We need your help recruiting young adult leaders to explore the James River Watershed with us this June 5-10 for our 2017 Eco-Stewards Richmond, Virginia Program. Virginia residents and Eco-Stewards alums Kathleen Murphy, Alex Haney and Colleen Earp have helped our planning team put together an amazing program around the theme of “Water is Life: Journeying Toward Justice on the James River.” The deadline for our second round of applications is April 15, 2017.
How can you help? Please make a direct invitation to a young adult (age 20-30) who cares about the intersection of faith and the environment. Or share the information with pastors, professors, teachers, camp directors, mentors and others you know who work with young adults. Also, download and print our beautiful promotional poster here and post it on church, camp, college and coffee shop bulletin boards as well as your social media communities.
What impact can our week-long, place-based Eco-Stewards Programs have on young adult lives? A lot! Find out by reading these Eco-Stewards alumni testimonies published recently in Presbyterians for Earth Care’s February EARTH newsletter:
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.
I had not planned on attending the Women’s March on Washington. I wasn’t even sure about attending one of the sister marches in Orlando or Tallahassee. My plate was full of books to read and papers to write, but at the last minute, I thought why not? Feminism had been on my mind a lot, with my studies centered on gender issues and ecofeminism, and I had introduced late 19th-century feminist literature to my writing students. This was an opportunity to stand in solidarity with the justice issues of today as well as those of the past.
The Friday before the buses were set to leave for D.C., I emailed an organizer to see if there was space for one more person on the 36-hour, round-trip tour. There was. And by Tuesday, I knew the details for my bus and the reality of the situation began to sink in.
Why did I march? I marched because I could. I had the opportunity, energy, and time to get on a bus, drive 12 hours, march, and ride 12 hours home. When opportunities allowing for faithful solidarity arise, you do your best to take them. On the long ride back, I uncovered five lessons the Women’s March on Washington taught me:
Strength does not equate aggressiveness, anger or force. I’m a fairly small person and in that whole group, of what some estimate to be up to a million people, not once did I get stepped on or pushed around. Not once did someone mindlessly bump into me or even step on my toe. There is a way to be strong—to march with power and drive— without belittling those around you. There is a way to assert your power and take a stand without hurting others in the process. Our world does not portray this. It says you can’t share and win. But what if you can? What if you can powerfully look after those around you?
Look after your neighbor. During the middle of the March a woman passed out and within seconds there were women offering water, snacks, fruit and comfort. It’s those who were looking after her as a neighbor who seemed to offer the most help. I saw yet another example when bathrooms were low. Women built a shield of coats in order to shade those who needed to relieve themselves in a corner by a building. These small acts of kindness showed a sense of care. The various actions I witnessed displayed how the participants looked after each other.
Stick with a buddy. I met Lori, a new mother, on the bus ride to DC. We were both riding solo and pretty late on deciding to go. After our bus accidentally forgot to call each of our names in roll call, we decided we needed to implement the buddy system. (Someone was going to know my name and if I got left behind!) We stuck together throughout the entire March. In crowds, we held hands and always had an eye out for one another. At one point, I turned around and saw she was gone. I’m sure my face instantly turned to shear panic. A woman nearby waved vigorously at me, while pointing to the right. The panic turned to gratefulness as I spotted Lori. “Thank God! She’s my buddy! I can’t lose her!”
Be observant. This march worked so well because it was full of observant, detailed-oriented people. We knew who was with whom. Without instruction, everyone knew their role to play. Groups chained together to create a steady flow of movement through streets gridlocked with people. Patience was implemented as we took our turns while waiting for the moment to march. Grace was given.
We make history every day with our decisions. When I worked as an organizer I learned about the relationship between power, structure and society. I learned how people are intentional about their actions and that social movements are created and made by hard working people. Little did I know a week prior to boarding the bus that I would be in the midst of historical change. However, in actuality, every day we choose whether or not to be a part of history through the actions we take, the people we engage with and the world we choose to create. We choose whether or not to get on the bus.
This particular event was unlike any I have ever attended, far outweighing the local marches and rallies I have been involved with through attendance, energy, and magnitude. However, most of all this experience showed me that there is room for peaceful resistance. It showed me we still have a long way to go, but collectively we must mindfully care for our neighbors on a daily basis and stand strong in our quest for a more just society.
Vickie Machado was one of many Eco-Stewards alumni and leaders participating in Saturday’s women’s marches across the globe. Here’s a “reprint” of some Facebook posts from the wider Eco-Stewards community.
In Boston, Rev. Rob Mark and Becky Evans (Eco-Stewards Program Leaders) attended a centering prayer vigil before participating in the Boston Women’s March. Becky wrote: Inspiring day with Boston’s peaceful marchers. Amazing to hear from Elizabeth Warren and to march alongside both my dear friends and my mom’s dear friends from CT! “Right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant”- MLK, Jr. #bostonstrongandkind
In Indianapolis, Amber Porter (Eco-Stewards West Virginia) reflected on her day: I’ve always had negative thoughts about the word “protest” and even “rally” especially if it was politically motivated. But today I felt called to attend the Indy Women’s Rally and it was an amazing (and peaceful!) experience. My favorite speaker was a female Episcopal priest who spoke of God’s incredible love for ALL humans, regardless of their race or sins or gender or sexual orientation. It was such a good reminder!! I’m also thankful that I have a husband who is supportive of women in general and always supportive of me. I also have amazing friends who are open-minded and live their lives with Christ-like love! Feeling grateful and hopeful in our future knowing there are so many people who care. Now to determine what’s next!
Emily Kinsel (Eco-Stewards Boston/Vermont) joined the 5,000 strong marchers in Copenhagen, Denmark. Kelsey Stone (Eco-Stewards Seattle) marched in Jackson, Miss, while Rev. Liz Leavitt (Eco-Stewards Program Leader) joined the Women’s March Oahu in Honolulu, HI. Kathleen Murphy (Eco-Stewards Seattle), Colleen Earp (Eco-Stewards Gainesville), and Mary Schmidt (Eco-Stewards Boston/Vermont) made history marching on Washington. And I’m sure there were others not listed here. Feel free to add your story in a comment to this post!
Seattle EcoSteward Caroline Hament recently won first place for her essay “The Trees Will Probably Clap Their Hands At This,” a reflection on environmentalism, urban forestry, and faith. Her full essay was published in the September issue of Reconsiderations. Below is an excerpt.
It became pretty obvious that we were supposed to protect and restore the natural world when God once called it good and handed it over to the humans in the Genesis story. Plus, of course, our entire livelihood depends on the clean water, oxygen, and many other resources it provides. Still, people are suffering. People dying is worse than trees dying. So for a while, I felt really guilty about caring so much about trees when I knew people were more important. This reality of human suffering was smudging the perfect Bob Ross painting of my future.
Still, Jesus’s work on earth reflected redemption at every turn. A blind man sees, tables are turned, and bread is broken. It’s all finished off with the story of death and resurrection. There’s death and life; brokenness and healing. It’s similar to language used for ecosystems—degradation and restoration; succession and transition. As N.T. Wright puts it, “The created order, which God has begun to redeem in the resurrection of Jesus, is a world in which heaven and earth are designed not to be separated but to come together. In that coming together, the ‘very good’ that God spoke over creation at the beginning will be enhanced, not abolished.”
And did you hear Eco-Stewards is going to Richmond, Virginia June 5-10, 2017? Join us for Water is Life: Journeying toward Justice on the James River or spread the word to a young adult leader in your midst! More info here.
Good morning! We’re excited to unveil our June 2017 program in Richmond, VA for young adults (age 20-30) who want to connect faith and the environment during a week of place-based learning. Our theme is Water is Life: Journeying Toward Justice on the James River. Please help us spread the word to young adult leaders in your midst! You can download our awesome promotional poster here. and share it with young adults on social media and on bulletin boards! And now here’s more about what’s planned for Richmond…
On the windy, rocky, sunny shore of the Salish Sea, we listen as Lummi Nation artist and activist Jewell James shares a very honest history of the Lummi land, waters and people, and their many conflicts with the US government. Then he tells us of a vision or dream. As he speaks, I look across the water to the resort homes recently built on ancient islands that contain Lummi ancestral artifacts used before the glaciers melted. In the dream, he explains, the ancestors’ spirits came across the waters from this traditional tribal territory with the spirits of the children yet to be born. The spirits encouraged the Lummi to continue the stand against the destructive powers of energy markets, profits, and business. The spirits told the Lummi a message, which I am paraphrasing, “Keep fighting for the land; tell them the land is sacred; they will listen; and if they do not, we will change their hearts.”
The Lummi are connected to this land and to the ancestors who once lived there and who were buried there– buried on land that has since been torn up for business development. Jewell and others I met in Seattle re-framed my understanding of what is best described from this line of our Seattle theme song, Rabbi Shoshana’s The Tide Is Rising: “the land is holy and so are we.”
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. (It’s a lot to summarize, but here’s a teaser: some “kayaktivists” may have successfully taken on an oil rig in their kayaks…). During our trip to the Lummi Nation, we learned about the tribe’s successful defeat of a proposed coal export terminal that would have violated the tribe’s treaty fishing rights.
After the typical faith gathering, you leave realizing that if we just put first things first, such as God, prayer, love, our common home, the home of our future generations, etc., we will indeed be more holy and happy than if we seek those idols like money and a lifestyle of consumption. Since returning from Seattle to my work as a solar panel installer in Virginia, however, I feel a challenging conflict of being bound to fossil fuels and money even while working in the renewable energy industry. I’ve noticed that when money is involved, it can easily change from “the land is holy” to “the land is materially valuable.”
I drive solar panels and heavy racks in a giant, gas-guzzling Ford F-250. I commute in my older, gas-burning car rather than waking earlier to ride the bus or bike. My computer design programs run on electricity (which is still derived from 66% coal and natural gas in the US). Even working in the solar business, I am supporting the market for coal trains and pipelines. I also can’t avoid that demon dollar. In my company, all of us need money for one reason or another: to pay off debt, to pay for kids’ food and shoes, the car, the house, health insurance. Some of us have a passion for renewable energy ,but if you look at everybody, it’s the money that brings us to work each day. While making bids for solar jobs, I need to consider the time, equipment, fuel, labor and materials, which all cost money. Even the customers care about the payback period and return on investment. For better or worse in some cases, money is driving better environmental stewardship practices. That same love of money that keeps my solar company afloat is the love of money that drives the coal export terminal construction, the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Deep Water Horizon, the mountain top removal…. We are but victims of ourselves.
Yet, the Lummi and the Eco-Stewards Program challenge me to break the mold. To not let money lead the way. To seek out faith, and something out there beyond ourselves, beyond our money, likely beyond our convenience and comfort. There is a far better way. “But strive for the greater gifts, And I will show you a still more excellent way.” (1 Corinthians 12:1)
We invite you to read this inspiring letter written by Jewell James and Kurt Russo as a thank you to the Seattle Eco-Stewards for visiting the Lummi Nation at a “historical moment” this summer: Lummi Nation Thank You Letter
Meet the author, Alex Haney (Eco-Stewards ’16 Seattle Alum):
I am a novice guitar player and work as a solar panel installer with a construction company in western Virginia. I get excited about wild edible and medicinal plants. “O Brother Where art Thou” and “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” are two of my favorite movies. I am a JMU graduate who has taught all kinds of nature-y things at camps in Virginia, Massachusetts, Arkansas, and Tennessee. I love being able to call the Appalachian region my home for its rich culture and history. I’ve always loved the natural world, and God, and only recently in the last several years have I begun to see that those both actually do fit together well. I am excited to be part of the Eco-Stewards Program. I am helping to plan our 2017 Eco-Stewards trip to Richmond, Virginia. Stay tuned for more details about this exciting program!
Dearest Eco-Stewards and Fellow “Water Protectors,”
Today we celebrate. And it is such a refreshing and joyous change to celebrate something in these past weeks that for many have felt so heavy. We celebrate with full hearts of solidarity all those who have so courageously risen up to speak truth to power at Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota. The Army Corps of Engineers has seen the light not to approve permits for the DAPL pipeline to cross at its proposed location. We give thanks to God for this prophetic movement that has emerged once again from this Land’s first-nation-indigenous voices. We give thanks that this victory came as a result of non-violent prayer and peaceful witness. We, Eco-Stewards, are reminded of the prophetic and powerful witness of the Lummi Nation in Washington who also peacefully fended off the largest proposed coal export terminal on their sacred lands this past year – and who we were blessed to meet with during our Seattle program in June. May the Great Spirit continue to help give us all courage to stand boldly for peace, water, truth, and wise stewardship in every hill, molehill, village and hamlet until freedom and liberation ring – for all.
It was a profound privilege and honor for me to join 524 fellow clergy at Standing Rock, just one month ago. Here’s my reflection and some photos of the “fierce love” I witnessed there: The Fierce Love at Standing Rock
by Vickie Machado (Eco-Steward alum and Program Leader)
“The tide is rising and so are we…”
Last month young adult leaders from around the country gathered in Seattle to reflect on how to navigate the environmental issues of the Pacific Northwest with regards to climate change and fossil fuel transport within the context of Christian faith. Collectively our group of seven EcoStewards and four leaders examined Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’, On Care for Our Common Home. We reflected upon these words on the shores of Lake Washington and Bellingham Bay, while connecting them to the actions of many of the people and organizations we visited.
Folks at the Sightline Institute introduced us to the danger coal trains pose to many small towns as cargo loads bring the possibility of explosions, coal dust, and traffic issues rather than the promise of local jobs. Earth Ministry discussed their push to engage churches in these issues primarily teaching churches to act as allies to local Native American tribes. Wednesday we met with the Backbone Campaign as they offered insight into artful activism and their success in the mass organization of kayaktivists to stop oil rigs and protest fossil fuel extraction and transport. And finally, the Lummi Nation graced us with their stories and wisdom as they shared the generations’ long fight for equality and their more recent move (and victory) to prevent construction of a coal terminal at Cherry Point.
In all of these instances, words from the encyclical and deeper understandings from our faith tradition appeared as we navigated how to serve God while caring for creation and our fellow brothers and sisters. We contemplated this call while meeting with others, communally preparing and sharing meals, singing songs, worshiping together, sharing our personal eco-faith journeys, exploring the city by public transit, and kayaking Puget Sound. Within this week we learned and grew from those around us, recognizing the impact we all have in our world and that it takes every bit of effort to make a difference. The tide may be rising, but as Rabbi Shochana Meira Friedman’s song says, “the world is ready and so are we.”