Prepared Leadership in an Apocalypse

snapshot_bannersnapshot-2010-11-15-photoStudents in Starr King’s fall course “Apocalypse Now!” which explores
the religious response to the planetary environmental crisis.

How will people react when the oceans rise, food becomes scarce, and complex societies start unraveling? That’s a question most political leaders won’t touch. But it’s the focal point of Starr King School’s fall course, “Apocalypse Now!” taught by Rev. Kurt Kuhwald.

“We’re up against the biggest dilemma ever faced by the human species,” says Kuhwald, a visiting professor who serves on Starr King’s core faculty. “How can we work with integrity, courage, hope and even joy, in the midst of … the abyss of a global environmental disaster?”

Kuhwald is offering Apocalypse Now! to help religious leaders prepare for the climate crisis by understanding it scientifically, emotionally and spiritually. The class helps ministers and community leaders “get a firmer, surer foothold on the slippery slopes of global unraveling,” he says.

The class has featured guests such as ecology scholar Joanna Macy and marine biologist Julia Whitty. And it is fostering strong reactions and commitments among students.

Elena Vera, 27,a first-year student at Starr King, says one of the key elements of her future ministry will now be this challenge: “It is my generation that will bear the brunt of the transition…between how our society functions and sustains itself now, and how it does so in the future.” She states, “The 1950s car-centric suburban dream will be interred with the last of us who grew up there.”

Vera’s classmate, Rev. Sonya Sukalski, a 2007 Starr King alum who now works with the UU Legislative Ministry of California (UULM-CA), says she’s taking Kuhwald’s class in part to prepare herself to “stay centered, to grieve this loss regularly, so that when opportunities come to make a difference, I can recognize them.”

Munro Sickafoose, a third-year student from Portland, Ore., hasn’t given up hope that disaster can be averted. “Climate change and environmental collapse are symptoms… of a political economy that values production and consumption over people,” Sickafoose says. “This system has gotten out of control, and we have to stop it before it undermines the ability of the planet to support life at all.”

Rev. Earl W. Koteen, also a 2007 Starr King graduate who is now consulting minister for climate justice at UULM-CA, says the climate crisis will require global mourning. “Possibly the greatest challenge in climate work is to help awaken people to the consequences of our fossil-fueled life and the losses that are likely to proceed from it,” Koteen says. “This grief work involves spiritually grounded prophecy and counseling.”