March 2016 Newsletter

In this Clergy Letter Project update, you’ll find the following five items:

  1. Embracing Diversity;
  2. Astrobiology News for March 2016:  Seeking Out Strange New Worlds;
  3. Science and Faith Videos;
  4. General Conference of the United Methodist Church; and
  5. Presbytery of the Cascades Endorses The Clergy Letter Project.

1.  Embracing Diversity

The Reverend Randall Tremba, Clergy Letter Project member and minister at Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church in Shepherdstown, WV, recently sent me the following note:

By happy coincidence (in wake of Evolution Weekend) I was invited to give a talk on "Embracing Diversity" to 30 some Appalachian Fruit Research Station scientists Feb. 23. I thought you’d appreciate the effort to let biologists/botanists know there are ministers and churches out there that celebrate evolution.

I thought that Randy’s talk was so very good that I’m sharing it with you. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did – and, given the response he received from his audience, as much as they did!


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2.  Astrobiology News for March 2016:  Seeking Out Strange New Worlds

In this month’s Astrobiology News, Clergy Letter Project consultant and Adler Planetarium astronomer Grace Wolf-Chase tells us about NASA’s search for planets.

In one of the most famous episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series, The City on the Edge of Forever, Captain Kirk strolls down a street in New York City circa 1930 with Edith Keeler, a woman on whom Earth’s future depends. He points to the leftmost star in Orion’s belt (Alnitak) and tells her that in about a hundred years a famous novelist native to a planet orbiting that star will write a classic on the theme “Let me help”(1). Time travel aside, imagine being able to point to a star visible to your unaided eye in the night sky and tell your neighbor – or your children – all about an Earth-like planet that orbits that star. That day may come sooner than you think!

Seven years ago this month, NASA’s Kepler observatory was launched into space. Its mission was to search for exoplanets, planets orbiting distant stars. That mission has resulted in the discovery and confirmation of over 1,000 exoplanets, with thousands of exoplanet candidates awaiting confirmation. Most of these orbit faint, distant stars; however, next year, NASA will launch an observatory whose mission is to search for exoplanets orbiting bright, “nearby” stars. Whereas Kepler observed stars as distant as 3,000 light years by “staring” at a relatively small patch of sky in the Milky Way (about the size of your hand at arm’s length, projected onto the sky), the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS)(2) will conduct a survey of stars to distances of about 200 light years across nearly the entire sky. I encourage you to check out the details of TESS’s design in Hunting for Exoplanets Via TESS(3).

Kepler’s goal was to gather statistics on numbers and types of exoplanets in order to help us understand the population as a whole. In contrast, TESS will monitor hundreds of thousands of bright, nearby stars during a 2-year mission. It is expected to catalog thousands of exoplanet candidates, including about 500 the size of Earth or slightly larger worlds known as “Super-Earths,” which haven’t had analogs in our Solar System (but see my January Astrobiology News article!). The proximity and brightness of the stars in the survey will make many follow-up observations possible, from the ground as well as from space. This will enable far more detailed studies of the properties of any discovered exoplanets. A technique known as transit spectroscopy can be used to infer the composition, and possibly the structure, of exoplanet atmospheres, by making observations across a range of different colors, or wavelengths, of light. This technique can tell us a lot about a planet’s potential habitability.

We may not be traveling to worlds outside our Solar System anytime soon, even neighboring worlds, but you can take a virtual voyage to any of the currently known exoplanets by downloading NASA’s Eyes on Exoplanets(4). This is a great visualization tool that accurately renders 3D space. You can find out how long it would take to travel to a given exoplanet using various modes of transportation, compare the orbits of these worlds with the orbits of planets in our Solar System, and seek out exoplanets in the “habitable zones” of their stars, where temperatures are right for liquid water to exist. Be forewarned – once you start playing with this tool you may be hooked!

By the way, Star Trek authorities have suggested that Mr. Spock’s home world, Vulcan, orbits a star a little over 16 light years away known as 40 Eridani A. Whether this star harbors actual exoplanets is not yet known, but may be in the near future! Under clear, dark-sky conditions (perhaps with the help of a star chart), you can locate this dim, naked-eye star about an hour west of the bright star Rigel in Orion. Rigel is easily visible in the western sky during evening hours before midnight in the early spring. By the time the new Star Trek movie comes out this summer, both stars will be lost in the glare of our Sun.

Clear Skies,


Grace Wolf-Chase, Ph.D. (


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3.  Science and Faith Videos

In addition to her Astrobiology News column this month, Grace Wolf-Chase sent me the following note asking Clergy Letter Project members and friends for help locating some science and faith videos for children. If you have any suggestions, I urge you to respond directly to Grace. Thanks very much.

I am delighted to be working with ELCA educator, Kim Eighmy, on a science & faith video to introduce Kim’s curriculum, Faith Intersections, to middle and high school youth. Although this curriculum will probably be most useful to mainline protestant traditions, we think it could be easily adapted to other Christian traditions and possibly serve as a model for other faiths seeking to produce similar products.

It would be extremely helpful to us if any of you know of any science & faith videos that have been developed for, or by, youth and could point us to the appropriate sites/resources. We welcome the good, the bad, and the ugly – it can be useful to learn how not to develop such a product, too! If you have suggestions, could you please email me at the address provided below?

Our goal is to develop something engaging and meaningful to young people, not just a bunch of talking heads and interviews with people who may be far removed from what connects with today’s youth. As the mother of three college-aged adults, I do know a little of what attracts this age group, although producing a science & faith video with the appeal of Rooster Teeth or StarKid might indeed be challenging!

Many thanks,


Grace Wolf-Chase, Ph.D. (


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4.  General Conference of the United Methodist Church

I received the following note about the upcoming UMC General Conference from long-time Clergy Letter Project friend Al Kuelling. He points out that there are a host of important resolutions concerning evolution that will be voted on at the General Conference. If you are a United Methodist, please follow his advice and contact your delegates.

The quadrennial General Conference (GC) of the United Methodist Church (UMC) will be held May 10-20, 2016 at the Oregon Convention Center. As usual, there are a ton of petitions to revise the law book, and other positions of the UMC. Some are good, some not so good.

I suggest that you put out a request to all Methodist clergy in the CLP to contact their Conference office to get a listing of their GC delegates, especially those serving on the “Church and Society 1” legislative committee. The way GP works is that the fate of each petition is pretty much decided by the legislative committee.

Methodist clergy and/or laity should request their delegates serving on the “Church and Society 1” legislative committee to “accept” these evolution friendly petitions:

     1) Petition Number: 60181-CA-R1027-G. God’s Creation and the Church. By adding website addresses, this petition renews UMC endorsement of The Clergy Letter Project for another eight years.

     2) Petition Number: 60677-CA-¶160.F-G. ¶ 160. I. THE NATURAL WORLD F) Science and Technology. This petition reorganizes the hodge-podge – arrived at through multiple revisions – into easily understood paragraphs with some improved verbiage. It also adds climate change.

     3) Petition Number: 60689-CA-¶164.C-G. Church and State Relations. This petition moves and strengthens an expiring Resolution from the Book of Resolutions to the Book of Discipline. It unambiguously puts the UMC on record as opposing legislation of creationism, intelligent design, or theistic evolution into science curricula or textbooks.

     4) Petition Number: 60207-CA-R5052-G. Readopt Resolution 5052 - Evolution and Intelligent Design - with no changes. If petition 60689 fails, this would prevent the current UMC rejection of legislation from expiring.

     5) Petition Number: 60842-CA-R9999-G. Evolutionary Scientific Thinking. This petition encourages that congregations be regularly exposed to realities and benefits of various scientific endeavors, especially evolution.

Methodist clergy and/or laity should request their delegates serving on the “Church and Society 1” legislative committee to “reject” these regressive petitions intended to keep literal interpretations of the Creation Stories, rather than metaphorical, thus rejecting scientific explanations of evolution:

     A) Petition Number: 60678-CA-¶160.F-G. Science and technology. This regressive petition removes UMC acceptance of evolution as not in conflict with theology.

     B) Petition Number: 60541-CA-R1027-G. This regressive petition removes UMC endorsement of The Clergy Letter Project.


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5.  Presbytery of the Cascades Endorses The Clergy Letter Project

I’m delighted to say that the Presbytery of the Cascades, a governing body that includes 101 Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations in the states of Washington, Oregon and even one in Northern California, has officially endorsed The Clergy Letter Project. You can read their strong letter of support here.


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As I close this month’s newsletter, I want to share a wonderful note that I received a few days ago from a newly ordained minister from Pennsylvania. He wrote, “Had my Ordination service yesterday and one of the first things I've wanted to do after my ordination was to sign on to the Clergy Letter Project.” I am confident that there are many more individuals like him who would be eager to join our ranks – if we could only reach them. Please select a colleague or friend and pass on this newsletter with a recommendation to join The Clergy Letter Project. With just a drop of effort, we can watch our numbers grow. As always, thank you for your continued support. Together we are making a difference.


Michael Zimmerman
Founder and Executive Director
The Clergy Letter Project