Faith communities have a complicated history when it comes to mental health and wholeness. In some ways faith communities have failed by ignoring mental health challenges that are present within our communities and among clergy people. Oftentimes the stigma that has been placed upon the shoulders of those who are experiencing a variety of temporary and chronic mental health challenges has been ignored and even increased by communities and people of faith. REGISTER FOR SUMMER 2021 ECO GRIEF CIRCLES
At our best, faith communities have encouraged people to face suffering and loss with heart, mind, and body by using rituals, encouraging conversation, and honoring sacred stories from ancestors and community members. I am encouraged to see more and more clergy seeking professional mental health care, and more congregations offering opportunities to not only express and explore experiences of grief but to engage in caring for those with mental health challenges.
The climate crisis offers yet another opportunity to be our best, and to lovingly accompany one another in the midst of suffering and grief. In my work at the Creation Care Alliance I have seen a recent increase in the ways that climate change and ecological degradation has impacted emotional, mental, and spiritual health.
Over the past six years I have had the opportunity to listen to people of faith as they grapple with the realities of our changing climate. I have heard the fear of the threats made to God’s good creation, felt the anger of those standing against a fossil fueled future, seen the tears of grandparents on behalf of their grandchildren.
This is not new – the reality is that ecological destruction in Western North Carolina has been impacting our community for many years. For many, these stories are intertwined with stories of blatant racism, economic oppression, and food insecurity. Ecological grief is not a new experience, however climate anxiety and eco-grief are being more widely recognized as another component of climate change.
Back in the 1950s, environmentalist Aldo Leopold described environmental grief when he said “one of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.” More recently, Dr. Glenn Albrecht coined the term “solastalgia” to describe mental distress caused by environmental change, a kind of “homesickness” without leaving home that we feel as our common home becomes more unrecognizable.
We see grief showing up in a variety of ways. One way is for people to be experiencing grief and suffering due to past or current eco-challenges. These mental health concerns are the results of climate phenomena like increased heat indexes, displacement due to flooding or storms, increased stress due to illness and food insecurity. This kind of grief would be a natural response to well water being rendered toxic, beloved forests being burned, or generational farmland drying to dust.
Another way that grief shows up is in anxiety about a future that is inhospitable to people and creatures. As people learn more and more about the climate crisis and see the decade- long predictions from scientists beginning to come to fruition, we become increasingly aware of the fragility of our common future. With this awareness comes anxiety and even despair.
After hearing story after story of these (and other) kinds of grief, people within the Creation Care Alliance network – two counselors, two pastors, and a chaplain – began to plan ways for people to care about one another in their grief. The result was a pilot project called the Eco-Grief Circle.
This six-week experience offered hour-long sessions that explored grief and sorrow, anxiety and fear, guilt and shame, anger and despair. The pilot project included 16 people who were connected with environmental and justice work. This was not a grief therapy experience, yet healing, insight, and love were present. Participants expressed the profound gratitude of being among people who could talk honestly about grief, suffering and the ecological and social challenges of our time. In the particular six weeks that we gathered, we not only faced the climate change challenge but also grappled with the pandemic and the deep brokenness of racism in our society. It was a powerful six weeks to be sure.
The leadership team will launch two more eco-grief circles in mid-September, and is currently finalizing the curriculum and receiving inquiries from a variety of people and faith communities that are interested. We will have limited space available in these initial classes, but let us know if you are interested in participating in the future by emailing email@example.com.
Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: American Psychological Assoc. and Eco America, March 2017
Majority of US Adults Believe Climate Change Is Most Important Issue: American Psychological Association, Feb. 2020
Ecological grief as a mental health response to climate change-related loss: Nature Magazine-April 2018
How scientists are coping with ‘ecological grief’-The Guardian, Jan. 2020
Hope and mourning in the Anthropocene: Understanding ecological grief – The Conversation, April 2018
Ecological Mourning Is a Unique Form of Grief- Psychology Today, March 2019
Embracing Pain- 3 minute video by Joanna Macy, 2012
As someone born and raised in Los Angeles County, my experiences with ‘small’ and ‘rural’ are far and few. Furthermore, when I read books on sustainability and agriculture, I typically pick up books written in universities by professors who spend their lives writing, researching, and teaching indoors in a classroom. While there is certainly great content in books like these, perhaps a better place to learn about sustainability and agriculture is in a community that practices it. Although Los Angeles can teach us many things about culture and diversity, the mountains of western North Carolina is one place we can learn about the intersection of eco-justice and faith. Blackburn’s Chapel is a very small community of people in a town called Todd. Todd is a stretch of land that sits on the line between Ashe and Watauga county. This area is so small, there are about 4 buildings that form the center of town. One of these buildings is the local church, Blackburn’s Chapel. On most Sundays, the church has about 20-30 members who join together in worship. Although Blackburn’s is small in number, when it comes to caring for God’s creation, they are mighty. Read More
Share your faith and passion for a clean energy future. Learn more here. On July 21, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners will vote on whether or not to move forward with a plan to install solar panels at 40 sites of county government, city and public school and community college properties. The project is the equivalent of powering 677 homes entirely with solar. The solar energy systems will save county taxpayers $27 million by reducing electricity payments to Duke Energy over the next 30 years. This vote is a huge opportunity to move our county forward to a renewable energy future. In addition, the prices offered to install these solar projects are millions of dollars cheaper than expected, and the energy savings from the solar panels would actually save the county and schools money.
To make this happen, we need at least 4 out of 7 County Commissioners to vote YES to this proposal on July 21. We are asking people who value renewable energy to write personalized letters to the County Commissioners to encourage them to vote yes.
Sharing how your faith or spiritual life informs your beliefs about clean energy and creation care is a unique and helpful way to communicate values that we all hold dear regardless of political affiliation. You can also spread the word to your friends and family about the need to make your voice heard before this vote.
Geared for high-school students, young adults, and adults, we invite you to seek shalom with us, joining other groups/families in stimulating discussion, prayer, and brainstorming about how they are turning challenges into opportunities, how to re-frame our daily lived practices, and how to foster a fuller imagination for our world! We want this experience to meet you where you are, so if attending all the sessions is not a possibility, let’s be in touch about creative alternatives! Sliding scale registration can be found at: https://christmount.
With passion, wisdom and wit, Dr. Orr offered insights into some of the symptoms of our sickened Democracy. The interplay of his conversation included climate change, spirituality, racism and the role of government and the commons. He reflected the concern for a lack of curiosity, compassion, and connection with others as he spoke. You can see the entire talk with the questions and answers on the Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church YouTube Channel.
Here is a response to a question about faith in these times.
This Friday at 7pm, CCA and Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church will host Dr. David Orr for a discussion regarding the pandemics of COVID-19, racism, climate change and how Democracy may be impacted. “Pandemics and Prejudice: How Can Democracy Survive in a Hotter Time?” will be presented by Dr. David Orr, EMERITUS Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics at Oberlin College via Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church’s Youtube Channel (“GCPC Video”) on Friday 7/10/2020 at 7pm. It will be a lecture about the Moral Imperative to Restore our Democracy as well as the urgency of Environmental Stewardship, regardless of any particular religious persuasion.
Dr. Orr writes: “The COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing crisis of race in America are both an indictment and a preview of what’s coming in a hotter, more divided world with vast economic inequities. Both are symptoms of the tragic failure of democratic institutions. Dr. Orr’s democracy initiative (stateofamericandemocracy.org) is working toward the repair and strengthening of democratic institutions beginning with restoring a moral vision of democracy.” Dr. Orr will not present in person, but we will do this via livestream on Youtube. This event is sponsored by the EARTH Team at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church and Creation Care Alliance. Dr. Orr will be introduced by Rev. Marcia Mount Shoop who will facilitate the question and answer period after his presentation.