SARASOTA -- The effects of climate change are finding their way into the conversation among church congregations based on an initiative of Unitarian Universalists.
The Unitarian Universalist initiative called Commit2Respond asks people of faith to commit to take action to prevent climate change. Unitarian Universalist Church of Sarasota is answering that call with a series of workshops and a symposium this year.
Being good stewards of the environment is a biblical concept, repeated in many biblical stories.
"Religion has been involved in climate change for at least 3,000 years, dating to the story of Joseph and his coat of many colors," the Rev. Roger Fritts said. The pastor shared with his congregation the story of Joseph being asked to interpret the pharaoh's dream of having seven years of plenty and seven years of drought and being asked to be prepared.
"The scientists who warn us about climate change are the Josephs of our time. You need to pay attention to and follow their advice," Fritts said.
UCC is sponsoring a series of workshops and talks this year about climate change and bridging the conversation gap between religion and science about global warming.
A symposium, "Fire, Floods and Famine: What Can We Do About Cli
mate Change," will be from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. Feb. 11 at the church, 3975 Fruitville Road, featuring three experts on climate change. Panelists include David Hastings, professor of Marine Science and Chemistry at Eckerd College; Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida; and Linda Marsa, science journalist and author of the book, "Fevered: Why a Hotter Planet will Hurt our Health and How We Can Save Ourselves."
The symposium, including wine, soft drinks and dinner catered by Morton's Gourmet Market, costs $25. To order tickets, visit climatechange.uusarasota.org or call 941-371-4974.
In addition to the symposium, free workshops through March 29 are being organized by Lea Hall, Ph.D., co-founder of the Sarasota Network for Climate Action, climate activist, lay preacher for earth care, forest gardener, seasonal homesteader and certified permaculture designer.
Workshops will be on Sundays from 10:20-11:05 a.m. at the church. A full schedule can be found at uusarasota.org.
Being a church in Florida has heightened the importance of having the conversation, Fritts said, as studies have predicted a sea level change that could one day overtake Longboat and Lido keys.
Miami is the biggest city threatened from climate change and rising waters.
"The bigger issue of course is the danger of a major storm and that could devastate the whole area," Fritts said.
Mara, who's extensively covered climate change as a science journalist, sees the conversations being taken seriously in the faith community.
"Climate change is a social-justice issue at its core," Mara said in a phone interview from California. Mara said she has seen faith-based communities becoming a "potent force" because of how much climate change can affect the poor and disenfranchised.
The Sarasota church is still exploring ways it wants its congregation to commit to being good stewards of the environment, Fritts said.
The church has had a rain garden with bromeliads for the past 15 years that has helped conserve water and prevent run-off because the plants don't require fertilizer, said Diane Happy of Sarasota, who created and maintains the garden at the church.
Whatever the church and its members do, Fritts believes it's important for everyone to do their part.
"That's the role of religion, to look at the health of human beings and the health of the planet and be good stewards," he said.
Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.