Finding Communion in Song

Eco-Steward Gerard Miller studied modern languages, linguistics and intercultural communication at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. He is working this summer as an intern at Greenwood Farm in Hardin, Montana. Here he reflects on a day from our June Eco-Stewards Program.

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.

Earlier that day, we had started our morning with prayer and a song, both of which served to unite us and lend a sense of purpose to our work for the day. After breakfast, a group of Eco-Stewards went to offer their hands and strong backs to Dave Graber in setting the foundation for the earthship outbuilding at Greenwood Farm. Others hung around inside the farmhouse for an impromptu jam session around the Grabers’ piano. With guitars, piano, harmonicas, and our humble and wonderful human voices, we continued to weave together a common narrative and to unify our voices.

As a choir director and musician, I really appreciated the spirit of cooperation, of koinonia (the Greek word for Christian fellowship or communion), that came to the fore as we sang. This was helped along later that afternoon, after Heather arrived and led us through the writing and sharing of our “ecofaith journeys.” The idea was to reflect on those influences which had led us to the spiritual and ecological place that we find ourselves in today. Whereas our songs had told something of our personal and corporate stories, these stories and the way one flowed into the next created a fluid, lyrical song.  It was a beautiful time of sharing in the true spirit of God’s message to His people and Jesus’ example. Having broken bread, we gave up our voices to a chorus, singing His praise, reflecting on His works, and seeking deeper purpose in our own walks.

Negotiating Difficult Terrain

Eco-Stewards Intern Andrew Foltz-Morrison is constructing a community garden this summer at Krislund Camp in Madisonburg, PA.  This fall, he will return to Rutgers University, where he is double majoring in philosophy and geography. Here he reflects on a moment from our June Eco-Stewards Program in Montana.

“As you walk back, stay separate from the rest of the group and just take in the landscape on your own.”

We were given these instructions just before climbing a very steep rock face on our way back to the Rim Country Land Institute in Billings, Montana. And so we walked. Each person found his own way up. I chose to climb more than walk, taking large steps from rock to rock as I made my way up the rock face. As I climbed, I could hardly do anything apart from focus on the terrain in perhaps the most direct manner possible. Though I largely found the path on my own, I did look to see where others ahead of me had gone and adjusted my route accordingly. The thought of that stayed with me as the ground leveled out. As a student of geography, I seek to understand the landscapes that surround us, but it is always at a degree of abstraction far greater than the simple task of getting from one point to another on the terrain. I also wish to understand the social dynamics that affect these landscapes; it was refreshing to very directly see and participate in one.

Eco-Stewards hike through mixed grass prairie at the Rim Country Land Institute in Billings, Montana.

I noted afterward that this concept of negotiating difficult terrain was an apt metaphor for the work that we, as Eco-Stewards, have to do in the world. We have to bring people together across both physical and mental landscapes. In order to bring about the change we seek to do, we have to reach people where they are, and show them where they need to go. But we also have to give them the opportunity to find their own way of getting there. The act of negotiation necessitates nothing less, if we are to give people the participation they deserve to have in changing our world for the better. It also implies a sense of mutual understanding that I usually don’t experience with things like physical landscapes. But if we are to discover a more just and sustainable way of living in and caring for God’s creation, we must recognize the reality and importance of things like us. Just as we respect the perspectives of other people in our negotiation, so too must we come to an understanding with the natural world as we negotiate our relationship with it.

Another important thing about negotiating: it never goes exactly as you intend or expect it to. At my internship at Krislund Camp and Conference Center, I am helping to build both a physical garden and the network of people who will support it in years to come. Any part of ministry is slow work, and working with volunteers means accommodating their schedules and plans. Nevertheless, it also means giving them the opportunity to think differently about their relationship with their food. I also must learn to be humble in my interactions with the land itself. The rototiller, when confronted with the rocky Pennsylvania soil, reminded me of this quite nicely! It is also quite late in the planting season, so I must seek to understand what can and cannot grow in the remaining warm months. I’m also figuring out what it means to negotiate with a constrained budget as I scavenge whatever materials I can for raised beds from around camp. I am, however, very grateful for the opportunity to link this type of negotiation with positive action in whatever way I can.

Upcycled tires are put to new use in small garden beds at Krislund Camp in Madisonburg, VA.
Garden beds are located in the middle of the camp to make fresh produce visible to campers.
Raised beds (such as these made out of reclaimed wood and cinder blocks) enable easier participation for garden volunteers.

Building A Community Health Center

Eco-Steward Dave Grace is a sustainable agriculture major at Warren Wilson College. After participating in the Eco-Stewards Montana Program in June, Dave stayed in Montana to work as a summer intern at Greenwood Farm. Here he reflects on a discussion with board members of the Bighorn Valley Health Center.

HARDIN, Montana– In the spacious workshop at Greenwood Farm, our Eco-Stewards contingent gathered with Hardin community members to discuss the proposed Bighorn Valley Health Center. The workshop, where we ate many of our meals, was cleared to arrange chairs in a circle for the discussion. Dr. David Mark, who is the CEO of the community health center, gave an overview of the proposal and opened the floor up for dialogue with other volunteers who are helping to make the health center a reality.

Bighorn Valley Health Center Board Members talk to the Eco-Stewards at Greenwood Farm

One obvious distinction with other health providers in the area is that the Bighorn Valley Health Center is a not-for-profit entity that is entirely run by volunteers. This seems to be one of many distinctions. In order to be a Federally Qualified Health Center, which the center is awaiting confirmation on, the board must be made up of local residents who, taken together, reflect the gender and racial ratio of the county. To me, this seems an obvious benefit in terms of capacity to serve the community: How else could the question of health be adequately addressed, except when considered from within the context of the social and physical environment of the community?

Using a preventative approach, Bighorn Valley Health Center seeks to address the effects of long-term health problems at their root by making connections between human behavior and environmental quality. Perhaps most significantly, this care is being directed toward the most vulnerable– statistically identified as those who are 200 percent below the federal poverty level.

Our discussion concluded in prayer, blessing the efforts of those who are committed to opening the doors of the health center to the people of Big Horn County.

According to its website, Bighorn Valley Health Center is “committed to developing a community-based, outpatient health care and multi-service center designed to serve the whole community of Big Horn County. We recognize that though health care begins by alleviating sickness, the journey to a true culture of health is achieved through the health of the whole person and the whole community.” To learn more about the health center, click here.

And follow this link to read Eco-Steward leader Katie Holmes’ reflection about the community garden we visited at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Billings.