Community conversation addresses climate change




LAKELAND—On April 24 at Concord Coffee in Lakeland, Bishop Ken Carter and Rev. Dr. Sharon Austin, the conference director of Connectional and Justice Ministries, co-led a discussion about “Creation Care” to coincide with the April 22 celebration of Earth Day.

The continuation of an initiative called Concord Conversations—which aims to bring people together outside the church to discuss various issues affecting the community—the event attracted more than a dozen attendees, including a group of five from First United Methodist Church in Titusville.

In the third meeting of a continuing series called Concord Conversations, the April 24 event focused on Creation Care. Topics addressed included climate change, eco-theology and the use of renewable resources.

Austin gave an introduction to the discussion stating: “Climate change, eco-theology and a host of other ways to frame this significant area of concern is near and dear to the church and to people of faith. It is an expression of our stewardship of God’s creation, Earth and in more recent years, in the public and political spheres,” said Austin.

“It seems the issue has been reduced to whether it’s a hoax or reality,” she further emphasized. “All around us, we have the opportunity to hold and to appreciate and remember from Genesis our stewardship of the Earth that God has given us for sustenance, for food and for care."

Carter spoke briefly about the connection between spirituality and nature. “I was a biology major in college. I grew up in Georgia but loved going to the mountains of Western North Carolina, and I would say that I had some of my most profound experiences with God through creation.

“I loved the study of biology, but ultimately I did feel the call to ministry.”

A pastor for 28 years, for the last 14 he has taken part in an annual “Festival of God’s Creation” in conjunction with Earth Day.

Enjoying the aroma of coffee and fresh conversation, people introduced themselves stating why they were there. Carter posed a question: “When you think about the creation, what’s been a powerful experience for you—positive or negative—that speaks to you about either the way God is real in creation or about your awareness of your own responsibility?”

As is the purpose of Concord Conversations, the discussion topics often leave people with new ideas and, sometimes, more questions.

One participant asked: “How do we convince people that climate change is real? We have scientists and information, but we still have people saying, ‘you know, it’s just not true.’ So how do we convince those people?”

Bishop Carter challenged those attending to come up with one small thing that he or she could do to promote the stewardship of Mother Earth, with suggestions including everything from picking up litter and using renewable resources, to planting seagrass and native plants.

In closing, Bishop Carter asked everyone to observe a moment of silence and then say a word or phrase that reflected where they were at that point in time. Voices came from all corners of the room, uttering everything from “irreplaceable” and “restore your creation” to “do something.”

“Through the years and centuries this has become overuse, misuse and abuse and—particularly in the U.S.—there is a disproportionate use of resources,” Austin said. “That is the broad picture of why we felt this was a significant opportunity to gather the community.”

--Jessica Chapman is a freelance writer based in Lakeland


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