Eco-Stewardship as Watershed Discipleship

August 1, 2014

By Vickie Machado


Entrance to Wild Goose Festival 2014.

In June, I was blessed to be in the presence of a troupe of magical carnival folk, a high desert wilderness priest from Taos, a watershed pioneer from California, a food justice activist with a contemplative soul and a lion’s roar from  PC(USA), and a mindful Catholic Worker from Gainesville. They are all part of the gaggle of goosers—my community of the Wild Goose Festival. This is my third year attending the Goose, and it continues to get better and better as I see familiar faces, meet new friends, and engage in thoughtful conversations about life, God, nature and society.

I made this pilgrimage as a contributor to the festival, meaning I had the upmost pleasure to be part of a workshop (Decolonize Your Mind First) and a panel discussion (Watershed Discipleship). While the issues of Food Justice embedded within Decolonize Your Mind First evoked memories of Gainesville’s Eco-Stewards Program, it was the panel on Watershed Discipleship that opened my eyes to the purpose and importance of the Eco-Stewards Program.


Folks gather at the Decolonize Your Mind First workshop.


Watershed Discipleship Panel

Created by visionary theologian Ched Myers, Watershed Discipleship is a bioregional approach to faith, which grounds our actions in our watersheds. With the reality of climate change, this movement realizes we are entering a “watershed moment that demands serious, sustained engagement from Christians.” We are called to care for creation as we recognize:

We won’t save places we don’t love

We can’t love place we don’t know

And we don’t know places we haven’t learned

Having studied bioregionalism, the notion of placing ourselves in a bioregion, watershed or ecotone, not only made sense to me but it seemed like a natural course of action. Of course, shaping our lives according to – or at least being mindful of – our natural environment is the most sustainable way to live. Not only is it more sustainable, but there is a certain fruitfulness that comes with it.

It is because of our call to care for creation that I see the importance of place-based programs such as Eco-Stewards. Our cultivation of how to learn, know and love places, not only aids our ability to save them, but it also provides ourselves with a spiritual foundation on which to connect to a place. It promotes ‘being’ and presence in a placeless society. In the past four Eco-Stewards’ trips, learning and experiencing how others care for their land has prompted me to further learn how and what I might do to care for my own region. We have been blessed with this Earth, it is up to us to care for it one watershed at a time.

Eco-Steward Reflection: “…like the manatees…”

June 11, 2014

By Colleen Earp

Eco-Steward Colleen Earp biking through Gainesville

Eco-Steward Colleen Earp biking through Gainesville

I’ve had a few weeks to reflect on the time I spent in Gainesville, so I’m really excited to share some of our adventures! I don’t know where to begin.

We toured a beautiful organic farman incubator kitchen, talked with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers about fair labor conditions for farm workers, went to some really great coffee shops, and visited a ton of incredible places: Payne’s Prairiea community garden where you pick and you pay what you can, a farm to school program, a farmer’s marketthe Gainesville Catholic Workera microfarm, and a church yard community garden, biked 20 miles to the Alachua Conservation Trust to tour Forage Farm and talk about water issues with the Florida Springs Institute. We ate amazing local foods and learned about the connections between all of these places. There is some beautiful work going on in Gainesville, feeding the hungry and loving the earth. To top it all off, we hiked the Devil’s Millhopper and tubed the Ichetucknee. I’m sure I’m forgetting a few stops but it was a week of constantly amazing things.

And, of course, I would be remiss not to mention that tubing the Ichetucknee lead to swimming alongside manatees as they moved up the beautifully clear spring-fed river. Yep, I just dove in and swam beside these two incredibly beautiful creatures.

Keeping up with them is a lot harder than I would have guessed. They’re so big and slow and graceful, but also very strong. We floated so slowly down the river that I was surprised how hard it was to swim upstream. I was also just a little bit excited, so holding my breath long enough to be underwater, take pictures, and kick frantically without scaring the manatees was a challenge.


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.

While deep in the throes of that conversation, Rev. Rob Mark, one of the trip leaders, piped in, “…like the manatees…” Yes, exactly like the manatees. So incredibly beautiful, and only with us for a very short time, but I think about it every day. Not just manatees. The whole week of connecting with the great things going on in Gainesville and the church.

Will that excitement wear off? Perhaps, just like the manatees kept swimming away up that clear, cool spring. But it leaves me with a sense of hope in what I am doing, and encourages me to keep seeking out the church in the world like this.

Greetings from Eco-Stewards Gainesville

May 28, 2014

Our Eco-Stewards Gainesville trip wrapped up Saturday morning. We had a blast exploring the local food and watershed of North Central Florida. Our journey took us all over the city and into the surrounding area. This is a photo of our group at the geological state park known as Devil’s Millhopper. Thank you so much for your prayers and support. Stay tuned for more photos and reflections on our week together.


Start the Countdown for the Sunshine State!

May 13, 2014


We are days away from Eco-Stewards Gainesville,  Food & Faith: Uniting Together in Southern Foodshed. Our program will take us to Swallowtail Farm, Forage Farm, the Gainesville Catholic Worker, and down the Ichetucknee River, among a collection of other local places. These places, as well as the local people, will be our teachers during our time in Gainesville.  As we finish filling in the last minute details, we wanted to take take the opportunity to introduce this year’s 2014 Eco-Stewards and program leaders. Please keep this talented group in your prayers during the week of May 18-24. And stay tuned to the blog that week for updates from the field!

2014 Eco-Stewards:

Audrey Holt, 23, is a PC(USA) Young Adult Volunteer currently based in Boston, where she works on food justice issues. Her work with a PC(USA) and United Church of Christ (UCC) congregation and a nonprofit community day shelter for women deals with issues surrounding food systems, access and waste. “Just as my family, food, and home were a gift, so is this giant planet. I am thankful for what it provides and therefore I feel the need to preserve it.” With roots in Kansas and the Baptist tradition, Audrey enjoys writing and reflecting with others as well as pie baking and homemade noodle making.


Colleen Earp, 28, is currently in New Orleans serving as a PC(USA) Young Adult Volunteer. She acts as Wetlands Advocate, which involves education, raising awareness, and actively practicing conservation through planting and monitoring vegetation. She recently attended PEC’s national gathering at Ferncliff.  “The world is too beautiful and perfect to have happened by accident. It’s very easy for me to see God in a big old tree, in billions of grains of sand on a beach, in a stunning sunrise or a dreary weather pattern.” Colleen holds a B.A. and M.S. in Geography, focused on the physical environment and human-environment interactions. She worked for many years at a Presbyterian camp, enabling youth and adults to interact with creation physically and spiritually.


Chelsea Guenther Benhem, 25, is currently a student at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, where she coordinates the campus’s community garden. Chelsea is interested in the spiritual aspects of gardening. “I think that gardening is an opportunity to help the church develop embodied learning that connects God, self, and creation. Gardening cultivates joy, care and attention.” She also serves as an intern at Crescent Hill Presbyterian (USA) Church in Louisville.


Jake Lawlor, 21, is a student at the University of Texas, studying Environmental Science with a focus in Biology. He spent a summer studying sustainability in Northern Tanzania and works as a program director at Camp Fire after school programs. This summer Jake will be founding the Environmental Stewardship Program at John Knox Ranch, a Presbyterian Church (USA) summer camp in Central Texas. “I find the best places to worship are outside in God’s creation.” He also enjoys volunteering with Austin Parks Foundation, Pease Park Conservancy, and Texas Adopt-A-Creek


Anna Mullen, 24, is a student at Harvard Divinity School, where she is currently pursuing a Master of Divinity degree with a personal focus on environmental ethics and eco-theologies. Anna, who is affiliated with the United Methodist Church, is also the manager of the Harvard Divinity School Garden and a Field Education Intern at Peace Lutheran Church. “I am particularly excited about the prospect of participating in this program because of its focus on the interconnectedness of food, water, faith communities, and environmental, as well as economic, justice.” Anna also spent a year as a full-time residential volunteer at the Heifer International Learning Center at Overlook Farm in Rutland, MA.


Jess Rigel, 30, is a PC(USA) Young Adult Volunteer in New Orleans where she works as a community gardener. She first became passionate about eco-stewardship while serving as a YAV in Cascabel, Arizona. “Through my love of food and community gardening, I’ve realized that it’s impossible to respond to Jesus’ call to feed his sheep without making sure the land on which we grow our food is first provided for.”



Rev. Rob Mark serves as pastor of Church of the Covenant (PCUSA and UCC) in Boston, MA. He also serves as co-coordinator of the Eco-Stewards Program ( Rob grew up in the Boston area, the youngest of four children, with a Baptist father and a Presbyterian mother. In 1993, while living and working in a poor community in South Africa, he first felt a call toward ministry, a yearning to pursue peace and justice in the light of faith. He chose a Christian college (Wheaton in Illinois) and pursued the study of geology and international development, spending his summers leading youth trips to the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana. After graduation, he worked as a youth minister, coordinated a sister church partnership in Uganda, and then became a project administrator for a biodiversity and sustainable forestry firm. But the call to fulltime ordained ministry finally sent him to seminary, completing his Master of Divinity degree at Boston University in 2005. He was ordained to the Presbyterian Ministry of Word and Sacrament in 2006 to serve Camp Wilmot in NH. In 2011 he was called by the Congregation of Church of the Covenant to be their pastor. From 2007-2011, he was the designated co-pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Waltham, and since 2008 the assistant chaplain and McDonald Fellow at The Memorial Church at Harvard University. From 2005-2008, he was Executive Director of the Waltham Community Day Center for the homeless and low-income community.

Rev. Liz Leavitt serves as the Interim Minister at Westminster Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) an earth care congregation in Eugene, Oregon. She loves being a Northwesterner where a beautiful natural environment and serious and sustained efforts at environmental stewardship are joined to create a great place to live. Liz loves growing, preserving and enjoying foods of all kinds and lives on a small suburban plot where a veggie garden, chickens and bees keep her busy and well-fed. She also loves cycling, craft roasted coffee and her other life companions: husband Jason, dog Roxy and two cats.



From South Florida, Vickie Machado is the Florida Organizer for Food & Water Watch, where she works on keeping fracking out of Florida and the campaign to label genetically engineered foods. In May 2013, she received her Masters of Arts in Religion and Nature from the University of Florida focusing her studies on sustainability, bioregionalism, the Catholic Worker Movement, and the confluence of environmentalism, social justice, and faith. From 2011-2013, Vickie lived and worked at the Gainesville Catholic Worker, learning to further cultivate her understanding of what it means to live locally and simply. She participated in the 2011, 2012, and 2013 Eco-Steward trips.

Daniel Loya of Winter Haven, Florida is the Ministries Coordinator of the Gainesville Catholic Worker House, an intentional, live-in community of students, formerly homeless men and women, and others. He has been involved with the Gainesville Catholic Worker since 2010. Daniel was also a participant in the 2013 Eco-Stewards program in Portland. His passions outside of work include sustainable soccer, permaculture, and the Emergent Church Movement.


PC(USA) Representative:

Rebecca Barnes, has been the Associate for Environmental Ministries for the Presbyterian Church (USA) since December 2011. Particularly she oversees the national PC(USA) certification program for Earth Care Congregations, coordinates the volunteer local leadership network called the Environmental Ministries Action Network, and works to help Presbyterians connect their Christian discipleship to ecological, economic and global justice concerns. Rebecca is a graduate of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary where she earned a Masters of Divinity and a Masters of Art in Religion in 2011, with a thesis titled: “A Fuller Experience of God’s Grace: How the Sacraments Invite Us to Relationship with, and Care for, the Earth.” While in seminary, she authored “50 Ways to Help Save the Earth: How You and Your Church Can Help Make a Difference.” In her local community, Rebecca also organizes the Eco-Justice Worship Collective, an initiative to create dynamic, ecumenical, inclusive worship spaces to engage in eco-justice concerns. She likes reading, writing, yoga, art, dancing, and playing imaginary games with her two children.


Communications Coordinator:

Becky W. Evans lives in Boston, Mass. with her husband, Rob Mark, and newborn son. She is an environmental journalist and educator who teaches writing and communication courses to international graduate students at Boston University and undergraduate students at Lasell College. She recently earned a master’s degree in Teaching English as a Second Language and teaches ESOL classes for adult immigrants. She helps edit the Eco-Stewards Program blog and annual multimedia slideshows.

Oscar-Worthy Portland Slideshow

March 2, 2014

Our multimedia slideshow of the 2013 Portland Eco-Stewards Program is being released just in time for tonight’s Academy Awards. We hope you will enjoy this 10-minute look at the people and communities we met last June as we explored the theme Connectional Living as Creative Response during our Portland, Oregon Program. And please spread the word that March 15 is the new deadline to apply for our 2014 Eco-Stewards Program in Gainesville, Florida: Food and Faith, Uniting Together in a Southern Foodshed. Join us in May as we examine how the community of Gainesville utilizes its surrounding natural resources to build life-giving, meaningful relationships. Our time will focus primarily on the interconnected food and water webs of North Central Florida.

Eco-Steward Reflection: Pondering Portlandia

January 22, 2014

by Nina Spengler (Portland ’13)

ninanarrowIt is 2014 and I am still reflecting on my time at the 2013 Eco-Stewards Program in Portland, OR.   The theme: Connectional Urban Living as Creative Response.  It was an experience that goes down as one of the best weeks of 2013 in my book.  I find my reflection easiest to explain by starting somewhere at the end.  The last night of our time together we talked about our “Eco-Faith Journeys”.  My journey was what brought me to Eco-Stewards in the first place.  It took meeting Scott Crane at the 2012 PCCCA Annual Conference and then Vickie Machado at the Compassion, Peace, and Justice Conference in 2013 to fully move me to apply for the program—apply the last possible day that is.  After much prayer and hope and asking off a week from work I heard back from Rob that I was indeed able to get a scholarship to attend.  It was a beautiful feeling to know that God had set all these people in my life to urge me on.

After arriving in Portland and meeting everyone I was impressed by the diversity of interests in our group and our shared core beliefs.  We all loved God, justice, the environment, and food.

The week was planned immaculately.  There was a lot to do and our schedule was packed!  That said we learned, to the best of our ability, how to manage our group and get to places as “on time” as possible.  Sometimes we were late but grace was always shown to us.  It was hard to pull away from one experience and rush off to the new one.  Sometimes the conversations were just too good and sometimes we couldn’t catch the bus or there was a flat bike tire.  The hospitality we were shown was beautiful; I think it was exactly what we were searching for in our connectional urban living.


It’s hard to articulate my favorite day or speaker.  Visiting the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) was a day that drew in many influences of our theme that week.  They had an incredible exhibit that talked about what sustainability really was and the factors that influenced it:  Environment, Society, and Economy.  These three pillars are the forces that drive sustainability.  If it’s good for the environment and society but not economically viable then it isn’t sustainable.  During our discussion, Kyrie Kellett, the exhibit developer, told us that a new roof would help offset the carbon footprint of OMSI.  They were, however, putting this new roof addition on hold for about five years because the roof they currently had still had life in it.  To take it down now and replace it with a new one would not be environmentally or economically wise, therefore would not be sustainable at that time.

Going back to the exhibit itself—there were many interactive displays that were set up for kids (and us of course) to get some hands-on learning accomplished.  The displays were decorated with reused materials like salvaged cabinet doors that were painted in bright colors.  What I appreciated most about the exhibit was that the signage was translated into Spanish. Kyrie told us that they worked with a translator to make sure that everything made sense to the many Spanish-speaking parents who visited with their  children.  She brought up the fact that many kids know English and end up translating the info to their parents.  This puts their parents at a disadvantage of depending on their children to relay the information and feeling a bit out of place—being lost in translation.  This entire exhibit being offered in both English and Spanish allowed freedom of exploration for everyone.  In my view, it offered a sense of inclusion for as many people as possible.  When you are looking to be sustainable you need to be connected with others and a big part of that is being able to communicate in way that everyone can understand.

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.

Four months after leaving Portland, I got the chance to visit a friend in Tallahassee, FL.  The cheapest flight was to Clearwater, FL.  What did I do?  Why I drove halfway to Gainesville, FL and got to see not one but two of my Eco-Steward family members!  I arrived rather late after tons of traffic to hugs, a delightful welcome, and a delicious meal cooked by Daniel Loya (Portland ’13) and Vickie Machado (Montana ’11, Vermont ’12, Portland ’13).  I got the opportunity to stay in the Gainesville Catholic Worker House and learn more about the Catholic Worker Movement.  Friday morning we all woke up early for the Coffee Hour—a time when coffee and donated breakfast food is served to all who come.  It was a joy to serve alongside Vickie and Daniel again.  Before I left we took some crazy photos to remember our time.


Nina Spengler spent the summer after the Portland Eco-Stewards Program working as the Garden Director of a 1-acre garden at Vanderkamp Center, a Presbyterian/Lutheran summer camp, where she taught campers to identify weeds, plantings and bugs. She is currently traveling around New Zealand.


Gearing Up for Gainesville 2014

November 27, 2013

The Eco-Stewards Program is happy to announce that our 2014 Eco-Stewards Program will be held in Gainesville, Florida from May 18-24, 2014. The application for the program is posted here on our Gainesville page. Please spread the word to any 20-30 year-olds you encounter over the Thanksgiving weekend. This is a wonderful opportunity for young adults to connect their faith and environmental stewardship as we unite together and study food and faith in a southern foodshed.