One Faith, Two Vocations Define Bergh’s PassionBy Margaret L. Farnham
During a leave from call a few years ago, Johan Bergh, ’81, turned his focus to an area near and dear to his heart: environmental sustainability. When he left People of Faith Lutheran Church in Winter Garden, Florida, after 25 years as their pastor, Bergh went to work as a research associate for a friend who is a Senior Scientist with Valent Biosciences Corporation, to explore “the green side” of agricultural production. He wanted to contribute in some way to the development of safe fertilizers and pesticides.
The career move was not unrealistic for Bergh, who earned his undergraduate degree in environmental interpretation from The Ohio State University. He once thought a job in natural resources would be his life’s work. “The experience at Valent ultimately gave me a whole new view on what we need in order to produce food in an ecologically sound manner,” he said.
While much is being said about the small, local gardener and local food production, he witnessed firsthand what was happening on a broader scale in agriculture and horticulture. “It is still possible in large productions to produce sustainable crops. The work being done in large-scale farming enterprises is important. Large-scale farms are producing foods in a way that is good for the environment and good for people,” he said.
While Bergh waded into this new water, he continued to serve as an interim pastor in the Florida-Bahamas Synod. He says the experience of balancing his new job and interim service also gave him insight into the rigors of bi-vocational ministry, a growing trend for some leaders in the church. “I was working close to fulltime, in addition to the interim work. I gained an appreciation for how hard that is and what bi-vocational ministry looks like,” he said.
During that time, he also recommitted himself to engaging congregations in the preservation of the earth and its resources. He entered and completed the GreenFaith Fellowship Program, part of the interfaith organization GreenFaith, which prepares religious leaders for earthkeeping leadership.
He ultimately decided to return to what he knows best – the church – and accepted a full-time call to St. Philip Lutheran Church in Mt. Dora, Florida. Bergh also is an ELCA Certified Coach, coaching rostered leaders and serving as the Florida-Bahamas Synod Coaching Ministry Coordinator, and on the ELCA Churchwide Coaching Leadership Team. During this time he connected with Lutherans Restoring Creation (LRC), a grassroots movement for earthkeeping in the ELCA, and now serves as the LRC Coach for ELCA congregations participating in the GreenFaith Certification Program.
Trinity recently became involved with GreenFaith in the GreenFaith Seminary Certification Program. Bergh sees his primary role as helping leaders think deeply about and act on matters of creation care and environmental justice. He does this by helping leaders discover their eco-theology. “They have to work out their own eco-theology, so they can speak out of their own authentic voice into their context. If you don’t have it worked through as a leader it is more difficult to have it fit your preaching and teaching,” he said.
Bergh’s eco-theology stems from a childhood spent outdoors, from his participation in the first Earth Day as a teenager in 1970, and from his undergraduate work in natural resources at OSU. He encourages leaders to explore their own “eco- autobiography,” to think about their experiences in the natural world and the people who have influenced them, as well as the sacred texts that speak to them. “That’s the theological piece for leaders,” he said. As an LRC Coach, he then helps them develop a program that addresses the three areas outlined in the GreenFaith Certification Program approach: 1) worship and education 2) stewardship practices that encompass facilities and resource management and 3) advocacy, both locally and globally.
Only a year and a half into his new call, he is practicing what he preaches by helping the members of his own congregation, St. Philip, discover and identify their core values, including matters of eco-justice. “As they continue to discuss and identify their core values, I intend to bring the environmental ethic concern into that dialog, so that it becomes a stated value,” he said.
He also returned to the Trinity campus this spring to share his experiences and expertise in an eco-justice event, “How Then Shall We Live? Manifesting Lives of Eco-Justice, Faith, and Love.”
In his presentation and workshop he encouraged participants to find their voice in matters of eco-justice. “It is important for us to have a conversation and speak from the heart,” he said. “We need to live out the mission of God…God does not need our justice and wholeness, but our neighbor and environment certainly do.”
Bergh finds himself in a laboratory of his own making, testing his own eco-theology and theories. “I know that congregations are where the action is.… When we in the congregation give language that will live out of our faith, people will get it. We have to get in touch with our faith, which is already an ‘earth language’,” he said.
Bergh is married to Janet, an Instructional Coach in the Orange County Public Schools (OCPS). Their oldest daughter, Katherine, is director of Global Corporate Citizenship for Boeing Aerospace and daughter Kelsey is a middle school math teacher in OCPS.