For most congregations, looking ahead means passing next year’s budget or deciding which pastor to hire. Rarely does global climate change come up in Sunday morning conversations.

This makes Earth as Ally: Facing Climate Change Together a unique opportunity for Christians who want to grapple with this vexing contemporary issue. The weekend conference will take place at Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College, Wolf Lake, Ind., September 17 – 19.

Earth As Ally: Facing Climate Change Together is this year’s Autumn Hope Conference, a faith-based event that Merry Lea sponsors annually, bringing together students, lay people and environmental professionals. The primary distinctive of the gathering is its emphasis on hope grounded in Christian faith, rather than an attitude of despairing fatalism or denial that environmental problems exist.

“I believe that Christian faith is what gives us hope when we look at something like climate change,” said Luke Gascho, Merry Lea’s executive director. Gascho will deliver an address Friday evening entitled, “The Climate Challenge: How Greenhouse Gases will Shape the Church in the 21st Century.”

“Faith gives us a broader perspective than science can provide,” Gascho explained. “It gives us the resurrection and the assurance that renewal can and does happen. It links us to people from thousands of years ago who also faced devastation they brought on themselves. It gives us an awareness of the generations coming after us and our responsibility to them.”

A second distinctive of the Autumn Hope Conference is its emphasis on learning from the land, not just talking about it indoors. Participants will spend much of Saturday exploring Merry Lea’s 1,189 acres of wetlands, woodlands and prairies.

During one hike with Bill Minter, Merry Lea’s Land Manager and a certified forester, the group will see how scientists calculate the amount of carbon sequestered in a forest. On another hike, Lisa Zinn, who teaches in Merry Lea’s graduate program in environmental education, will discuss phenology—the science of plant and animal life cycles and the ways these are influenced by climate.

The weekend promises practical help as well as theology. What can we do about climate change? One answer is to manage the land under our care so that it stores as much carbon as possible. In break-out sessions, participants will have the chance to meet people skilled in keeping land healthy in different settings. Aaron Sawatsky-Kingsley, a city forester from Goshen, Ind., is passionate about keeping cities shaded with trees. Kathryn Mascaro, Fisher, Ind., of Wildlife Friendly Places of Worship, has experience helping churches enhance and restore wildlife habitat on their property. Nate Simons of Blue Heron Ministry in Angola, Ind., sees his work in land restoration as a vocation in healing broken relationships. Dale Hess, who teaches agroecology at Merry Lea, will examine how farming methods can curb or contribute to carbon dioxide levels.

Other sessions include an overview of the science behind global climate change; a panel discussion on bridging the gap between faith and science; worship, with a message by Janeen Bertsche Johnson, campus pastor at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary.

The schedule, presenter information and a registration form for Earth as Ally: Facing Climate Change Together are available at The cost of $95 includes meals. Dorm lodging is available on site at an additional $15-20/night. Or call 260-799-5869.