Weathering the Storm: from a Religion & Science Perspective
Written by Drew Rick-Miller
By the time this reaches your inbox, we should still be relatively dry and may only be starting to understand what Florence has in store for us. In any case, please be careful. You know my passion for science as it relates to faith, theology and the church – I had intended this newsletter to say a bit about what I have been up to the past year or so. Instead, it became Florence week and I was initiated into hurricane prep – I think it was the 5th store before we found water and that Costco trip Monday was national news worthy (literally, I think I saw clips from our Costco that day on CNN). So I want to do some science and faith, but with an emphasis on ministry, specifically, how the church responds and supports not only its members but its communities in a natural disaster.
Much of this work – at least that which I am most familiar with – comes from Jamie Aten, a psychologist at Wheaton College. Jamie has experienced disaster in several forms – Hurricane Katrina and a battle with stage 4 colon cancer – and it is has been the subject of most of his psychological research. As a man of faith, his work is deeply informed by his belief in and his love of the church. That love has led to numerous resources for churches on how to respond to disaster: the need for good communication; how to navigate federal resources for churches devastated by disaster; and, based on one of his many studies, how churches should prepare for natural disaster.
Aten’s work also looks at our biological reactions to disaster and the importance of resilience and the ways we can cultivate it. Of course, Aten is not the only scientists doing this sort of work. There are guides from the American Psychological Association and lots of researchers studying resilience. And FEMA and many other disaster relief organizations have guides for facing natural disasters. What makes Aten’s work so unique in my mind is the link to faith and ministry. He literally wrote the book on it.
The good news is that if you are able to click these links, Florence has not yet knocked out your power. So let me also tackle that other subject I had intended for this entry – my passion for engaging science in faith and ministry and the life of the church. Over the past 6 months, I have been busy evaluating a program called Scientists in Congregations – 37 churches received grants where a pastor/scientist team designed a program uniquely for their ministry. Over the past 18 months, I have been identifying resources in support of a similar program, but one that targets college students and young adults called, Science and Theology for Emerging Adult Ministries (STEAM). My work here includes a weekly newsletter, called eSTEAM, and daily postings of relevant content from the internet on Facebook (those now appear mainly on the Scientists in Congregations Facebook page). The third major project I’ve been working on is Science for Seminaries – building more capacity to engage science in the next generation of church leaders.
The goal of all this work is to begin to change the narrative that science is a threat to faith, or somehow supersedes it, and begin to craft a new narrative that God can be revealed through nature and science can actually be beneficial to the life of faith and ministry. You saw this in the reading from the book of nature Dr. Melanie Tew offered last year when I preached on neuroplasticity and spiritual disciplines. You also saw it again earlier this year when I offered in this newsletter summaries of scientific research on the same virtues Katherine addressed in her Lenten sermon series.
You might think from these examples – or the handful of Haasis programs I have led on science-related topics – that science is only relevant to preaching and education in the life of the church. That is simply not true. It is relevant to many aspects of ministry, not least of which is in how we handle disasters (as exemplified by Aten’s work). You know – because many of you have participated in this work – churches are often on the frontlines meeting the needs of victims of natural disaster. And the local church is often the last one continuing to serve those needs after the emergency workers have left. Faith is also often a source of resilience for these same victims. And there is relevant science to inform us and help us do better in the face of disaster.
So if the power stays on, and you have had a chance to read all the good things about Aten, but need some more faith and science materials for a rainy September weekend, sign up for eSTEAM, read through the archives, or visit the Facebook page. If Florence is really bad, it is my hope that some of those earlier links can help us in the recovery. In any case, the prayers of the Rick-Millers will be with you all, and we know your prayers are with us. With God’s grace and the support of the Body of Christ, together, we will weather this storm.