The Pastoral Care for Climate Change: Weaving Science and Theology for Justice conference was organized by Creation Justice Ministries, the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions, and Duke Nicholas School of the Environment. Ushering folks into the first session was Avery Davis Lamb of Creation Justice Ministries who explained that our goals for the conference were to:
Build connections among theologians, scientists, and ministry leaders
Explore pastoral care in a time of climate crisis
Learn about climate impacts with scientists
Explore congregational resilience and climate injustice
Discover how nature, hope, and worship are connected
The conference sessions were set up in a tag-team sort of way. One scientist would present and one theologian would present and throughout their presentations, the participants would engage in conversation and reflect upon the connecting themes as well as the practical concerns of their congregations and communities.
Two weeks after the conference, several things stand out and are still resonating with me. The first is that the conference planners provided a free experience to clergy to learn and to also enjoy. The conference was set in an environment and timeframe that allowed participants to not just work hard but to also rest, enjoy nature, connect with one another, worship together, and celebrate the local geography and culture. Offering conference participants these kinds of experiences of out of the norm. It meant, to me, that not only did the conference planners know their materials, but they had embodied them and had applied them to the schedule, amenities, food, and physical structure of the event.
While participants were in the first two sessions on Psychological Barriers to Climate Engagement and Food Security and Climate Change, the Dukle students in summer session at the Duke Marine Biology Lab went out one afternoon to collect oysters. An hour after collecting, our group enjoyed a big oyster roast. Seasoned oyster shuckers helped foks new to oysters to enjoy the salty delight. By the end, most everyone was enjoying the ocean treats and expressing gratitude to the wonders of the sea.
Integral to the conference that evening was an excursion to Rachel Carson Reserve. According to the Beaufort visitor’s guide, “The Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve is part of the North Carolina National Estuarine Reserve system, which is a collection of coastal regions that have been preserved and protected to safeguard the wide variety of wildlife that these regions support.” Conference participants took a boat ride over to the island and hiked a winding path through grasses, trees, and waters. Along the way, we named the plants and animals we passed.
The next day was full of important information on Natural Disasters, Environmental Justice, and Climate Response, Advocacy, and Organizing. At the end of the day, participants were offered the opportunity to return to the water. We boarded a catamaran and sailed into the ocean to watch the sunset. As dusk began to set in, we spent time in prayer and sacred ritual, expressing grief and lament over the harms Creation has experienced. We called out the names of North Carolina Endangered Species. Following the prayer, Karyn Bigelow of Creation Justice Ministries poured libation to honor all that had been lost.
On the last day of the conference, we engaged in goal setting and in a session on Preaching Exilic Hope. Following the last session, we celebrated communion together. As the words of blessing and gratitude were spoken over the bread and cup, the worship leader took the first fruits of the bread and wine and offered it as a gift to the earth. A small portion of the bread and a pouring of the wine was placed in the soil beneath the communion elements. In this way, we were able to acknowledge our deeply nourishing and complex connection to the land.
On the long drive home, I gave thanks for the conference experience and for the land I was passing through. I offered a greeting to the waters of Swansboro, the sand hills of Robeson County, the peach orchards near Rockingham, and the tall willow oaks of Charlotte. After settling back into my own place underneath the old Post Oak in the Irwin Creek watershed, I have a newfound sense of connection to creation and a long list of goals ahead to work with my community to advocate and activate for Climate Justice in Charlotte and beyond.