Conversation Circles: Earth and Climate Chaplaincy

The BTS Center, in collaboration with the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab, offers four new opportunities for chaplains committed to working at the intersection of Earth, climate change, and spiritual care to be in ongoing conversation with one another, sharing experiences, offering support, and seeking inspiration for their ongoing work.

These Conversation Circles are open to chaplains who are seeking to engage with one another about the work of spiritual care in a supportive environment. We intend for these groups to offer support for personal well-being and community-building in the midst of all the ways in which long-held practices, worldviews, and intertwining crises — materialism, colonialism, racism, and radical individualism, to name just a few — have given rise to a climate-changed world where humans, disconnected from the sources of Earth’s sacredness and generativity, have created the conditions for Earth’s desecration and destruction. We welcome chaplains of all levels of experience, and particularly invite spiritual caregivers serving in settings where the effects of a climate-changed world are already being experienced.

Conversation Circles will be comprised of participants from diverse sectors and geographic locations, and are guided by two trained chaplain facilitators. Circles meet 12 times (every other week) over the course of 6 months. Sessions are offered on the Zoom video-conferencing platform.

The cost of the program is $300, with a limited number of half-scholarships available. Please contact Alison Cornish at alison@thebtscenter.org with any questions about scholarships or about this program. Learn more and register here.

Circle led by Gabrielle Gelderman and Rev. Stephen Blackmer

Wednesdays, 7:30 pm (Eastern) • February 28 – July 31, 2024

Circle led by Gabrielle Gelderman and Rev. Stephen Blackmer

Thursdays, 12:00 pm (Eastern) • February 29 – August 1, 2024

Circle led by Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner and Rev. Alison Cornish

Mondays 7:30 pm (Eastern) • February 26 – July 29, 2024

Circle led by Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner and Rev. Alison Cornish

Tuesdays, 11:00 am (Eastern) • February 27 – July 30, 2024

Facilitators

Rev. Alison Cornish in Shelburne Falls.

The Rev. Alison Cornish serves as a Program Consultant at the BTS Center. A Unitarian Universalist minister, Alison attended Andover Newton Theological Seminary in response to a felt sense of call directly from Earth to address what is it that we are doing in our daily lives and habits that is destroying the planet that we inhabit. Following CPE, field education in interfaith work and parish ministry, and ordination, and while serving congregations on Long Island, Alison also embarked on studies with the Buddhist teacher Joanna Macy and Dominican sister Miriam McGillis of Genesis Farm, and became a GreenFaith Fellow. She served as Senior Director of Programs at Partners for Sacred Places, Executive Director of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light, and Director of Seminary and Congregational Initiatives at Interfaith Philadelphia. Alison’s facilitation work includes offerings of the Work That Reconnects, training trainers for Civil Conversations, group practice of Nonviolent Communication, and teaching the curriculum “Healthy Congregations.” As a Program Consultant for the BTS Center, her work is focused on ecological and climate grief, religious imagination, and chaplaincy in a climate-changed world. Alison lives in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, on the unceded lands of the Nipmuc peoples, in the watershed of the Connecticut River.

GELDERMAN Gabrielle

Gabrielle Gelderman is a hospital and movement chaplain based on Treaty 6 territory in amiswaciwaskahikan / Edmonton, AB, Canada. Raised in a tight-knit setter community of Dutch Christian Reformed farmers, and a family of avid hikers, growing up, Gabrielle encountered God in the surrounding fields, mountains, and lakes of Alberta.

As a young adult, Gabrielle spent as much time outside as possible, working as a trip guide, park interpreter, and environmental educator. Her love of the land also led her in 2017 to become a co-founder and organizer with Climate Justice Edmonton, a grassroots, volunteer-led organization working for environmental, economic, and racial justice.

Eventually, Gabrielle decided to return to school to become a chaplain. In 2021, she completed her 2nd CPE unit and graduated with her MTS, writing her thesis on group healing and climate grief in young climate organizers. Since then, Gabrielle has offered 1:1 spiritual direction and facilitated regular, drop-in grief circles on the topic of climate and political grief.

In addition to her formal CPE chaplaincy training and her Master of Theological Studies, Gabrielle has training in the contemplative Christian tradition through The Living School, in the embodied healing tradition through Somatic Experiencing, and in movement chaplaincy through the Faith Matters Network.

She is excited about the emerging field of environmental chaplaincy and thrilled to support and learn from others doing similar work. You can learn more about Gabrielle’s work on her website gabriellegelderman.squarespace.com, and on her Instagram at @theclimatechaplain.

NITKIN-KANER Ora 400sq

Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner is the founder of Exploring Apocalypse, a non-denominational climate change chaplaincy practice. She holds space for her clients to tell the truth of this moment, and helps folks experiencing climate anxiety and despair access ease and purpose as they engage with climate change. In addition to her work with individuals, Ora teaches on intergenerational trauma’s role in climate anxiety, the moral injury of the climate crisis, and climate chaplaincy.

Prior to becoming a climate change chaplain, Ora served as rabbi of the Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation (Ann Arbor MI), an oncology and hospice chaplain at East Jefferson General Hospital (New Orleans LA), program manager of Resurrection After Exoneration (New Orleans LA), and a yoga and meditation teacher in Toronto and Philadelphia. A published liturgist, poet, and essayist, Ora is the recipient of numerous awards and scholarships, including an Ontario Graduate Scholarship and a Wexner Graduate Fellowship. Originally from Toronto, ON, she lives in New Haven CT with her partner Asa and their sweet dog Tuna.

BLACKMER Steve 400sq

The Rev. Stephen Blackmer is a lifelong forest guardian and advocate for Mother Earth. In 2014, he founded Church of the Woods in Canterbury, New Hampshire to love, heal, and bless the Earth and one another, and was a co-founder of the Wild Church Network. Before being ordained in the Episcopal Church, Steve served as organizer, coalition-builder, and advocate with the Northern Forest Center, Northern Forest Alliance, Appalachian Mountain Club, and Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. His work (along with hundreds of others) has led to permanent conservation of nearly 4 million acres (over 16,000 square kilometers) in the northeastern United States, and a growing movement for sustainable, vibrant human communities. He holds Master’s degrees in Forestry and in Religion and Ecology, both from Yale University, and a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from Dartmouth College. Steve lives as a solitary monastic in a beautiful off-the-grid chapel/monk’s cell, where in addition to offering spiritual support to humans who love and grieve for the land, he serves as chaplain to all creatures great and small on 106 acres (43 hectares) of sacred woods and wetlands at Church of the Woods. Steve’s emerging writing can be followed on Substack at Becoming Sacred Space.

Registration questions may be directed to Alison Cornish at alison@thebtscenter.org.

With roots dating back to 1814, The BTS Center is a private foundation in Portland, Maine, building on the legacy of the former Bangor Theological Seminary. Today The BTS Center seeks to catalyze spiritual imagination, with enduring wisdom, for transformative faith leadership. Guided by the vision of human hearts renewed, justice established, and creation restored, The BTS Center offers theologically grounded workshops and retreats, learning cohorts, courses, public conversations, and projects of applied research, all focused around spiritual leadership for a climate-changed world.

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