My interest in caring for creation did not start in the church but rather at a program I attended as a teen at Cornell University. It was part of a family program, and the teenagers spent the week with one of the Ecology professors. I will never forget flushing red dye down a toilet and then going to see that red dye flow out into a tributary of Cayuga Lake. It took me years to make the connection that faith, and not just facts, calls us to care for the environment. Had I known about programs for young adults that explored the intersectionality of faith and caring for the environment, my faith journey may have evolved very differently.
In this issue of EARTH we are highlighting one such program that is supported by Presbyterians for Earth Care, The Eco-Stewards Program. We have information about this year’s program in June, in Richmond, Virginia, an article by Becky Evans, who is part of the program’s leadership, and some reflections by Eco-Stewards on their experiences in previous programs.
If you are a young adult with interest in the intersection of faith and environment in a particular place, or you know a young adult who may be interested, please share this edition of EARTH. It will be a rewarding experience.
It is a pleasure to announce that this month’s EARTHKeeper is EARTH’s co-editor, abby mohaupt.
Sue Smith, co-editor of EARTH.
With the 2017 Eco-Stewards Richmond trip in only months away, we went back to the Eco-Stewards blog to share participants’ reflections of their week spent with the Eco-Stewards Program. Below are a couple highlights. To find out more about this year’s program, “Water is Life: journeying Toward Justice on the James River” check out their blog here.
Alex Haney, 2015 Seattle Eco-Steward
Six months ago, I was wonderfully privileged to join the Eco Stewards Seattle Program. Gifted with just a week among fellow young, ambitious, passionate Eco-Stewards I gained more than enough zeal and love of God, God’s people, and God’s natural world to empower my faith for years to come. It was worth the long trip for simply the fellowship and study of Pope Francis’ encyclical Ladauto Si. In addition to spending time with Josh, Ashley, Kathleen, Vickie, Kelsey, Melissa, Caroline, Liz, Becky, Rowen, Rob and Dawn, we spent time with several Seattle-based environmental activist groups, including the Sightline Institute and the Backbone Campaign, who are fighting fossil fuel extraction, transport and export activities in the Pacific Northwest.
Jake Lawlor, 2014 Gainesville Eco-Steward
This program both introduced me to loads of new people, experiences, and opportunities, and also helped me more fully conceptualize the true connection of food and faith. Furthermore, the broader connection of people and place. Connections like these will become increasingly important in coming years considering obstacles like urbanization, water shortages, and climate change. This one week spent analyzing food systems in Northern Florida won’t save it all, but it’s certainly a place to start.
Colleen Earp, 2014 Gainesville Eco-Steward
It was a really amazing week to come together with other people interested in the relationship between faith and environmental work. As we all reflected on how awesome the Eco-Stewards Program was, and how good it was to connect with this sort of building-less church that the program has created, it came up that these kinds of great experiences kind of carry us for a while. A week like this is fleeting, but so deeply moving. And in the face of the church being a complicated place for many young adults, it’s kind of important to find these beautiful things to sustain us while we sort out the tough stuff and figure it out for ourselves.
Nina Spengler, 2013 Portland Eco-Steward
Needless to say, the entire week was a loaded adventure. Riding bikes in “pods” allowed us to group up and take different courses to get to our destinations. That is how we all got to Eco-Stewards in the first place; our different journeys led us to Portland to be together for a week and sent us out with a renewed mind and a story to share. Eco-Stewards allowed me to delve into the lives of others, live in a community living for a purpose, and form strong relationships. It is surprising that we felt so unified in a week’s time.
Vickie Machado, 2011 Montana, 2012 Boston, and 2013 Portland Eco-Steward
I found Eco-Stewards Portland to be a breath of fresh air in a world that tends to place faith and environmental issues in two separate categories. During the week, I experienced first hand these two aspects of life break away from their boxes and amalgamate into the realm of the Columbia River Watershed. We packed a LOT into our week: meeting with a coffee roaster who delivers all of his beans on bike, a visit to Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) to talk about sustainability, weeding garden beds at Zenger Farms, talks on gentrification and issues of race, pulling invasive ivy inside the country’s largest urban, forested park, a full day of biking, dinner with our hosts, the Earth Care congregates of First Presbyterian Church of Portland, chats with co-housing groups and a meditating labyrinth walk at Menucha Camp & Conference Center, just to name a few. It was through these adventures (which took us all over Portland) that I recognized how individuals and the groups we met manifested their respect for the earth and our Creator in distinct ways. They fulfilled their own ecological niche, acting as stewards of their area and care-givers to the people around them.
Kathi Pogorelov, 2011 Montana Eco-Steward
As our mission in Montana strengthened thanks to a shared ideology (and love of farm food!), we unexpectedly began to form our very own ‘social ecosphere’. Similar to the community of the Crow Reservation, we too created a ‘tribal family’ during our time spent together. Congregating into circles, storytelling, gathering over hearty meals, car drive conversations and other bonding events were among the many activities that revealed the group’s great synergy. In effect, a ‘safe place’ between Eco-Stewards had been birthed into existence. By fostering a nourishing environment of acceptance, openness, mutual care and support, we had effectively planted the seeds for a tribe of gardeners. Our united knowledge and interactive collaboration had grown into something beyond ourselves, nurturing and empowering us in ways that could not have been accomplished alone. Each one of us, with our natural light, had burned a hole into an otherwise ordinary slab of wood, etching a piece of art that only Crow portrait artist Jon Beartusk could challenge.
Gerard Miller, 2011 Montana Eco-Steward
Looking back on our week of active learning in Eastern Montana, the one thing that comes to mind as a theme, or overarching idea, is the voice. All week, we sat or stood in conversation with one another, sharing our ideas of God and the world and lending our personal insights to each other’s queries and assertions. This was most true on Saturday, our second day at Greenwood Farm in Hardin. We had gone to sleep the night before under a clear, star-strewn sky like nothing I’d ever seen. Gathered around the campfire, we’d lifted our voices in song, submitting our favorites as requests to be sung by the group. The songs we chose told something about each of us, and about what we thought of the group. It was a great time for fellowship, with any lingering nervousness or anxiety covered by the inky blackness that surrounded the dancing flames.
Explorations and Connections of Eco-Stewards
by Becky Evans
Seven years ago, I found myself singing and driving the “country roads” of West Virginia in the company of eight inspiring young adults whose deep faith and love for Creation led them on a week-long Eco-Stewards Program adventure exploring the complex issue of mountaintop removal coal mining. In each mountain hollow, we found tight-knit communities who welcomed us with Christian hospitality, good music and rich stories of living with and from the land in southern Appalachia. As a group, we shared our own stories of family, faith, environmental stewardship and vocational discernment while sitting around picnic tables and campfires or riding in passenger vans and whitewater rafts. My role as The Eco-Stewards Program’s multimedia storytelling coach quickly morphed into that of mentor, friend, and even peer.
The conversations and connections started on those country roads in West Virginia (and later in Massachusetts, Vermont, Florida, Montana, Oregon and Washington) continue today through texts, Facebook messages, blog posts and Christmas cards—and they are a huge part of why I continue to serve as a volunteer on The Eco-Stewards Program Leadership Team. Our experiential education model connects young adults who care about faith and environmental stewardship and inspires them through the stories of Christian communities around the country who are acting in faith to defend Creation. Our growing diaspora of Eco-Stewards alumni fills me with hope as I watch how their learning from these place-based experiences shapes their thinking, spirituality, and vocational discernment. It’s even shaped my own vocational thinking: I’m taking a break from the hallowed halls of academia to visit farms and food pantries as a Food Justice Educator for the Boston Food Justice Young Adult Volunteer Program.
Becky W. Evans is an environmental journalist, educator and ESOL teacher who enjoys mentoring young adults through experiential education. She lives in Boston with her toddler son, Rowen, and Presbyterian pastor husband, Rev. Rob Mark.
EARTH Keeper: abby mohaupt
by Sue Smith
It is a season of awards for EARTH’s co-editor, abby mohaupt. She is the recipient of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship’s 2017 Peaceseeker Award for her “Prophetic & Pastoral Leadership for Creation Care.” And this month she is Presbyterians for Earth Care’s EARTH-Keeper, which highlights an individual who is an eco-justice advocate and who has done something extraordinary for God’s creation. The Peace Fellowship article announcing the award does an excellent job of telling the story leading up to abby becoming the moderator of Fossil Free PCUSA.
abby and I spoke about the next few months of work for Fossil Free PCUSA. Central to that vision is her commitment to working for divestment of individuals, congregations, and middle governing bodies as a witness to the need for the denomination to categorically divest from the fossil fuel industry. Additionally, she's interested in how to continue to build relationships with Mission Responsibility Through Investments (MRTI) and Faithful Alternatives to best serve God’s creation.
But more importantly, how does caring for God’s creation grow as a touchstone in the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA)?
Right now there are a number of already existing opportunities: urging churches to be Earth Care Congregations, advocating fossil fuel divestment at all levels of the church, and recommending investment in the Presbyterian Foundation’s socially responsible fossil free investment option and the Board of Pensions’ fossil free option for retirement accounts. These last two options are a direct result of the divestment movement in the church.
abby recently co-convened (with Timothy Wotring and James Martin) a cohort of young adults from around the US and Mexico at Stony Point to talk about the state of the Presbyterian Church and Climate Change. It was also an opportunity for the participants to connect with the work of the Peace Fellowship and Presbyterians for Earth Care, and as the emerging leadership of the church, connecting with each other. The gathering was one part history of environmental leadership in the church, another part state of climate change science, and a lot the brainstorming about what the participants wanted to see in the denomination going forward and what actions they were willing to take.
photo on left is abby with Colleen Earp, an Eco-Steward and member of PPF's Activist Council. on right, abby is with Katie Preston, a member of the EARTH committee and FFPCUSA Steering Committee
At the gathering they wrestled with how much more the church could be doing. The conversation was unapologetic in it's exploration of poverty, race, gender, and immigration as intersecting issues with climate change. Participants wondered how the church can be a prophetic witness in the face of environmental injustice and systems of oppression, and they committed to spending the next few months taking action to move the PCUSA in prophetic ways.
It is an honor for me to work with abby on EARTH and other creation care efforts. I am excited by the vision that abby has for this work, and to know that she is leading this generation of earth care activists in helping all of us be the church of Jesus Christ.
Sue Smith is co-editor of EARTH.
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