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Earth Care Conference spreads out buffet of events online

Once-every-two-years conference goes virtual in August with variety of speakers, workshops

by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

Participants in the 2019 Presbyterians for Earth Care Conference worked on the farm at Stony Point Center in New York state. (Photo by Rich Copley)

LEXINGTON, Kentucky — Presbyterians for Earth Care has a reputation for presenting its conferences every two years in appropriately picturesque locations such as the Presbyterian conference centers Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, Montreat in North Carolina and Stony Point in New York.

Like most other conferences the past 16 months, this year’s Presbyterians for Earth Care (PEC) Conference will be a bring-your-own-aesthetics affair. But the grassroots group is providing a packed and balanced lineup of speakers, worship leaders, and workshop facilitators for three consecutive Sunday afternoons and evenings — Aug. 1, 8 and 15 — on Zoom.

Conference Chair the Rev. Bruce Gillette says the variety of the conference, titled “Creation Care Buffet: Come to the Table,” starts with the weekly worship leaders:

Aug. 1: The Rev. Dr. Cláudio Carvalhaes, Associate Professor of Worship at Union Theological Seminary; music by prolific hymn writer Carolyn Winfrey Gillette

Aug. 8: The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); music by speaker, writer and songwriter David LaMotte

Aug. 15: The Rev. Dr. Neddy Astudillo, Latinx and Latin America Organizing and Training Coordinator for GreenFaith; music by jazz musician the Rev. Bill Carter.

The Rev. Dr. Cláudio Carvalhaes of Union Theological Seminary in New York will lead worship during the Aug. 1 session of the Presbyterians for Earth Care Conference. (Contributed photo)

Carvalhaes recently provided daily reflections at CPJ Training Days in April. Gillette, the hymn writer, wrote a new hymn for the conference that will be presented on the opening segment of the service and that can be downloaded beforehand for use in services and other events.

Nelson’s last time at the conference was in 2015, when it was held at Montreat and he was Coordinator of the Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C.

“The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has a long history of advocating for protecting the Earth and its natural resources,” Nelson said Wednesday. “We understand that every tree and every blade of grass is not ours, but God’s. It is our responsibility to protect what God has placed in our care. For too long, we have allowed this gift to be plowed, mined and polluted. Now, we are paying a price for that carelessness through rising temperatures, out of control wildfires and more. It is time for change and change begins with us.

The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), will preach at the Aug. 8 session of the Presbyterians for Earth Care Conference. (Photo by Rich Copley)

“I am grateful for the opportunity to once again share my love for this Earth with the PEC Conference and look forward to spending this precious time with these wonderful advocates.”

Gillette, the conference chair, describes Astudillo as “this wonderful, self-proclaimed eco-activist from Venezuela, who’s on the staff of GreenFaith, which is this wonderful environmental faith-based group … doing phenomenal outreach and resourcing all over the place.

The Rev. Dr. Neddy Astudillo of GreenFaith will lead worship Aug. 15 at the PEC Conference. (Contributed photo)

“We have the academic professor and much more, and then you’ve got the top denominational leader, and then you’ve got an activist,” Gillette said. “So, it’s a nice variety, and the worship music too.”

Bible study each session will be led by the father-son duo of Dr. Douglas Moo, Professor of Theology at Wheaton College, and Dr. Jonathan Moo, Professor of    New Testament and Environmental Studies at Whitworth University.

Gillette is well aware that Zoom fatigue is real, so the first sessions run an hour and a half, and then there is a dinner break of one hour before an evening session with workshops and then an activity, including a concert by LaMotte on Aug. 8. There will be presentations during the dinner hour for people who want to remain engaged.

The workshops will also pick up on the buffet-variety theme with offerings including composting, carbon-free dividends, spiritual practices for activists, video resources, Creation care-centered worship and faith formation, and many more topics.

Gillette recalled pastoring a church in Delaware that installed solar panels with the unexpected outcome of an increase in membership.

“People saw those panels and wanted to be part of a church they saw was trying to make a difference in the world, that was concerned about things in the world that they shared,” Gillette said. “Issues of the environment are very much on these people’s minds. And so if we can show that we share that concern, and we’re not only talking about it, but walking it, planting the trees and advocating for government policies, lifestyle issues, all that kind of stuff, I think we could actually help in the renewal of our denomination.

The Rev. Carolyn Winfrey Gillette will lead music and has written an original hymn for the Aug. 1 session of the PEC Conference. (Contributed photo)

“I think, in a sense, the environment can be a form of evangelism.”

It is a fortuitous time for the Earth Care Conference to come as this very summer has brought a variety of environmental calamities fueled by climate change, including excessive heat stretching up to Canada, an early spate of Atlantic hurricanes, and overwhelming wildfires in the western United States. Gillette wonders aloud if the conference was in person if it may not have inadvertently ended up in a place experiencing an acute environmental disaster.

While he understands the appeal of traveling to a beautiful location, Gillette cites another advantage of the online format: “It is good for the environment. We don’t have people flying, we don’t have people driving, we have people at their homes. So that’s gonna use less fossil fuel.”



‘Creation Care Buffet: Come to the Table’

What: Presbyterians for Earth Care’s every-other-year conference

When: 4:30-9 p.m. ET, with a one-hour break each session, Aug. 1, 8, 15

Where: Zoom, online

Cost: Suggested donation of $20 per Sunday or $50 for all three Sundays



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