Friday, April 20, 2018

Reflections from Independent Presbyterian Church

Reflections from Independent Presbyterian Church’s Earth Care Team
by Susan Haskell

Our Earth Care Team approaches the care of God’s earth from several different perspectives all of which lead to the same goal. One member who had always recycled the most common goods, learned when she opened an electronic recycling company about what more can be recycled and how to make a much greater impact on our environment and God’s creation.

Another member came to care for the earth through birding. She realized how all things are connected; how dependent one species can be on others. Watching birds led to fascination with turtles, which led to learning how wild animals are impacted negatively by human trash.

A third member is very basic in her motivation to care for the earth. She believes that stewardship is the right thing to do if we care about our children, grandchildren and all who come after us. A high school Environmental Sciences teacher as a young girl was influenced by her parents who presented the world and its intricate beauty as something to be explored and treasured. She connected her study of fossils in kindergarten to the heat in her house, gas in the car and pollution in the air. All of these members are using their own perspectives to raise challenges to our congregation to be better stewards of God’s creation given to humankind for our use and care.

Susan Haskell is an elder at Independent Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama. She has been active in the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley, having served as Moderator of the presbytery and Chair of the Commission in Preparation for Ministry, and in the PCUSA as a member of the Board of Trustees of Columbia Seminary and as part of the Heidelberg Catechism task force. Susan is also an active volunteer in the Birmingham community, involved with many organizations working to preserve and improve Alabama’s diverse land and water resources, and currently serving on IPC’s Earth Care Team. 

Creation Care, Justice & Peacemaking

Creation Care, Justice &
Peacemaking at the Nexus of Needs

By Steven Drew

Guilford Park Presbyterian in Greensboro, NC recently became a 2018 Earth Care Congregation! This important ministry has provided our church with yet another important way to show the love of Christ to those within our church community and those in need outside of our walls. A few years ago, Guilford Park’s Justice and Peacemaking Committee was formed to provide advocacy and action for our neighbors in need who have been marginalized in ways that are not so simple to solve. The Justice and Peacemaking Committee strives to learn and become actively engaged in areas of need that include Hunger, LGBTQ, Race, Immigration, Interfaith Peacemaking and Environmental Justice. Some might think that caring for the environment is sort of a secular thing, or perhaps a stand-alone mission, seemingly unrelated to the other areas of Justice and Peacemaking. We as a congregation know that work for environmental justice and stewardship does not exist in a silo.  Environmental Justice overlaps, intertwines and compliments the other areas of Justice and Peacemaking. So it really came as no surprise that our Session and congregation would embrace the idea of becoming an Earth Care Congregation.
It is this intimate connection between the planet and the poor that keeps us hooked as people of faith.  As Christians and stewards of the earth, we see a connection, or “Nexus”, between caring for the environment and caring for people.  At the most basic level, simple frugal living frees up resources for others.  Promoting energy conservation reduces need for fossil fuel, leading to reductions in air and ground water pollution, while offsetting the drivers of climate change.  Our cumulative efforts matter and have impact. There are intersections where people of faith are needed. With regard to social injustice, many of our poorest neighbors live in close proximity to contaminated air, soil and water.  Often the NIMBY principle, “Not in My Back Yard” works for the most organized and affluent voices in our communities.  The softest and poorest of our neighbors’ voices lose out and they find “it”, pollution in their backyard. Guilford Park’s people of faith yet again have added their voices to advocate for environmental justice as an Earth Care Congregation.
Guilford Park’s Earth Care Congregation Certification Audit Team has been renamed Stewards of Creation and continues to work with the congregation, committees, the Session, other churches in the Presbytery and the community to bring this important ministry to higher levels of service to God’s creation and neighbors, exploring all opportunities at the Nexus of Needs.  We give thanks that the PCUSA has provided leadership and guidance for congregations to honor God’s charge to “till and keep” the garden.
Steven Drew is a member of Guilford Park Presbyterian Church, Greensboro NC and serves on the Justice and Peacemaking Committee as Environmental Liaison and Chair of the Stewards of Creation team.  He and his wife Carolyn have been members of Guilford Park for over 30 years.  Steve is the Director of Water Resources for the City of Greensboro.

Toward a Sustainable World

Toward a Sustainable World:
A Role for Churches

By John Tallmadge

In our time, human activity has subjected the social and ecological systems of planet Earth to unprecedented stress.  Global climate change, habitat loss, extinctions, overpopulation, and pollution degrade the biosphere while epidemics, poverty, resource depletion, inequality, war, and violence degrade the human world.  Present habits and trends cannot be sustained without serious and perhaps fatal damage to the Earth and its community of life.

In a sustainable world humanity and nature would flourish in mutually enhancing ways.  Human communities would care for one another, using resources modestly and equitably, without impairing the ability of future generations or other life communities to meet their own needs.

How can the world’s churches help us pursue such a worthy, and indeed such a vital goal?

It may help to realize that sustainability is not something we achieve and then we’re done; it’s something that has to go on forever, requiring a deliberate transformation of our way of living.  It’s not a simple problem, like baking a cake, or a complicated problem, like putting a man on the moon; rather it’s a complex problem, like raising a child or making peace in the Middle East.  Complex problems have many possible solutions, none given or foreseen; they can arise only through learning and change from within, on the part of all components within the system.  If you are part of the problem, you have to be part of the solution.

Gazing down this strenuous, uncertain path, we can take some light and comfort from our religious life.  Faith can provide direction and purpose in the midst of uncertainty.  Hope can help us cleave to more promising visions of the good life and human flourishing.  Sacrifice can help us embrace the challenge to do more with less for the sake of the greater good and a deeper sense of fulfillment.  And community can encourage and support us as we disentangle ourselves from the webs of privilege, entitlement, and wasteful consumption spun by industrial capitalism.

Because social change happens one person at a time, we believe that congregations can become seedbeds of transformation.  A deliberate program of green faith, green learning, green living, and green outreach can foster right thinking and right action in our individual lives as well as our lives in church, neighborhood, city, and bioregion.  With each other’s help and encouragement, we can become the change we wish to see in the world.
John Tallmadge is a writer and scholar devoted to exploring nature, culture, and the human journey.  He is the author of The Cincinnati Arch: Learning from Nature in the City and Meeting the Tree of Life: A Teacher’s Path. John serves on the Earth Care Team at Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church, Cincinnati, OH.

Serve. Guard. Protect.

Serve. Guard. Protect.
By Jessica Maudlin

The very first command addressed to humanity in the entire Bible is to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion” (Gen 1:28).

We see humankind displaying a type of dominion when it comes to pollution and extraction of the Earth’s most precious resources with no room for compassion, dignity, or respect. But was this control what God had in mind for us when this beautiful Creation came into being?

In Genesis 2:15, God gave humankind a command and said to tend or keep the garden. The Hebrew word for “tend” or some translations say “keep” is “shamar” and it means more than just keep it neat and tidy. The Hebrew word means “to guard” or “to watch and protect.” The word “work” or as some translations more accurately say “to cultivate” is from the Hebrew word “abad” meaning “to serve”.

Looking at it this way Genesis 2:15 would better be read as: “The Lord God took the human and put the human in the garden of Eden to serve it and to guard and protect it.”

Serve. Guard. Protect.

As I read this translation for the first time, I could not help but associate it with the work that I do as a Foster mom. In the last two years, I’ve had four newborns in my home. Those babies did not belong to me. But in those moments, for those days I was responsible. Who and what they may become would be shaped by the love (or lack) that they found in my hands, in my home, and in my actions. It is easy to see the parallels between my own call to protect and serve these babies and the shared call we have as Christians to protect and serve the earth.

In my work with the Presbyterian Hunger Program, I am honored to work with certified Earth Care Congregations that have made very intentional steps to honor God’s very good Creation. And even though they may not be able to change every environmental problem, by integrating environmental practices and thinking into all facets of their church life including the fields of worship, education, facilities, and outreach these churches show that they take seriously God’s charge to “till and keep” the garden.

It is not always easy, this sacred calling of serving and protecting. But as people of faith we do not take lightly this task of honoring the intrinsic worth of Creation as a way of living out the justice of the Gospel.

Jessica Maudlin is the Associate for Sustainability and Earth Care Concerns, Presbyterian Hunger Program, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Sunday, April 15, 2018

To Whom Much is Given

To Whom Much is Given
by Cynthia Scharf

I was raised Presbyterian and went to church with my family nearly every Sunday. For several years, the senior pastor of our church was a globally-minded preacher who challenged our congregation to respond more fully to the world’s suffering. He shaped my social consciousness more than anyone in my formative years. In my mind’s eye, I can still see a verse from the Bible taped onto our family's refrigerator. On it was a quote from Luke: "To whom much is given, much shall be required".  In one way or another, I’ve carried that verse inside me to this day. 

I have been given so very much in life, and in so many ways. One of those ways is through my work for the last several years on emergency humanitarian relief, and most recently on climate change. For eight years (2009-16), I worked for the then-head of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, on his top priority issue: climate change. The job was the opportunity – and the challenge -- of a life time. I’ve never worked harder, and never have I been so overwhelmed by the sheer scale and complexity of an issue. 

During those eight years I met scores of courageous citizens, often working behind the scenes, to push for more action on climate change.  From concerned mothers to scientists, from teen activists to rabbis, imams, pastors and the Pope, they came from a broad spectrum of nationalities, religions and political persuasions. I also encountered some less than courageous national leaders whose promises failed to materialize into tangible deeds. 

At times, I felt quite depressed about the world I’m bequeathing to my daughter. Progress was elusive and very hard-won.  I will never forget the strange mix of exhaustion and exhilaration that I, along with countless other people around the world, felt when than Paris Climate Change Agreement was adopted in December 2015 by 195 countries. I was at the Secretary-General’s side that night in Paris. We were not na├»ve. We knew the Paris Agreement would not be enough to halt runaway climate change. We knew it would be a long and very difficult road ahead. But it was a start – an essential, long-overdue, collective first step. At last. At long, long last.

My passion for working on climate change is personal as well as professional. As a mother, an American, and an aspiring Christian, I’ve struggled with the knowledge that the world I’m bequeathing to my child is one that will be shaped by an increasingly unstable climate that will cause suffering for her generation.  

People often ask me if I have hope, given the work I do. My husband and I named our daughter Hope, so suffice to say it’s a stance, an attitude, I take very seriously. But for me, it somehow feels like the wrong question. Beyond hope, what I try to summon is courage and perseverance. And perhaps most of all, I turn to my faith -- the kind of faith described in Hebrews 11: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.”

For nearly a decade, I’ve listened to some of the world’s best minds talk about the climate crisis. I’ve heard many very sound, evidence-based arguments for why we need to act urgently. But clearly the message isn’t getting through. I’m convinced we need to go much deeper, beyond the rational arguments for action. We need to speak to people’s values and belief systems, and to their faith. Only then will we find the courage to respond to perhaps the greatest challenge humanity has ever encountered. 

What does this mean?  First, it means we need to speak honestly about the gravity of this challenge and not shy away from hard truths. 

Let me be the first to say that I am definitely part of the problem. I am not a climate saint. I fly a great deal for my job. And while I try to limit my impact and consumption in other ways, at the end of the day, I’m very much a part of the fossil-fuel economy that will need to change radically if we are to diminish the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible climate impacts.

Americans are a generous people, often responding with great magnanimity when disaster strikes. None of us is intentionally seeking to do harm as a result of our modern lifestyle. But most of us don’t connect the dots between driving our cars and rising sea levels off the shores of Louisiana or Bangladesh. 

At root, there is a profound disconnectbetween our actions and their consequences for our neighbors in this country, for other communities around the world, and for the planet. Far too often, we have seen nature as ours to exploit at will, instead of acting as its stewards. We have consumed without caution, as if to medicate some inner angst or fill some God-shaped vacuum in our hearts. 

Two other hard truths:  One, we’re passing on an enormous environmental debt to future generations, one that is incomparably more serious than any financial or government debt. And two, our global, fossil-fueled economy is causing significant harm right now for millions of the world’s poorest people. These are among the communities who have contributed the least to climate change, but are suffering first – and worst – from its impacts.

How do we speak truthfully about these issues, but not paralyze people and contribute to a sense of mass despair? I don’t have easy answers.  But I think it begins with more looking in the mirror and less finger-pointing at others. It means holding our children closely and acknowledging that it’s up to us – to our generation – to do what we can, each according to his/her talents and abilities. 

It’s also about letting ourselves feel – on a gut level -- the grief that comes with potentially losing something we love:  a magisterial forest, a babbling stream, birds that greet us with their songs, a beloved natural landscape from our childhood. All this and more are being disfigured and diminished by one species - our own – as our actions contribute to levels of planetary warming that are dangerous to all species.

Protecting our natural heritage is one of the most sacred – and patriotic - acts we can undertake. We will need leaders of all ages, and from all walks of life, who can rouse us from our slumber. We will need poets, artists, musicians, writers, and filmmakers who can tap into our collective psyche and remind us of what it is we love, what is at stake, and what is worth fighting for.  

Finally, we will need all the world’s faith communities to help lead the way, because they speak to why we are here… what it is we owe to others… to the creation, and to the One who created us. Together, we can summon the courage - and humility – needed to respond as Luke has called us to respond. “To whom much is given, much shall be required”. 

Cynthia Scharf served as the head of strategic communications and chief speechwriter on climate change for the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon from 2009-2016.  As a senior member of the Secretary-General’s Climate Change Support Team, Ms. Scharf played a key role in organizing two global UN climate change summits (2014 and 2009) and advised the Secretary-General during the UNFCCC negotiations, including the landmark Paris climate change agreement in 2015. Prior to her work on climate change, Ms. Scharf worked on global humanitarian and public health emergencies at the U.N. and with international non-governmental organizations in the Balkans, Africa, the U.K. and Russia.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Renew your commitment or join PEC

Dear Friends of PEC,

You and Presbyterians for Earth Care (PEC) have been working hard to be good stewards for our earth. As individuals and as a group, we are speaking truth to the powers that exploit and destroy our environment. Please continue to support the work of PEC and join or renew your membership by Earth Day, April 22

In the past two years, members of PEC have done exciting things to bring attention to and address those problems, and to begin solving some of them. The PEC 2017 Conference at Menucha Retreat and Conference Center outside of Portland, Oregon provided an immersion experience into the culture of Native Americans in the Northwest that was a powerful and uplifting experience for all who came. 

The Church of the Reconciliation in Chapel Hill, North Carolina used information and experiences from the conference at Menucha to plan a Sunday School class on a 15thcentury papal bull called the Doctrine of Discovery. Conference goers learned that this document set in motion the idea that land not ruled by Christians was up for the taking by European nations who came to North and South America and Africa. The Sunday School class focused on how that document allowed Europeans to claim and settle these continents without respect for the natives who had lived on the land for centuries.

The PEC Team of the Presbytery of Northern Plains sent a PEC member to take food and water to the people at the Standing Rock Reservation as they protected their sacred waters and holy sites threatened by the construction of the pipeline. PEC Midwest Regional Representative Paul Henschen arrived with a truck load of water, apples and granola bars. That offering was in some ways only a symbol of the solidarity that Presbyterians from the Northern Plains felt with the Standing Rock Sioux. It was also an opportunity to learn from our brothers and sisters as they spoke about the injustice the pipeline would bring. The opportunity to listen and pray together is as powerful to the spirit as apples and granola are to the body. On a second trip gift cards donated by PEC members totaling over $1200 were given to the people gathered at Standing Rock. Additional money was sent to an agency providing legal defense for Water Protectors who were arrested.

As part of our commitment to advocacy, PEC is supporting three overtures at General Assembly in June. Hudson River Presbytery (NY) and thirty-five concurring presbyteries, to date, are proposing to direct the Board of Pensions and the Presbyterian Church (USA) Foundation to divest from fossil fuel companies and to actively invest in securities that focus on renewable energy. One overture from Monmouth Presbytery (NJ) asks our denomination to raise a prophetic voice regarding the urgency of healing our climate. A second directs our denomination to be active in responding to environmental racism.

Please prayerfully consider the role PEC is playing in moving our denomination toward environmental healing and justice. This can only be done with the support of you and others who believe in protecting God’s creation. Please join or renew your membership online today.

Thank you for your commitment to healing God’s good earth.

Yours in Earth Care,
Dennis Testerman, PEC Moderator