by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service
LEXINGTON, Kentucky — From Tampa, Florida to Spokane, Washington, the primary speakers at Sunday night’s opening worship for the third and final session of the 2021 Presbyterians for Earth Care Conference could easily find reasons to lament the state of Creation.
In Tampa, the session’s preacher, the Rev. Dr. Neddy Astudillo of GreenFaith, was bracing for the impact of Tropical Storm Fred, with another storm, Grace, right behind it in a region that has seen a spike in hurricane activity the past several years. And in Spokane, Bible study leader Dr. Jonathan Moo of Whitworth University spoke of the beauty of the Pacific Northwest landscape, but then added that if folks were there now, it would be hard to see or even stay outside due to the unprecedented wildfires in the region.
“Presbyterians cannot just teach hurricane preparedness workshops anymore,” Astudillo said. “We must speak prophetically to the how and the why so we can stop the worst of the storms.”
Moo said, “We live in a time where, increasingly, it can be hard not to despair over the state of our Earth, over the state of our world. When I think about the century of mismanagement, how we did not listen to Indigenous leaders who knew how already to care for the forest to let small fires burn, even to set fires, and then you lay over that a century of mismanagement with climate change, making our summers longer and hotter and drier, the human fingerprint on the state of our world is becoming impossible to ignore.”
In both of their messages, Astudillo and Moo said there is work to be done by Presbyterians in the climate crisis, but there is also hope.
“Code red,” Astudillo said numerous times during her sermon, which she delivered in English and Spanish, highlighting actions that must be taken to address the urgent situation.
“Code Red points to the fact that as a church we cannot continue speaking or singing of God in a way and acting in society in another, in a way that puts life under threat, or else our songs are only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal,” Astudillo said.
Code red, she said, for Florida facing back-to-back tropical storms, also impacting earthquake-struck Puerto Rico, and the surging impact of the delta variant of the coronavirus — “Which crisis do we deal with first?” she asked.
Code red, she said, means churches cannot be pleased with well-stocked food pantries while ignoring their own need to grow food on their properties and role in advocacy for farm workers, fair trade policies, and immigration for climate refugees.
“We need support for trade, so our consumption of products coming from further islands and lands do not threaten their inhabitants from enjoying also the fruits of their land,” Astudillo said. “Or we just have to change our own lifestyles so we don’t demand from Earth more than she can give us all like tomatoes that don’t grow where I live all year long.”
Code red, she said, means that while we are in a diverse country and denomination with diverse languages, we need to recognize that climate change disproportionately impacts Black and brown communities. So we need to make sure resources are available to all so that “all that is served by the church in Christ’s name is made available in a way that all members of the church can partake, so no one is left behind, no blessing is lost in translation.”
Astudillo is co-founder of Red Latina, a network of Latinx Presbyterian congregations and partners aiming to engage in the work of addressing climate change, like Presbyterians for Earth Care (PEC). Her bi-lingual sermon was one of several efforts PEC made to be more inclusive of the Latinx community in this conference, including offering several workshops in Spanish.
The worship was accented with music by pianist and composer Bill Carter and the jazz ensemble Presbybop, which presented a reading of the traditional American folk tune “Shenandoah” and a haunting, freeform piece, “Elegy,” which led into Moo’s study.
Moo said at a time like this, we need biblical hope rooted in Christ. One of his guiding points was that Creation is not the backdrop to the story of God and humanity. Rathre, “it is part of the story. We need groups like Presbyterians for Earth Care to remind us who we truly are.”
Through his talk, Moo described the consistency of God’s focus on creation, right through the book of Revelation where he noted economic idolatry is called out and God makes all things new. He also focused on roots of Biblical hope, including love, joy and worship.
“Humility is perhaps the chief of the ecological virtues,” Moo said. “It’s one that keeps us from hubris. It keeps us from acting in ways that serve only our own ends. And it keeps us, finally, from despair.”
As Creation is not a backdrop, Moo said care for Creation is something that should pervade our faith experience.
“If we love God, we will love what God has created, and that God cares for the whole Creation that God made,” Moo said. “And we will love our neighbor.
“This is why I think Christian ecological ethos will always be holistic. It will not be focused on just one thing or this thing or that, but will recognize that we are called to love, to care for Creation, and for our human sisters and brothers together. Those things must go together, they will never be in opposition.”
It was an echo of Astudillo’s conclusion, as she ended her sermon saying, “Trust in Christ, even in code red.”
Click here for the Presbyterians for Earth Care YouTube page, which contains all sessions of this year’s Earth Care Conference.