“Let’s use the bell in the church steeple for its original purpose, to sound the alarm and rally the town…to awaken to the challenge of our age,” announced Rev. Dr. Jim Antal at Harvard Divinity School’s Spiritual and Sustainable conference, an event that hosted a multitude of faith leaders earlier this month.
Religion has historically been a primary influencer of social change, with the pulpit acting as a mount from which to lead the congregations. Here religious leaders have been able to provide a prophetic voice on the pressing moral issues of the day. Rev. Dr. Antal has been using his voice for some time working on environmental issues and insists on discussing climate change in every '3 to 4 sermons’ he delivers.
Rev. Dr. Antal is a member of the Blessed Tomorrow Leadership Circle and was instrumental in making the United Church of Christ the first denomination in the United States to approve a resolution on divesting from fossil fuels.
It’s considered a serious threat to the future, and it’s what Harvard Divinity School (HDS) Dean David N. Hempton called one of the key topics of our time.
Climate change and its impact are why HDS holds among its values a commitment to sustainability and being a good steward of the environment everyone shares. It’s why HDS is working and succeeding on its part of the University’s goal to cut greenhouse-gas emissions. It’s also why the School hosted scores of people at a conference organized by HDS staff to examine how religion can respond to climate change.
Through tangible efforts, HDS reduced its emissions by 32 percent from fiscal year 2006 to fiscal 2014, according to data from the Office for Sustainability. The School also decreased its energy use nearly 9 percent over the same period.
But at HDS, the effort to help the Earth goes beyond numbers. On Nov. 7, the daylong conference “Spiritual and Sustainable: Religion Responds to Climate Change” on the HDS campus brought together activists and leaders from various faiths to discuss ways in which religions can talk and take action on environmental issues.
Addressing the attendees gathered in the Braun Room of Andover Hall for a sustainably sourced lunch, Hempton said the forum touched on many of the values held by the HDS community, “especially our commitment to the work of sustainability and good environmental stewardship.”
“We’ve kind of practiced this on our campus for a long time now, in the way we design, heat, and cool our facilities, the way we produce our food, recycle our waste, and all the other ways we try to lower our impact on the environment. We’re proud to have been leaders of this work at Harvard,” he said.
The Rev. Jim Antal, president of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ (UCC), discussed the preacher’s role as a leader not just of his or her congregation, but in efforts to heal the environment. He said he believes that faith leadership should be edgy and risky, and that he urges his pastors to occasionally preach a “pack your bags” sermon, one that could push the congregation’s thinking enough that they might seek the preacher’s removal.