Guest Post: What the 2017 Eclipse Asks Us About Our Church Ministry, by Jennifer Secki Shields

Today’s guest post is by my friend and colleague, Jennifer Secki Shields. Jen was trained as a biologist, and was the long-term Director of Christian Education at Christ Crossman United Methodist Church in Virginia. More recently, she founded a new organization called Discovery and Faith which helps children and youth grow in their experience of God as they explore the world around them. Jen is also a member of the WesleyNexus Board of Directors, which is how we met.


I organized a viewing event for my Cub Scout Pack that was attended by ~75 friends and neighbors on the field behind our local elementary school. All of the school’s teachers came out, too. As the eclipse reached its maximum at 2:42 PM we could hear other groups cheering from their locations in our community. We added our chorus to theirs. For me, there is no question—that collective moment of awe and wonder was an act of worship, a joyous celebration of God’s creation!

It also is one more piece of evidence that tells us just how profoundly our culture is impacted by science. The AP is reporting that this eclipse was the most viewed and photographed of all time. Consider that many millions of Americans interrupted their busy lives to pause for this event. Millions even made roadtrips so that they could be in the path of totality. All of this, not just to witness an event described by science, but in complete trust that the scientists had accurately predicted the whole thing! And they had. You literally could have set your watch by this event. In my area, the eclipse began at 1:17 PM, and reached its maximum at 2:42 PM, exactly as predicted.

While all of this points to the power of science, this was clearly a spiritual experience for most viewers. This morning I heard a woman on the radio describe it this way, “It was like Christmas, but for only one time.” Another said, almost breathlessly, “I’ve never experienced anything like it.”

I left my viewing event singing to myself:

This is my Father’s world,
And to my list’ning ears
All nature sings, and round me rings
The music of the spheres.

Which leaves me wondering, did your church in any way acknowledge this historic moment in it’s Sunday worship services? In its children’s message or programming? In the pastor’s sermon? Did it seek to make a connection between scientific knowledge and biblical wisdom? Did we, the church, connect with our science-shaped culture? Or did we miss an opportunity to point to the living God?

The 2017 eclipse reaffirmed two things for me. First, that science is good at doing what science does, making accurate predictions and descriptions about the natural world—and the vast majority of Americans trust this. Second, that wonder—expressed by Christians and non-Christians alike—is alive and well. A church that seeks to be culturally relevant today will look for ways to engage positively with science so that it can bear more fruit for the kingdom of God.

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6 Responses to Guest Post: What the 2017 Eclipse Asks Us About Our Church Ministry, by Jennifer Secki Shields

  1. resonate47 says:

    This is an excellent post. It is so good to be reminded that the church does indeed need to engage with culture on a scientific level, most importantly because science is God’s creation. The eclipse didn’t interest me at first, but my mother correctly pointed out, in her great enthusiasm for it, that to witness it was to witness a miracle. It was awesome to see so many across the country stop the fighting for one afternoon and witness what was going on in the heavens. May we who worship Christ continually point out that His natural world is full of wonder, and let us worship Him for His faithfulness.

  2. I agree, Ethan. I also noticed that for one day, nobody was arguing about politics, but all were united in the glory of God’s universe and the power of science to understand it.

  3. Sy, you may like to know that some fascinating facts of this particular eclipse connect science with scripture.

    The two ratios, that of earth-moon : earth-sun distance and of comparative sizes of sun-moon being 1:400 relates to the numerical meaning (400) of the Hebrew letter ‘tav’. That this letter is especially significant may be grasped from two more facts:

    1) an original, archaic form of ‘tav’ is ‘X’ – the same shape as the superimposed tracks of the two total eclipses crossing the USA this year and in (biblical) seven years time!

    2) the meaning of letter ‘tav’ is ‘sign, mark, signal or monument’ – in other words: ‘take especial notice’!! (Genesis 1:14 refers to sun and moon as ‘signs’, which is Hebrew ‘owth’ meaning ‘signs and signals’)

    Details (with video-link) in my

  4. Jon Garvey says:

    I booked annual leave to see the last British total eclipse in 1999, and went with my pastor. Largely obscured by clouds but both a visceral and a spiritual experience. Unfortunately the next one here is not till 2090, by which time my eyesight may not be as good as it is…

    It’s perhaps ironic that it was the Babylonians three or four thousand years ago who did the science to predict eclipses, and they did so purely for religious reasons – to divine what the gods had decreed for future events on earth.

  5. We are having another one in 2024, so you will have to come over then. We will both still be as spry and ornery as we are now. (I hope). Didn’t Stonehenge have something to do with eclipse prediction as well, or has that been debunked?

    • Jon Garvey says:

      The winter solstice alignments of Stonehenge are incontrovertible, but the observatory theories seem to have gone out of fashion for the same reason the Bible code did – almost any pattern can be discerned with enough imagination. A shame, because I thought it was neat, as was the theory that the moat of Silbury Hill is the shape of one of those Venus figures, making the hill a fertility symbol.

      My own secret belief about Stonehenge (and other major megaliths) is that they had a roof. I saw a good case for that presented by an archaeologist with an engineering bent. But of course, any sign of wood or thatch would have disappeared millennia ago, so it’s as futile as my other pet theory that palaeolithic art was originally in glorious full colour with landscapes, foliage and everything, but it was all done in vegetable dyes so only the ochres and carbon remain.

      We seem to be on safer ground with the Babylonians and eclipses!

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