Climate Ride Event Goshen townhall

“How should we as the church respond to climate change?” townhall; Goshen, Indiana

After a week of riding through rain, mud and cornfields, the climate riders arrived in Goshen, Indiana where they had a chance to gather with over 120 community members at Fidler Pond park for a townhall discussion around the question “How should we as the church respond to climate change?” 

Over thirty bikes of all shapes, sizes and colors were parked around the Chiddister Pavilion where attendees gathered to hear from the six panelists including four community leaders and two riders.   

Doug Kauffman, a pastor at Benton Mennonite Church and CSCS’s director of pastoral ecology, spoke about how he came to care about climate change, and the unique perspective he brings to his work with climate change as a pastor. 

“I started getting involved in these kinds of things because I baptize people in the Elkhart river,” he said. “The Elkhart River sometimes has too much crap for safe baptism, and so we’ve been involved now for 15 years looking at the water. If theologians and pastors can be involved in climate change, journalism majors and others can be involved too. We need all kinds of perspectives to work on climate change. It’s not just a scientific problem, it’s a human problem that we all need to engage in.” 

Amy Huser, director of environmental education at Camp Friedenswald and a member of the Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light board, works to bring members of different religious groups  together to promote renewable energy, energy conservation and environmental justice. 

“There are faith statements from almost every religion that are explicitly about climate change,” she said, “but if I would pick one out, it would be the indigenous perspective….That perspective just feels so incredibly necessary and it needs to be uplifted for many reasons, environmental and social. 80% of the earth’s biodiversity is cared for by 5% of the population, and they are indigenous people.” 

Sibonokuhle Ncube, a Brethren in Christ student at AMBS from Zimbabwe, spoke about the power of the Christian church, and how congregations are uniquely poised to fight for climate justice. 

“I think that it’s time for the church to go ‘pandemic’ in climate responsibility and ecological responsibility,” Sibonokuhle said.  “With the church in Africa, being grassroots based, it makes sense for the church to lead from the front, because to a very large extent, don’t we have the greatest moral responsibility to be leading from the front? It becomes a very big opportunity for the church to take leadership and live out radical discipleship.” 

The panelists also spoke about how many Christians engage in ‘soft denial’ of climate change, a phenomenon in which people understand what is happening but don’t take any decisive action Leah Thill, a 2012 Goshen College graduate, who has worked with the Solarize Northern Indiana initiative, said that one way churches can counteract this common phenomenon is by transitioning to clean energy in community with each other. She cited a study that found that the biggest determinant of whether someone installed solar panels is whether they had a neighbor who had solar. 

“Your church is your neighbor,” she said, “it is the closest community that a lot of people have, so you can have that influence on each other, whether that’s clean energy or some other thing collectively.” 

As for the climate riders, they spoke about the learnings they have made along the way, especially at unexpected moments. 

Isaac Andreas shared about meeting some employees at a landfill in Davenport, Iowa, and how their concern for the environment caught him by surprise.

“I thought they were gonna kick us out right away, because if you work at a landfill you are probably just absorbed with bad climate solutions,” he said. The group ended up being welcomed by the workers, who gladly answered all of their questions. 

“They wished they could do better with climate solutions,” Andreas said, “and they took us on a 20 minute impromptu tour of the landfill and showed us where their excess methane is burned because they can’t scrub it and turn it into energy and the liners they put into prevent pollution from going into the local river. I was just so surprised and inspired by these people I really wasn’t expecting to be very climate aware, and they really were.”

Sierra Ross Richer talked about the realization that human beings can easily change our lifestyles, even when it seems daunting.

“I think [the trip] has been teaching a lot of us that ‘wow, we can do stuff that’s pretty hard,’ so then we’ve talked about how that can play into the future. What are things that we are willing to give up, or that we need to give up, for climate change?” 

“I think our boats are ready and we have the wherewithal to begin to do what we need to do globally,” said Ncube, inviting the attendees to link their climate activism with prayer, even when things seem bleak.

By Greta Lapp Klassen