Symposium 2023: “Bearing Grief & Breathing Liberation”

Symposium 2023

The Starr King community gathered online and in-person for our 11th annual Symposium August 28-30, 2023. This year’s theme was “Bearing Grief and Breathing Liberation.” We were so fortunate to welcome earth thinker, theologian, liturgist, performer and artist, Dr. Cláudio Carvalhaes as our Honored Teacher.

Symposium 2023 was an experiment in multi-locational, hybrid education as we attempted to structure a program to support the full participation of persons gathered both online and in persons at two retreat centers. Due to unforeseen circumstances, we had to cancel our gathering at the East Coast retreat center. Instead, Dr. Carvalhaes received an honorary degree and gave the keynote address at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair in Montclair, New Jersey.

Day One

Symposium began on the evening of Monday, August 28 with a separate Ingathering for online participants and those gathered at Mercy Center in Burlingame, CA. The Ingathering included a brief orientation and introductions; setting agreements and expectations; centering and a journal reflection; and an introduction exercise from Dr. Carvalhaes’ book How Do We Become Green People and Earth Communities?

Shortly after the Ingathering, all participants joined together for Opening Worship. Starr King faculty member, Taya Mâ Shere, opened worship with an original chant followed by an Invocation from Pastor Jacqueline Duhart (Director of Spiritual Services). Starr King students Pablo Vazquez and Wilderness Rose Harris provided our land acknowledgement and chalice lighting respectively. We listened to a recording of Dr. Ibrahim Farajajé reading “Ancestors” followed by a moment of silence and music from students Liesl Dees and Amy Brunell.

Rae Abileah joined us to lead participants through the Climate Ribbon Ritual. The Climate Ribbon uses art, storytelling, and ritual to grieve what each of us stands to lose to Climate Chaos, affirms our solidarity, and invites us into a commitment to action. Participants wrote on ribbons and hung them in a tree at Mercy Center, or a similar location around their home. Day one wrapped up with a meditation session with Dr. Som Pourfarzaneh (Faculty & Director of the Center for Multi-Religious Studies).

Day Two

Symposium attendees at Mercy Center began day two with Rev. Dr. Pamela Hancock (Faculty) leading a session on Calling on Earth Allies. Pre-recorded video instructions and preset handouts were available for online participants.

Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt (President), Rev. Dr. Gabriella Lettini (Dean of Faculty), Dr. Cláudio Carvalhaes, and guests gathered at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair the afternoon of Tuesday, August 29. Rev. McNatt, Rev. Dr. Lettini, and Rev. Alison Miller (Chair of the Board of Trustees) awarded Dr. Carvalhaes with the honorary degree of Sacrae Theologiae Doctor.

In his keynote lecture, Dr. Carvalhaes reflected on the profound grief due to the climate crisis and discussed how rituals offer a way for our communities to journey through the end of a world. A brief Q&A followed the keynote. Watch the full keynote below:

After a break, Rev. Dr. Sheri Prud’homme (Faculty) offered a Worship Practicum session for both online and in-person attendees. This included breaking up into small groups based on different context areas of interest (i.e., parish ministry, chaplaincy, etc.) where participants crafted a worship ritual together. Groups were then joined together to share and discuss their rituals.

Day two ended with a Group Spiritual Formation session with Pastor Jacqueline Duhart, which incorporated interplay and joy into spiritual practice. Participants read “On The Pulse of Morning” by Maya Angelou out loud together, followed by a moment of silence for reflection. Attendees joined into pairs to create a movement that expressed how their bodies and souls were impacted by the poem and our time together at Symposium.

Day Three

On our final day of Symposium, Rev. Dr. Chris Schelin (Dean of Students) led participants in an integrative reflection session that included time for independent journaling contemplating how we can breathe life into each other and the places we live, as well as the futures we envision in the present. Attendees were given time to share their thoughts before the Closing Ritual.

Taya Mâ blessed us with an opening chant, followed by our chalice lighting by Rachel Theo-Maurelli (Student) and Anya Wayne (Student) reading “Please Call Me By My True Names” by Thich Nhat Hanh. Rae Abileah returned for a closing of the Climate Ribbon ritual. Participants were invited to write a commitment to action for ensuring a just and renewable future and share them in small groups. Symposium rounded out with a song by Liesl Dees and Amy Brunell and a closing prayer from Rev. Dr. Pamela Hancock.

Symposium 2024

Stay tuned for details about Symposium 2024!

Keynote & Our Honored Teacher

Bearing Grief & Breathing Liberation: Rituals in the Anthropocene

Scientists and climate activists have warned that we are entering a new era of Earth history called the Anthropocene, a time when human activity is decisively and harmfully reshaping the planet and its biodiverse ecosystems. The effects are increasingly evident in cascading climate disasters that threaten the loss of patterns, places, species, and a certain future.

This will be an era of profound grief and fierce struggle as we lament the damage and seek repair. Such a time calls for visions and habits of eco-liberation rooted in the rituals we share and the spirit we discover together. Through the teaching of Dr. Cláudio Carvalhaes, and through our shared spaces of conversation, practice, and reflection, we will embark on an interreligious exploration of how rituals offer a way for our communities to journey through the end of a world.

Our students are required, and all participants are encouraged, to read Dr. Carvalhaes’ recent book, How Do We Become Green People and Earth Communities?, in preparation for Symposium. It is available for purchase at Lulu or Amazon.

Cláudio Carvalhaes

Cláudio Carvalhaes, earth thinker, theologian, liturgist, performer and artist, a native Brazilian from São Paulo, completed his Ph.D. in Liturgy and Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York City in 2007. He earned his first Master of Philosophy degree in Theology, Philosophy, and History at the Methodist University of Sao Paulo in 1997 and a Master of Divinity degree from the Independent Presbyterian Theological Seminary (Sao Paulo, Brazil) in 1992.

In the summer of 2016, Dr. Carvalhaes joined Union Theological Seminary in New York City where he got his full scholarship and is now Professor of Worship. Previously, he taught at McCormick Theological Seminary, Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Carvalhaes is an ordained pastor within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Learn more.

Opening Worship

The Climate Ribbon

The Climate Ribbon uses art, storytelling, and ritual to grieve what each of us stands to lose to Climate Chaos, affirms our solidarity, and invites us into a commitment to action. The power of the project is rooted in a very simple yet profound question: What do you love and hope to never lose to climate chaos? People from all over the world are sharing what they most love — “Next year’s harvest” “The future of my children’s children” or “Miami, my city” — then sharing these ribbons and becoming guardians of each other’s stories. They’re sharing ribbons and committing themselves to work to beat back Climate Chaos so that our worst fears might never come true. Together, our commitments weave a giant thread connecting all of us us as we work for a healthy, sustainable planet.

At this Symposium, we will be guided through the Climate Ribbon ritual by Kohenet Rae Abileah. This is a ritual that can be done virtually as well as in person. If you are joining virtually, please bring a ribbon (1-1.5” wide, and about 18” long) and a ballpoint pen. Recycled strips of fabric can make great ribbons. If you are joining in person, ritual supplies will be provided.

“We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” —Dr. Martin Luther King

Learn more at

Rae Abileah

Rae Abileah (she/they) is a social change strategist, facilitator, ritualist, and editor. She is the co-creator of the global Climate Ribbon art intervention, which was featured at the COP21 and subsequent UN Climate Summits. As a ritualist, Rae officiates life cycle ceremonies and Rae is a project lead and trainer at Beautiful Trouble, and consulted on digital strategy for social justice at ThoughtWorks, which informs her current work engaging agile tools for innovation and equity-centering practices at The Nature Conservancy’s Agility Lab. She founded CreateWell consultancy to support award-winning authors at the intersection of spirituality and social change to create impactful books, courses, albums, divination decks, and digital communications.

Rae is a contributing author to numerous books including Beautiful Trouble: A Toolbox for Revolution (O/R Press, 2012). She graduated from Barnard College at Columbia University with a dual degree in Environmental Science and Human Rights, received ordination by the Kohenet Institute, and was certified as a doula by BADT. She’s a first-generation American, and her Dutch and Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry informs her work toward dismantling racism. Rae is based in the San Francisco Bay Area on unceded Ramaytush Ohlone land. | @raeabileah