mennonite Church in Tucson, Arizona, said that turning climate change around will take deep rerooting in God’s creation and Jesus’ way of servant leadership (Matthew 20:26). Changing the paradigms that have created human caused climate crisis is as essential as the scientific and political parts of the puzzle, she said, making the following points:

  • We do not own the earth. The earth is God’s (Psalm 24:1).
  • The creatures and plants and land are not “resources” to be exploited but are relatives created like us by God (Job 40:15). 
  • We cannot survive alone. We are in this together.
  • We are part of creation and have our part to play.
  • God is with us.

The next climate change retreat for pastors will take place Nov. 19 to 21 at Hidden Acres Mennonite Camp, New Hamburg, Ontario. Camp Deerpark in Cuddebackville, New York, will host a retreat in 2019.

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