Storytelling underpins church’s response to climate change, leaders say at the close of ‘It’s All About Love’

By Shireen Korkzan
Posted Jul 12, 2023

House of Deputies president Julia Ayala Harris preaches the sermon at the concluding service July 12 at the It’s All About Love revival in Baltimore, Maryland, as seen in a video on Facebook.

[Episcopal News Service — Baltimore, Maryland] On the final day of the It’s All About Love festival, House of Deputies President Julia Ayala Harris described the July 9-12 gathering as an opportunity to reflect on stories – both personal and churchwide – and to begin to reframe what those stories tell Episcopalians about the fight for climate justice, racial reconciliation and evangelism.

The festival, she noted, followed on the heels of last week’s Episcopal Youth Event, which also took place in Maryland. EYE is an event for teenagers, who, she said, didn’t need any explanation when invited to take part in a healing service, because of the trauma so many experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They watched racial and social injustice on their screens on their social media,” Ayala Harris said on July 12. “They watched the decline of democracy before their eyes. They saw their friends be victims of transphobia and racism. They’ve witnessed the climate crisis and war.”

This week, hundreds of Episcopalians from the church’s nine provinces came together for learning, fellowship and worship at It’s All About Love: A Festival for the Jesus Movement, held at the Baltimore Convention Center and Hilton Hotel. The festival featured more than 90 unique presentations, workshops and plenaries organized around evangelism, racial reconciliation and creation care.

On July 11, participants learned about a new story-driven tool to help Episcopalians learn about creation care. Authors and developers described The Episcopal Church’s upcoming Love God, Love God’s World film-based creation care curriculum, which is scheduled to launch around Oct. 4, the feast day of St. Francis, the patron saint of ecology.

“We’re able to have difficult conversations pretty well especially when we have a common narrative that we can all engage and learn around and share around that might not just belong to one of us,” the Rev. Stephanie Spellers, canon to the presiding bishop for evangelism, reconciliation and creation care, told those gathered.

The curriculum is modeled on Sacred Ground, a 10-part film-based discussion that initially was developed as a resource primarily for white Episcopalians to learn about the history of racism in the United States and how that racism continues to manifest itself today in American social interactions and institutions, including churches.

Some 10,000 Episcopalians enrolled in Sacred Ground. Small group discussions, a significant time commitment, narrative storytelling and sharing one’s personal stories have been proven to lead to transformation, Spellers said.

The Rev. Melanie Mullen, director of reconciliation, justice and creation care for The Episcopal Church, told Episcopal News Service that Love God, Love God’s World curriculum will hopefully be “a transformational formation opportunity that will help educate people’s hearts and heads around creation care.”

The curriculum will include nine sessions and is intended for adults. More information can be found on the Love God, Love God’s World website.

Arun Sharma, a recent graduate of the Oregon Episcopal School in Portland, speaks to a July 11 plenary at the It’s All About Love Festival, as seen in a video on Facebook.

During the morning plenary on July 11, 18-year-old Arun Sharma said he’s “already learned the power of the pulpit” to engage in conversation with communities and offer hope.

“You are all leaders in your congregations, in your communities and in your dioceses. That’s why you’re all here today, because when you speak, people will listen,” Sharma, a recent graduate of the Oregon Episcopal School in Portland, said during a session focused on “Young Voices for Creation Care.” “With our combined wisdom, knowledge and urgency, trying to accelerate the energy transition and fight climate change, we can be responsible stewards of our planet. … We can put ourselves at the forefront of this fight and we can do it now.”

Sharma spoke along with two other young adults, Adrienne Elliott, program coordinator of multicultural ministries and community in the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia, and Phoebe Chatfield, program associate for creation care and justice for The Episcopal Church. All three speakers addressed creation care and climate advocacy from a young adult leadership lens.

“Young people cannot do this work alone. … This work of justice and creation care must be intergenerational work,” Chatfield said. “We need one another, and that includes people of all ages.”

The creation care theme carried through the day’s workshops, including one discussing available worship resources, presented by the Rev. Ellis Clifton, a member of the Task Force Care of Creation and Environmental Racism. Another, titled “Preaching about Climate Change,” was presented by the Rev. Leah Schade, associate professor of preaching and worship at Lexington Theological Seminary.

And “Good News of Creation Care Through a Global Lens: Global Partnerships and the Anglican Communion” featured a discussion between the Rev. David Copley, the church’s director of global partnerships and mission personnel,  Archbishop Julio Murray, primate of the Anglican Church in Central America, and Lynnaia Main, the church’s representative to the United Nations.

Climate change and associated natural disasters are impacting people worldwide. While speakers addressed the church’s response to climate change during It’s All About Love, wildfires continued to burn in Canada, and communities in Vermont remained flooded after days of heavy rainfall.

A day earlier, an eco-grief prayer space opened to provide a quiet, contemplative place for prayer and one-on-one conversations. And on July 11 a prayer service was offered for anyone experiencing anxiety, loss or sadness related to the climate crisis impacting Earth and its inhabitants.

Though the church’s role in providing a sense of hope was made clear, it was also clear that the climate crisis is real and the time to act is now. The 2022 General Convention, which also met in Baltimore, called the church to net carbon neutrality in its operations by 2030.

Largely through power purchase agreements, the Diocese of San Joaquin, located in California’s Central Valley, will have transferred 95% of its operations to renewable energy by 2024, said the Rt. Rev. David Rice, the diocese’s bishop, during a panel discussion on renewable energy and the church.

As the climate crisis unfolds, however, how humans respond to the fallout is yet unseen.

In the afternoon, the Rev. Richard Acosta Rodríguez, an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Colombia, offered a workshop on Latin American eco-theology, in which he used Scripture to make the case that global warming is both an environmental and a social crisis because the people living in the poorest countries are most likely to suffer from it as they continue to lose their homes to climate change.

“If we want to find the experience of God, we need to look at the different realities of the poor and of the animals,” Acosta Rodríguez said. “Yes, climate change is a theological problem.”

-Shireen Korkzan is a reporter and assistant editor for Episcopal News Service. She can be reached at  Melodie Woerman, an ENS freelancer, contributed  to this story.