The laity’s turn in designing our futureThere are times when we lean on scientists to give us data for determining the best course of action and certainly times when theologians and pastors are able to reinvigorate our thinking. And then there is time for action from those in the pews.

From the prospective of faith and science, there perhaps hasn’t been a greater time of need for the work of laity. The challenge remains though in engaging the church-wide community in joining the complex and sometimes controversial discussion of what it means to the church in a society increasingly driven by science and technology.

The members of the Lutheran Alliance for Faith, Science and Technology know the challenge well and a fair number of them balance their work as pastors, scientists and active lay people in their contribution to the religion and science dialogue. Ida Hakkarinen (see this month’s features) is one such member, who has maintained a strong commitment as a lay leader within the church while she looks to the future in her daily work as a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

This month she shares with Covalence her story as a lay leader with a scientific background as well as her hopes for the future work of her colleagues on the Alliance, which is the independent Lutheran organization responsible for this online news bulletin. Vocation and faith have no need to be separate endeavors. And one of the strengths of the ELCA is that so many leaders, educators and people in the pews also have scientific backgrounds that we as a church have a real opportunity to enrich knowledge and encourage faith through creating and embracing discussions related to the church’s role in our world as well as exploring how scientific knowledge may deepen a view and awe of creation.

There are a number of ways that lay people can become leaders within the church, without earning a seminary degree. Different lay leadership or theological programs have existed for some time in many congregations, seminaries, synods, the Churchwide Organization and other ministry sites to train lay leaders within the church. One example is the Diakonia program offered by the Metro Chicago Synod. Whether it is leading a local congregation’s adult education series or taking a more active role in developing new ministries within the church, individuals who go through this rigorous two-year process can come away with a new sense of understanding and mission. Perhaps programs similar to Diakonia need to be formed with scientific and technical focus as a joint clergy and laity-led project. This type of effort could help provide education and create broader dialogue about how a scientifically informed person of faith can provide a positive impact on society.

For now we are privileged as a community of faith to have access to public forums on faith and science like the AAAS’ Family Science Days (see this month’s Calendar) that suggest a promising broad effort to pique the interest of the non-academic public in the role science plays in everyday life and how best to understand how new discoveries may make their presence felt in the world.

Another encouraging new initiative to grow the faith and science dialogue involves seminaries that kick off new programs this year, thanks to AAAS (see this month’s News section). If more laity and new pastors have a broader idea of what scientists do and how science works, a new vision for the church laity may just have an easier time emerging.

Susan Barreto

Susan Barreto

Susan is an author with a long-time interest in religion and science. She currently edits Covalence, the Lutheran Alliance for Faith, Science and Technology’s online magazine. She has written articles in The Lutheran and the Zygon Center for Religion and Science newsletter. Susan is a board member for the Center for Advanced Study of Religion and Science, the supporting organization for the Zygon Center and the Zygon Journal. She also co-wrote Our Bodies Are Selves with Dr. Philip Hefner and Dr. Ann Pederson.

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