The Exponential Engagement We Need

Thursday, February 29, 2024

From Michael Anthony Howard, Minister of Faith in Action,
Living Water Association, Ohio North East, UCC

Tags: Streams of Connection | From Our Association Ministers | Faith in Action

As fast as things are changing in the life of the church, when it comes to climate change things are not changing fast enough. I was discerning the next phase of my call to ministry in the fall of 2018 when the profound implications of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report captured my attention. Climate change was already been taking up a lot of my mental and emotional real estate by then. Now the urgency of the situation had me journalling and strategizing day and night about ways to bring communities together in response to the crisis I had already seen unfolding. In every social justice team meeting, organizing training, collaborative partnership or outreach workshop since then, the IPCC report has been front of mind.

Since then, my preoccupation with climate change has evolved from an anxious mental space to an energizing relentless pursuit. While grappling with the profound implications of the crisis, my thoughts transitioned into a contemplation of the role of place. How do our environments shape us? What influence can our collective response to the pressing challenges of climate change actually have on the places we live, work, and worship? This shift in focus led me to ponder the integral connection between place and ministry.

The 2018 report had just been publicized. I was in an organizing meeting in New Jersey about the report with others working on housing and forced migration when I received a call from our Association General Minister, Rev. Nayiri Karjian. She was calling to ask me to consider coming to Ohio. When I accepted the call to ministry with the Living Water Association, I was already fully engaged in building ministries that take their relationship to place seriously. I knew this was what we desperately needed. Ministries of place, as I call them, work to bring our communities together in order to recognize the significance of our surroundings and collectively prepare for the challenges that lay ahead.

The 2018 IPCC report was a clarion call to collective responsibility. Updated in 2023, the IPCC report is clear about the need for immediate and coordinated action to mitigate the impacts of climate change. It underscored the imperative to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, emphasizing that even a half-degree increase poses severe risks. More intense heat waves, rising sea levels, extreme weather events, loss of coastal and island communities, ocean acidification, the list seems endless.

What does a call to ministry mean in the midst of the climate catastrophe that seems to be hurling at us at breakneck speed? What does it mean to faithfully love our neighborhoods in a moment like this?

Shifting to a ministry of place frames our work in a way that acknowledges the diverse talents within our congregations and communities. In our Northeast Ohio congregations, we have nurses, doctors, lawyers, scientists, teachers, and advocates. We have architects, engineers, construction workers, farmers, tailors, shopkeepers, and so much more. Each of us has been blessed by God with so many unique gifts. I am convinced that if we aligned our collective energy with a shared goal, praying with our hands and feet as much as with our words, we could answer the call to make a meaningful difference in the places we inhabit.

Many organizations have been diligently working since the report to mobilize a global response to the climate transition we need. At the top of the list of game changers has been Climate Fresk workshops. Designed in France, the Climate Fresk is a movement around an innovative community building tool, now spread to more than 40 countries. Climate Fresks have been doubling the number of workshop participants every five months. The goal is exponential engagement. We need the exponential growth to match the urgency emphasized in the IPCC report—the more individuals engaged, the greater the impact.

As the Climate Fresk’s impact grows exponentially, so does the potential for transformation within our communities. It creates the opportunity for new ministries of place to be born, as these three hour workshops bridge the urgency outlined in the report’s findings with the talents within our congregations.

On Saturday, March 16, our Association will be partnering with the Community Life Collaborative to host a Climate Fresk. (See the flyer in our newsletter.) It is an invitation to embrace this ministry of place, unite for climate action, and build the exponential engagement needed to chart a path forward together.