Pastoring at the Crossroads of Science and Faith

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Laura Baumgartner advocates against fossil fuel exports. Laura is a member of University Temple UMC.

Laura Baumgartner, member of University Temple UMC in Seattle and candidate for ministry, shares how an internship at Earth Ministry is giving her new opportunities to witness on behalf of God’s creation.

The intersection of science and faith is a deep and abiding passion of mine, particularly as my life has me living in both spheres. I’ve been a member of University Temple United Methodist Church for 14 years, and I’ve been high school chemistry teacher for 24. In particular, I’m called to explore how I can speak into what is sometimes a void between religion and environmental advocacy as I work toward a Master of Divinity at Seattle University and toward ordination as an elder in the United Methodist Church.

Because I want to find out what ministry takes place in the space between these two areas of human experience, I sought out an internship at Earth Ministry. And though there’s a lot of office work and routine tasks, it has been a joy to me to see how the best environmental science is expressed in faith values in the real work of climate protection.

I’m learning to find my way as pastor at this crossroads. In fact, I often think of myself as collecting the tools that I’ll need for ministry as I prepare for what the Spirit has in mind for me. With the love and support, and generally good tolerance of my congregation at University Temple, I’ve developing the skills of pastoral care and administration. Working at Earth Ministry is helping me develop other skills: I have spoken truth to power. I can find words to express the injustice that is done when people of color bear the first and most devastating effects of environmental disasters. I can witness the story that unfolds when unlikely partners find they share the same planet and must work together.

a faithful approach to decision-making in the public arena needs all of us, scientists and faithful alike.

For many generations, organized religion has been part of the force that has taught humans to act as if we are not a part of Creation, through language suggesting that we somehow claim power over Creation. However, working at Earth Ministry, I realize the power that comes from knowing our part in Creation. Grace comes even to religious organizations when we speak up for those who can’t speak themselves, like Northwest salmon, our beautiful boreal forests and even Earth’s atmosphere. Climate change is one of the huge global problems facing humans that can’t be solved by either religion or science alone. Instead a faithful approach to decision-making in the public arena needs all of us, scientists and faithful alike. All of our expertise, talent, and passion are required of us.

In my classroom and in my church, I am often challenged to articulate what can be done about the water, air, or soil pollution problems that face us. One student angrily told me that we should just pave over the entire planet and start over because we’ve messed up so badly. It’s easy to fall prey to such grief and despair. In going to rallies, press conferences, hearings, and other events, as well as doing the ongoing planning work with the team at Earth Ministry, I’m learning what it takes to steward a community through challenges that feel overwhelming. I’m learning to say, “My faith compels me to speak out” when that is the case. I’m learning that it is in community where we have real successes and share the resolve to right our wrongs. I have witnessed those for whom the church is a scary place working side by side with those who find their home in church, for the sake of the Creation, as part of Creation. That is the power of our faith. That is the power of our God.

If you are new to the work of Earth Ministry, you can find out more about the work that we do or sign up for our email distribution list. To use your own voice to speak out against proposed fossil fuel expansion, related to climate change, make a comment by January 22 on the Tesoro Savage Oil Terminal.

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