Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;

 let the sea roar, and all that fills it;

let the field exult, and everything in it.

Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy

Psalm 96:11-12 (NRSV)

For clergy and lay leaders, the two-day conference “Transforming Climates: Preaching Environmental Justice” will explore how preaching must change and how to change it. “The world is facing growing climate crises both in the number and variety of threats to the human and more-than-human world,” says assistant professor of homiletics and conference co-organizer the Rev. Dr. David Stark. “Preachers can sometimes find it difficult to put together the words, strategies, and theologies to talk about these crises with their communities.” The “Transforming Climates” conference aims to change this.

In lectures, workshops, and discussion groups, conference participants will develop tools for an embodied, attentive, and place-based approach to preaching—an approach that addresses racial and environmental injustices and invites transformation. “This conference will provide opportunities for peer learning and support, which we know are essential for preaching the Gospel with confidence in the face of these challenging issues,” says the Rev. Leigh Preston, conference co-organizer and instructor of pastoral Spanish and Latino/Hispanic ministry.

Guest scholars Dr. Miguel A. De La Torre and Dr. Jerusha Neal will lecture. Practical workshops will be held by School of Theology professors and conference co-organizers David Stark and Dr. Andrew Thompson, assistant professor of theological ethics and director of the Center for Religion and Environment. 

Stark’s workshop will examine how the development of anti-racist homiletics can inform approaches to preaching for environmental justice. Participants will put these new approaches into practice by applying them to lectionary texts. 

In the format of a guided hike, Thompson’s workshop will challenge participants to consider how, in a time when human agency dominates, they might think more expansively about who—or what—speaks in their preaching. “We want to provide attendees with innovative ways of thinking about preaching the Gospel in a time of climate crisis,” says Thompson. “This is a time to radically rethink what we want our preaching to do and how it can connect deeply to the more-than-human world.” 

In her lecture “Preaching Exilic Hope in the Climate Crisis: Facing Scripture's Biggest Questions,” Jerusha Neal, assistant professor of homiletics at Duke Divinity School will help participants tackle the enormous and increasingly critical topic of climate change. “One of the hidden reasons pastors avoid preaching about the climate crisis is the breadth and depth of the questions it surfaces,” says Neal. “These questions are less about public policy and more about our deepest theological convictions.”

Miguel A. De La Torre in his lecture, “The Sacredness of Water,” will explore global Indigenous worldviews regarding waters—specifically the notion that water has its own spirit and agency. He will then challenge the Eurocentric commodification of water and how a theoretical approach seeking decoloniality might lead toward liberative praxis and preaching.

The two-day event will take place April 2-4 at St. Mary’s Sewanee conference center near the campus of the University of the South—truly an ideal setting and time of year for this work. Though developed to address the challenges of clergy, anyone concerned about the intersectionality of climate and racial justice will benefit from attending. “The event is focused on preaching, but it's really about how we hear and speak with suffering humanity and the more-than-human world,” Thompson says. “And I think Sewanee in the spring is the perfect place to experience that deep connection.” 

The “Transforming Climates: Preaching Environmental Justice” conference is hosted by the School of Theology, the Center for Religion and Environment, and the Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) campus center at the University of the South.

All are welcome. Learn more and register here.