“Mennonites begin to see climate change as the moral equivalent of war/violence and begin to take collective action.” This forceful statement heads the one-page summary of the game plan that the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions (CSCS) is pursuing. Now a first step in working with congregations is emerging: equipping pastors.
“We believe that pastors are key to reaching the goal of making progress on climate solutions,” says Doug Graber Neufeld, director of the CSCS. Therefore, the CSCS is partnering with Mennonite Creation Care Network in appointing Pastor Doug Kaufman of Goshen as its director of pastoral ecology.
Kaufman will develop a curriculum and lead learning experiences that enable church leaders to teach, preach and lead in ways that respond to climate change. More broadly, he hopes to help leaders connect with the theological underpinnings and personal experiences that can help them integrate creation care more fully into the life of the church.
“I want to help shape Mennonites into people who care about climate change,” Kaufman says. In his mind, this is not just an intellectual endeavor; it involves the heart as well and leads to acts of caring that prevent or mitigate climate change.
Kaufman is a former conference minister of the Indiana Michigan Mennonite Conference. He first became interested in ecology while pastoring at Benton Mennonite Church, Benton, Indiana —a part-time role he continues to hold. The church’s practice of baptizing new members in the nearby Elkhart River was disrupted by advisories warning against full-body contact with the water due to high E. coli counts. This sparked the church’s involvement in Hoosier Riverwatch, a citizen science project that collects data on water quality.
“Due to the river experiences my church was having, I increasingly found myself speaking prophetically on related topics. That made me want to engage the tradition more fully,” Kaufman reflects. He continued his interest in the natural world by pursuing a Th.M. degree in ecology and theology at the Toronto School of Theology. A previous experience in a pastor-theologian program with Princeton Theological Seminary also prepares him for the climate change endeavor.
When Kaufman imagines the multi-day learning experiences for pastors that he is preparing, he pictures a fusion of head and heart, theology and nature. He hopes to delve into intellectually demanding questions like, “What are the implications of understanding God as creator?” He also hopes to help people renew the connection to nature that is their birthright. And he especially hopes there are canoes involved.
“Doug Kaufman’s work is part of a larger strategy to promote conversations about climate issues in the Mennonite Church,” explained Graber Neufeld. The work by Kaufman with congregations will complement efforts to engage various groups of Mennonites, such as college students, voices from the Global South, and those promoting innovative solutions to climate issues.
CSCS is headquartered at Eastern Mennonite University, but Goshen College and Mennonite Central Committee are also partners. Kaufman will work closely with Mennonite Creation Care Network (MCCN) as well. MCCN will serve as a conduit for the pastoral engagement, as the organization has been been building a network of congregations working on a variety of creation care issues since 2006.
“Doug’s work with pastors will certainly support MCCN’s work,” said Jennifer Schrock who leads the organization. “Sometimes individuals with interests in creation care can feel sidelined, but if a congregation’s pastor is supportive and able to articulate the theology behind caring for the earth, then things happen.”
To learn more about MCCN’s Green Patchwork Congregations or join the network, visit mennocreationcare.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To arrange a pastoral learning experience for your region, contact Kaufman at email@example.com
– Jennifer Halteman Schrock