The Gospel in the Ecological Crisis (Rev. Carmen Retzlaff)
The Gospel in the Ecological Crisis
In June of 2016, a group of 35 pastors and members of religious orders was convened from around the country at Union Theological Seminary. We were selected to be part of a training for Christian ministers to respond as faith leaders to environmental issues. “The Gospel in the Ecological Crisis” gathering brought together people from all over the country and from many denominations. Our settings were very different: from rural North Dakota, to suburban Texas, from small cities in Alabama to Manhattan’s upper west side.
This meeting focused especially on the conversation between environmental initiatives in churches and those focusing on racial justice. Pastors from diverse communities were encouraged to talk frankly about why environmental ministries seem to draw white parishioners into action for the gospel, but those same people are often wary about facing issues of race and injustice. And why African American church members have often felt excluded from environmental conversations, or have consciously put those concerns on the back burner to focus on more urgent community issues. We talked about the need for these issues not to be seen in isolation, or relegated to a certain set of churches or a certain group of people within a congregation. We talked a lot about environmental racism and why we all need each other to work together for the coming of the fullness of the kingdom of God.
We studied scripture in light of caring for creation, we read articles, heard case studies, and watched films. We learned from leaders around the country making a difference in the lives of communities, and we worshipped together as the body of Christ.
And we broke into small groups and worked throughout the week on coming up with real strategies for meaningful work to protect forests, reduce toxic pollution, and honor all of the people who live in this magnificent creation. In my group we were a pastor from a white Baptist church in a small town in East Texas, a young Presbyterian pastor in a huge historically interracial and multi-denominational church in Manhattan, a Lutheran college campus pastor in Illinois, a nun from Alabama who had been evacuated from New Orleans during Katrina, and me, from an outdoor ministry in the Texas Hill Country. We were black and white, diverse in age, denomination, and life experience. And we talked with grace and compassion for one another, we talked with earnestness and urgency, as if our lives depended on our taking action to follow Christ in this time and place: as if the lives of those in our communities depended on our faith in action, as if all of humanity depended on people of faith and conviction to work together for the good of all creation.
These gatherings will continue, and I imagine that each will have a slightly different focus. We know that our prayers and intentions make a difference. We pray that the relationships formed and connections made will help increase the movement of churches working together on environmental issues, and we pray that these learnings and opportunities will bear fruit actions and healing in communities, of the nations, and for the world.
-- Pastor Carmen Retzlaff,
New Life Lutheran of Dripping Springs, Texas
For more information on the Center for Earth Ethics and its work and programs, including The Gospel in the Ecological Crisis: CenterForEarthEthics.org.
Rev. Carmen Retzlaff is pastor at New Life Lutheran Church in Dripping Springs, TX. She's featured in four posts this month! Her congregation worships outdoors and loves it. NewLifeDrippingSprings.org