Reflection on the SSC Clergy Workshop

Lions and Tigers and Climate Change, Oh My!

Beth Sonneville, M.Sc., M.Div.

The subject of climate change is a risky topic in many venues, including the scientific community. It’s been noted that Global Warming was not even hinted at in any of the presidential debates in spite of the Democratic National Party 2012 website statement that, “The national security threat from climate change is real, urgent, and severe.”  But Sustainable Sanctuary Coalition was not so timid. A few weeks ago, it sponsored a clergy workshop, Too Hot to Handle? Biblical Tools for Preaching in an Age of Climate Change. Thirty-one local ministers and lay persons gathered to learn about this topic from local experts, Dr. Robert Martin and Rev. Tom Are, who advocated for addressing this issue in Kansas City area congregations. I went with great anticipation of hearing from the playbook of the Great Oz and hoped their suggestions included a man behind a green curtain pulling levers and activating an other worldly image surrounded by flames and smoke!

Dr. Martin began the seminar with retelling the practices Jesus used to commence his ministry and generate support for his radical ministry. Dr. Martin introduced the understanding that Jesus himself did not reinvent the wheel when He walked this earth as a simple carpenter of faith, but He used very practical and inexpensive means of doing ministry. We know that after John the Baptist was arrested, Jesus went about gathering up persons to participate in ministry alongside him. His selection wasn’t random, as many of us might presume from a cursory reading of the gospel stories. Martin suggested that those selected by Jesus to follow him, were most likely persons who had already been followers of John the Baptist, persons who had already demonstrated a like-mind and willingness to participate in the radical changes that were promoted by John the Baptist.

As ministers and people of faith, we too already know those in our communities who support sustainable ministry that clergy can lift up as models to inspire and increase efforts on behalf of God’s creation. These include persons who are recycling in their homes, schools and businesses and turning off lights and other measures to reduce energy and financial expenditures. Regardless of what they call it, the bottom line is – it all contributes to environmental stewardship. As much as we always want to reach a goal by our own vision, allow those around you to participate in a manner that makes sense to them. Dr. Martin suggested that our job as clergy is to, “articulate the vision people already have.” Wow, how simple is that? Martin encouraged the workshop clergy to support and illuminate what those in their communities are already doing and then encourage them to intensify their efforts.

As a scientist, I was also pleasantly surprised to hear Rev. Tom Are’s suggestion to the workshop attendees, “Teach science!” In fact, up until this workshop, I assumed most church pastors would consider it close to blasphemous to talk to their congregations in bible study about science, much less preach on it from the pulpit. A pastor who believes that faith and science can and should reside in the same space – outrageous – I loved it! The increasing numbers of science curriculums in our schools alone should be an indicator of the marvels of this world that continue to be a source of awe and mystery to everyone in our faith communities. What better way to weave a tapestry of intellect and faith than to speak on scientific matters, and invite those science experts in our congregations to share their knowledge and experiences. They may find out what many of us already know: science is the human understanding and articulation of divine matters.

As much as I think that implementing the practices of the Great Oz would fill the seats in Sabbath worship, it would likely be only temporary. Weekly worship attendance would be highly sustainable by coupling the strength of our faith with the wisdom of the sciences that our congregants and youth already encounter each day in school, the workplace, and at their fingertips on numerous electronic gadgets. Engage and remind people of those things they already know, and be prepared to see how the Spirit moves them.