Stellar preaching and insightful Bible study open Presbyterians for Earth Care conference

The Rev. Dr. Diane Givens Moffett and the Rev. Dr. Patricia Tull kick off PEC’s four-day gathering

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Mika Baumeister via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — Presbyterians for Earth Care began its four-day “The Climate Crisis & Empowering Hope” hybrid conference Wednesday with worship, where the Rev. Dr. Diane Givens Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, used Psalm 46:1-7 to preach on “Consider Our Hope.”

“We can decide to give up and not work on saving the planet,” Moffett told conference-goers meeting at Massanetta Springs Camp and Conference Center in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and at three remote sites: First Presbyterian Church in Berkeley, California, Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis, and Westover Hills Presbyterian Church in Little Rock, Arkansas. “But look at Psalm 46. Hope is never mentioned, but it’s the theme that permeates the psalm, a psalm of praise. We worship God because of who God is, but we praise God for what God does.”

Moffett recounted a medical scare years ago when she woke up one morning and couldn’t speak. Doctors couldn’t figure out what had happened. “All the tests came back fine, but I couldn’t speak with the fluidity I once had,” she said. “That experience taught me how to lay prostrate and pray. The doctors couldn’t help me, and so my friends and I began to pray. I found out God is indeed a refuge and strength … When we experience the presence of God’s power, then we know God is real and available to do whatever God will do.”

The psalmist identifies a river “whose streams make glad the city of God.” All human beings need rivers flowing with fresh water, Moffett said, but “even while they’re essential, many are polluted. That makes people pant and Creation to thirst.”

“You cannot fix what you will not face,” Moffett said, quoting James Baldwin.

The Rev. Dr. Diane Givens Moffett is president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. (Photo by Rich Copley)

Moffett used the river the psalmist cites as a metaphor for hope for a climate change turnaround, noting the 225th General Assembly (2022) voted to divest from five energy companies and that the PC(USA) is now home to about 300 Earth Care Congregations.

“This hope sustains and inspires us. It boosts and buoys us in different times,” Moffett said. “This hope keeps us looking up when things are looking down … Jesus Christ is our hope from which the river flows. It’s the water my ancestors drank from, and the water many of your ancestors drank from that kept them doing the right thing.”

Once worship had ended, the Rev. Dr. Patricia Tull, the Rhodes Professor Emerita of Old Testament at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, delivered a Bible study titled “Grief and Hope.” Ten years ago, Westminster John Knox Press published Tull’s  “Inhabiting Eden: Christians, the Bible and the Ecological Crisis.”

According to Tull, a 2022 Yale University study indicated that while 6 in 7 people think global warming is happening and more than half think “it’s caused by us,” two-thirds of those surveyed rarely or never discuss global warming with family or friends. Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe reminds us, Tull said, that “the most important thing we can do about climate change is talk about it.”

Tull asked: How can we live in grief and hope at the same time?

“What allows us to temper our grief and strengthen our hope is our capacity for memory,” Tull said. “Psalm 42 talks about that … The psalms are ancient, but at the same time they’re present.”

“The psalm’s intensity may seem exaggerated to us,” Tull said. “But if the poet can feel all this and keep faith, so we can keep our own longings and discomfort, knowing we are not alone in them.”

“It doesn’t say ‘don’t worry’ or ‘be happy’ or ‘return to the past,’” Tull said. We hold places in our memory even though they don’t exist anymore because of, say, clear-cutting or coal mining. “The countrysides we used to roam are now suburban jungles or shopping malls,” Tull said, adding there are more psalms of lament than any other kind.

“There is plenty of room for grief today. We can’t help but feel it. It’s a rational response,” Tull said. “Not to feel sorrow about what is happening to us and our world would be odd.”

The Rev. Dr. Patricia Tull

“It’s not all grief, of course,” Tull said, noting that “billions of people are working to make large social changes happen.” Tull displayed a slide of an enormous wind farm off the coast of Wales. The windmills, which supply power to about 400,000 homes, were far enough from shore that they were a bit hard to spot in the photograph.

“If we do succeed bringing society back from the brink, our landscape will look different,” Tull said, along with our energy system and our homes, vehicles, transportation system, diet, cities, farms and woodlands.

“When I see one sign of the future, I want to see another and another,” Tull said, “and that often disappoints.”

After a question-and-answer session with Tull, the moderator of the PEC, the Rev. Bruce Gillette, recalled his first encounter with Bishop Desmond Tutu, the human rights and anti-apartheid activist, who once said, “I will always be a prisoner of hope.”

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