by Heidi Regier Kreider, WDC Conference Minister 

What is a loss or change that you or a loved one has experienced due to climate change?

“I seem to struggle more with allergies.”  “Rainfall seems to be more erratic and unpredictable, and the growing season for crops is longer that it used to be.   “We used to go ice-skating on the pond in the winter; but now it rarely is cold enough long enough to freeze the ice.” “Our family farm was destroyed by a tornado in November – since when did tornadoes come in November?” “I’ve been seeing armadillos further and further north… “I saw the receding glaciers in Alaska, and have heard that the Iditarod Dog Sled race is getting re-routed due to lack of adequate snow.”

These were some of the responses from participants at the retreat “Who cares about climate change? Pastoral responses to denial and despair,” April 8-10 at Camp Mennoscah.  The retreat was facilitated by Doug Kaufman, Director of Pastoral Ecology at the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions, and Jennifer Schrock, Director of Mennonite Creation Care Network.  18 pastors and church members attended from WDC, South Central Conference and Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference, as well as several regional presenters.

Beyond allergies, armadillos and Alaska, retreat participants also recognized deeper emotional and spiritual concerns related to climate change:  Anxiety about their grandchildren’s future on this earth; guilt and grief at how the lifestyles of current and previous generations have damaged the environment; frustration with political divisions and personal conflicts that arise in conversations about environmental issues; anger at the disproportionate impact of climate change on the poor, people of color, and children – those who have the least responsibility for causing climate change; and feeling paralyzed and overwhelmed by all these issues…

As a participant at the retreat, I found it helpful to acknowledge and confront these deeper levels of denial and despair, while also receiving information and inspiration to respond constructively.  Retreat presentations included scientific information about climate change and its impact in areas such as medical and health concerns, food insecurity, political conflicts, weather extremes, and economic and agricultural factors.  We practiced ways to listen and learn across differences in viewpoints on climate change, and we heard about opportunities for advocacy and education.  We heard stories of communities working constructively for climate justice, as they integrate environmental conservation with social/racial justice. We considered theological and scriptural foundations of creation care. And – most importantly – we spent time worshiping the God of Creation – the One who calls us to be faithful stewards of creation and to live in justice and peace with our fellow human beings.

Together with others in WDC, I look forward to further discernment about our role in caring for God’s creation as a conference, as congregations and in our local communities.