Climate Commissioning Service starts year with encouragement that ‘a new world is possible’
With 2023 in the books as the hottest year on record and predictions for a similar 2024, climate scientists have said there’s still time to change course and prevent continued warming of the planet.
The United Church of Christ Environmental Justice Ministries began the year with a Climate Action Commissioning Service and blessing for all people engaged in climate and environmental justice work. The recording of the Jan. 3 event hosted by the Rev. Brooks Berndt, minister for environmental justice, is now available.
‘Prophets among us’
The service included many people and voices from across the church, uplifting the needs of justice and the hopefulness of what can be accomplished collectively.
“There are prophets among us in our communities, in our churches, in our own reflections in the mirror,” said the Rev. Teña Nock, associate pastor of digital ministry at First United Church of Tampa. “Throughout the United Church of Christ, let’s celebrate our prophets — the ones who preach and pray and write and sing, who take to the streets and march, who write the letters, call those congresspeople and testify at city council, who install the solar panels, who restore habitats, who plant the gardens, who teach the children and who challenge the adults to do better.
“Throughout our beloved United Church of Christ, let’s celebrate our prophets,” she added, listing more examples of how people serve as prophets by “boldly calling for justice” with their voices, art and community engagement.
As the Rev. Allyson Sawtell, a member of Washington Park UCC in Denver, noted in the service’s call to worship, the church gathers “in dire times, in urgent times, in fearful times, in unjust times” to celebrate prophetic witness, spread courage and embody hope.
Centering young voices
The commissioning service included reflections from young people who have engaged in UCC climate justice initiatives. This included showing art from the finalists of last year’s Climate Hope Art Contest. People can now register to receive updates on this year’s art contest.
Applications are also open for 2024’s Climate Hope Summer Fellowship Grants, Berndt shared.
“It often feels like no one is listening,” said Lydia Hansberry, who received a 2022 fellowship grant to craft curriculum for the Horton Center, a church camp and retreat center in Gorham, New Hampshire. “In this new year, I invite you to join me in creating and finding hope.”
Cultivating for future generations
The Rev. Nellis Kennedy-Howard offered a reflection on “The Wonder of Our Smallness” based on Psalm 8. Kenney-Howard has served as a pastor in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and in several environmental justice leadership roles, including as co-executive director of Honor the Earth. She is the founder of Asdzą́ą́ Consulting, a Navajo consulting firm assisting organizations and leaders in becoming more impactful and equitable.
She shared stories about her small children and their love for science and outer space, drawing parallels to “the praise of children and infants” in Psalm 8 and describing them as “so infatuated, enthralled, staggered by God’s creation.”
Kennedy-Howard spoke about the philosophy of “seven generations” — that many attribute to the Iroquois and that is adopted within many tribes — which emphasizes how “the decisions that we make today should result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future.”
God intends for us to care and cultivate for our children and future generations out of love, she said, inviting reflection on how we celebrate the glory of God.
“I challenge us, and I commission all of us,” she said. “Who we are — it matters. The decisions that we make both now and in the future — they matter. And the world that we leave behind matters.”
Blessed and commissioned
Berndt joined Kennedy-Howard in holding out their hands to bless those attending the service.
“A new world is possible. Indeed, it is peeking cautiously around the corner even now!” Kennedy-Howard offered.
“With good courage, strengthened by the love of God and communities of faith, you are blessed and commissioned to embody hope and to make change,” Berndt said.
The Climate Action Commissioning Service recording is available here.
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