A New Year’s Timely Intentions

By Vickie Machado, Eco-Stewards Alum & Leadership Team

With the start of the New Year, comes a slew of New Year’s resolutions—most of which people tend to break within the first few weeks. Occasionally they last through the end of the month, but for the most part they fall to the wayside. While I’m not one for making New Year’s resolutions, 2018 ushers in a new stage, and with it (I hope) a more intentional way of looking at time.

Each Eco-Stewards trip that I have attended has allowed me to cultivate a place and space for time—time to reflect, work, and commune with others. I think back to the 2011 Montana Eco-Stewards Program as we circled in the Graber’s home to share a wonderful home-cooked meal with local neighbors or when we worked pulling invasive ivy at Forest Park during our 2013 Portland Eco-Stewards Program. Still more recently, I recall our visit to Richmond Hill during the Richmond Eco-Stewards Program and the evening taize services we shared with community members just last year as we joined them in prayer for the city.

Each trip also features a larger sense of spontaneity—time that grows from the spirit allowing for fun games of Frisbee, kind and unexpected visitors and marvelous sights to see such as the awe of floating with manatees down the Ichetucknee River towards the end of our 2014 Gainesville Eco-Stewards Program. Regardless of whether these moments are organized or organic, Eco-Stewards carves out a ‘sacred space’–a time and place in which I can step outside of the mundane and into a reflective state that focuses on the moment.

Eco-Stewards enjoy a community meal at Greenwood Farm on the Crow Reservation in Eastern Montana in June 2011.
Eco-Stewards pose after pulling out invasive ivy in Portland, Oregon’s 5,000-acre  Forest Park in June 2013.
Eco-Stewards encountered manatees during a tubing adventure on the Ichetucknee River near Gainesville, Florida in June 2014.

In Gainesville with the start of the New Year, I’m finding it more important to prepare myself to find these sacred spaces throughout the year and recognize the goodness of daily moments. The quest for sacred space seems part of the process of understanding where you were, where you are and where you want to be. It offers a heightened awareness of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual place. A chance to absorb your position with others or individually.

After a collective Advent meditation last month, a friend of mine noted that though he found his thoughts to wander to the stresses of the day, his meditation time was not lost. He showed up, he was present and he made the most of the moment. Thereby showing that putting in the effort to find this sacred space is not futile.

Recognizing intentionality and time whether I’m floating down a river or doing a more everyday task of reflecting upon the week is important. Being present offers a sense of sustained grace, something that allows me to pursue a space where I can reflect, plan and create. Most of all, it provides a time and place for the presence of making the most of a moment.

Vickie Machado lives in Florida and loves the water. If she’s not at the beach or in the ocean, she can be found biking around town. She has attended Eco-Stewards programs in Montana, Portland, Oregon, and Boston/Vermont; hosted Eco-Stewards Gainesville in her home state of Florida; and is now part of the Eco-Stewards Leadership Team. She’s always looking forward to the next adventure.

From Richmond to Vegetarianism

An Eco-Stewards Richmond Reflection

By Laura Haney

In June, I arrived in Richmond for the Eco-Stewards Program, a week of exploring the James River watershed and its organic farms and intentional Christian communities. I wasn’t really sure what impacts the program would have on me, but it didn’t take long to start having meaningful conversations and experiences that would have lasting changes, especially on my diet. During our week, we were offered mostly vegetarian options and I found I enjoyed filling my sandwiches with sautéed kale, pea sprouts, and other greens instead of meat. I talked with many people, both fellow Eco-Stewards and our guest speakers, who currently or at some point in their lives had been vegetarian or vegan. We talked about their faith and their motivation for their food choices.

The Eco-Stewards Richmond program featured vegetarian meals made with locally-grown produce and included an opportunity to talk and help farmers at Shalom Farms in Richmond.

After Eco-Stewards, I decided to become a vegetarian myself. It was not a random decision. In fact, it was something I had thought about for a while before Eco-Stewards, but never found any reason in my life to fully commit to it. Even before June, I often ate meat-free meals and many times, I jokingly referred to myself as a “vegetarian with commitment issues.” After discussions at Eco-Stewards and some personal reflection, I was compelled to become a vegetarian by thinking about how to make my ecological footprint smaller as a way to better care for God’s creation.

Eating a large amount of meat is more harmful to the earth because raising cows for beef, one of the most highly-consumed meats in our country, uses more energy and resources than growing crops. Pork and poultry use less resources than beef, but still significantly more than plant-based agriculture. If it takes 10 pounds of plant feed to produce 1 pound of beef, why not save the 10 pounds of plants for human consumption and feed more people? By eating the plants that would be used to feed cows, pigs, chickens and other animals, instead of eating the animals, we could grow more food for everyone on this Earth, thus showing better care for our neighbors. In addition, cows produce a large amount of methane gas which is a contributor to global warming. Therefore, eating meat does cause you to have a larger carbon footprint. These facts also helped to motivate my decision to cut meat out of my diet.

I’d be lying to you if I said that this was an easy thing for me to stick with. Most of the time I do enjoy being a vegetarian and feel much healthier because of my new eating habits. However, there have been times when I’ve wanted to eat meat. Resisting temptation, however, is part of what we practice as Christians, and because I committed to this as a spiritual practice, I resist that temptation

I often get questions about my eating habits, but I enjoy the questions because it opens the door to good conversations. I can share how I feel called to care for creation and I want to have less of an impact on the earth which I choose to do by not eating meat. Additionally, I can talk about how caring for creation is key to my theology. These conversations open a lot of doors to other topics and meaningful discussions about faith and food, both of which people typically have a lot of thoughts on.

Unfortunately, many people are disconnected from their food (both in what they are eating and the ways it was grown/raised) and I, personally, would like to be much more connected to the food I eat than I currently am. I work at a camp where most of my meals are made for me. While this is convenient, I have little control over what I eat, and many of my vegetarian options are made from processed foods. Still, being vegetarian still allows me to have more awareness about my food, even while having little control over what is on my plate.

Gnocci with a garlic and cream sauce. Being a vegetarian has helped me to expand my eating options because I can be more creative with what I eat. In some ways I can view it as limiting, but it is also opening my eyes to new foods and recipes!

I read a devotional recently which discussed looking at the Advent season as a road ahead of us. In the road are boulders and potholes. The boulders are things that we have done that we shouldn’t have, and the potholes are the opposite, places where we have fallen short. To prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ on Christmas, we need to clear that road by filling in the potholes and moving the boulders. We must prepare our hearts for His coming through asking to be forgiven for our wrongdoings and changing our actions. In terms of environmental justice and food justice, there are a lot of potholes and boulders along my road this Advent season. However, through not eating meat, I am filling in those potholes just a little. It is a good step for me on my faith journey and my journey to lessen my carbon footprint.

This Advent season, if you feel like your shortcomings are a result of not caring for creation, reducing your meat consumption is a good place to start making changes. It doesn’t have to be to the degree of complete vegetarianism; there is a lot of middle ground and eating more vegetables and less meat can cut your ecological footprint significantly. There are a lot of facts and figures on the subject. For more information and ideas for making diet changes, check out Green Eatz. In addition, if you are curious about the size of your carbon footprint, check out this online calculator. I was very surprised after learning my own footprint, and I am inspired about how to fill in more of the potholes in my road during Advent.

Laura Haney is a Virginia native who until recently has always lived in the James River Watershed and grew up loving the land within it. Currently, she works and resides at Camp Grady Spruce in Possum Kingdom Lake, Texas where she leads groups of 5th graders in outdoor education programs. Following in the model of Eco-Stewards, she teaches children about the natural world so they may see the beauty of it and learn to care for it well. Her Christian faith strongly motivates her love for the outdoors and the work she does each day with children.

Five Months Later: Upstream on The James

An Eco-Steward Reflection

by Alex Haney, Eco-Stewards Alum & Program Host

Half a year since Eco-Stewards Richmond, I can still recall many vivid scenes from our Journeying Toward Justice Along the James River program last June.

In one, we’re gathered in a circle near the banks of the James listening to the story of Earth Mother as reenacted by Beth Roach, a Member of the Nottaway Indian Tribe of Virginia and Grants Manager of the James River Association. Afterwards, she tells us about the 2015 James River Unity Walk (a Nibi Walk or Water Walk) when Sarah Day, an Ojibwe elder, led walkers from the James’ headwaters near Iron Gate in the mountains to its confluence with the Atlantic Ocean at the Chesapeake Bay at Fort Monroe. Indigenous women carried a bucket of water downstream, praying for the water as they walked beside it. The ceremony recognizes women and the sacred connection between their body and the water. Men don’t participate but are allowed to walk beside the women and carry the Eagle feather. The women carry water, the women carry life. Beth led us Eco-Stewards on a few steps of a simulated Walk for Unity. It was a powerful experience for me as a Male being told I was not allowed to carry the water no matter how badly I wanted to.

The Eco-Stewards Richmond group walks with Beth Roach in a “simulated” Walk for Unity along the James River.
Beth’s water bottle, a symbol for the water the women carried in the Walk for Unity.


Since my Eco-Stewards journey on the James River, or the Powhatan River, my company, Affordable Energy Concepts, has been doing a large solar project for Bath County Schools. It’s the largest school system solar array in Virginia, and one school has a solar array so large, 100 percent  of it’s annual power bill will be generated by the sun. Read more here. This project is special to me because I graduated from Bath County High School in 2008 and this past September, I put solar panels on my high school. How cool is that!

How is the James River involved in this project? Well, our company is based in Madison Heights, which is just across the James from my apartment in Lynchburg–about 2 hours by car upstream from our Eco-Stewards home base in Richmond. Essentially every Monday since Eco-Stewards, our crew has piled into the truck for the weekly ride. We snake east along the James over the mountain and turn north before Glasgow to follow the Maury River upstream to Lexington; then follow Kerr’s creek uphill and cross over the hill to chase Bratton’s Run downstream to Goshen, where the road follows Mill Creek to the eastern end of Bath County. We then cross over another mountain into the Cowpasture River Watershed, and for two of the schools, we cross over one more mountain into the Jackson River Watershed. These rivers and streams are all in the James River Watershed.

The river is first called the James River at the confluence of the Cowpasture and the Jackson—the place where water from two of the schools meets water from the third school. This is where they started the Walk for Unity. Our weekly commute is mostly along the path of that 2015 water walk.

There’s something thought provoking in recognizing that our sweat on the job, the melted ice we pour out of the cooler each day, the rain that soaks us on the job, and now the snow blocking the solar energy to the panels, all flows back to our home base farther down the James River, and farther on toward Richmond– all within the same river that our Eco-Stewards group held sacred in Richmond last summer. It’s the river Beth and the Ojibwe walked in prayer. The river of impressive stream habitat and water quality restoration in Ralph’s talk. The river of the most horrific parts of the slave trade. The river of the Nottaway people, the Monacan people, and other indigenous tribes. The river flowing below the Richmond Hill Community, where we ate, slept and prayed. The river inspiring our song-writing. The river of the Eco-Stewards’ prayers.

These past five months have felt like a continuation of the week-long Eco-Stewards journey, hearing stories of neighbors while on the road up and down stream, growing closer to my coworkers on the long car rides. Learning that my crew lead Justin helped build a shelter at the park where the Maury and James meet. Watching a co-worker Andrew yell at the highway sign holder throwing trash in “his river” on the road construction site. Hearing stories of co-workers getting in trouble for jumping into the James off the Appalachian Trail Foot Bridge. Catching Amazing scenic views of the river on Highway 130.

I am an Eco-Steward and the James River is my home. It’s been a gift to be part of the Eco-Stewards in my own watershed and to keep living in and meditating on that same river. I’d encourage everyone reading to explore your watershed, find out where God is working in your watershed. Pay attention to how the roads follow the waterways. And most of all get to know it. “Once you know it you will start to love it, and then you will protect it”— words spoken by at least three of our Eco-Stewards guests speakers. So true.

The pictures below are of places where I’ve stopped along the long commute to get to know the James a little better.

View of The James River near Rockbridge-Amherst County Line. Taken on my commute home from Eco-Stewards Richmond (June 2017).
The view looking east from The Appalachian Trail, three miles north of Foot Bridge near Snowden Dam (January 2017).
View looking west toward Glasgow, near Rockbridge-Amherst County Line (November 2017).

Close-up shots of the confluence of the Maury River and the James River at a park in Glasgow. James River Association helped sponsor construction projects at the park. I did not know about the park until I started exploring the weekend after the EcoStewards Richmond Program (June 2017).
James River Foot Bridge (Named in Memory of William T. Foot) Looking west from the south side of the river (November 2017).

Alex Haney (27) participated in Eco-Stewards Seattle in 2016 and then helped plan the 2017 Eco-Stewards Richmond Program along with Eco-Steward Alums Kathleen Murphy and Colleen Earp. Alex is a Virginia native and a Christian who grew up in the headwaters of the James and currently lives near Lynchburg, where he works for a solar panel contractor. Alex has an affinity for solar cooking, enjoys learning to play music on guitar, finding wild plants, and figuring out how to cook local food. “Eco-Stewards has shown me that my passion for the natural world and my faith are very much connected where I did not see it before,” says Alex. “I’d recommend the Eco-Stewards Program to anyone who cares about our natural world, and believes in God”

From Richmond to Guatemala

by Kathleen Murphy, Eco-Stewards Seattle/Richmond Alum

“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” – From The Talmud, 303.

My favorite verse, Micah 6:8, shows up in a lot of places without planning. It’s a common passage and I think a favorite of many but I chose to think of the verse as what Christianity means to me. It lacks any imperative about accepting Jesus or even really a mention of God, Jesus, the Holy Spirt et al. What it does highlight is action.

Words have meaning but action has more meaning. Words without action are meaningless. Through my participation in Eco-Stewards these past two years, I have learned a great deal about multiple issues facing our nation, particularly in Seattle (June 2016) and Richmond (June 2017). Taking the knowledge from these place-based experiences and transforming it into action has been easy yet hard, fun yet exhausting, confusing yet inspiring.

A recent trip to Guatemala only added to my Eco-Stewards mindset and commitment. While in Guatemala, our group of 20 from the Presbyteries of the Peaks and James planted 860+ trees in two sites. Perched high on the mountain side, one a mile high and the other 9,100 feet up (approaching 2 miles in altitude), we planted black alder trees to help minimize erosion and soil loss from years of deforestation. At Lake Atitlan, we learned about raw sewage draining into the lake from an organization working to find a solution, Amigos del Lago. A picturesque lake surrounded by volcanoes and small towns being poisoned by the simple fact that there is no local sewer system.

Stunning Lake Atitlan, which is polluted by sewer waste

Even though our efforts may seem minuscule in a country and world with so many problems, I take heart that we turned curiosity into learning, faith into action, and love into new tree saplings that are now soaking up sun on the mountainsides.

I hold a sapling while our team plants black alder trees.

Remember friends, we are not able to complete the transformation of the world. That is too much to bear. We can, however, do our small acts of justice and mercy in a humble walk with our Creator and Creation. We are called.

Now back from my trip to Guatemala I am resuming work at Virginia Poverty Law Center where I work with our public benefits attorney to provide healthier meals to low income schools. When not at work I like to run, spend time by the beautiful James River, and support my local organic farmers at my favorite farmers market. I frequently think about how my actions and purchases in the grocery store damage or uplift the environment, a skill I really honed during my trips with the Eco-Stewards.

Riding in the back of a pick-up on the way to our second tree-planting site.
A busy market in one of Guatemala’s small towns.


How has Eco-Stewards impacted your thinking about environmental stewardship? How does your current work or passion connect to your Eco-Stewards experience? Become a blogger and share your thoughts with our wider community!

Richmond Reflection: Listening to the Water

Last week young adult leaders representing watersheds around the country— from the Willamette Watershed in Oregon to the Biscayne Bay Watershed in Florida—gathered in Virginia’s James River Watershed to partake in the 10th annual Eco-Stewards Program– yes, it’s been a decade since our first program at Westminister Woods in Northern California. Amen!

The Eco-Stewards Richmond team gathers on a footbridge over the James River during a week of watershed discipleship.

This year, in light of such national events as Standing Rock and the water crisis in Flint, MI, we shaped our Eco-Stewards Richmond program around the theme of Water is Life in order to focus in on the sacredness of water and the region’s journey toward justice.  To engage with this topic, we listened, sang, prayed, walked, paddled and farmed with locals from Richmond and Charlottesville who shared stories about the importance of place and community. Our week was further framed by Watershed Discipleship (Ched Myers, Ed.), as we investigated the themes that arise throughout the book, most notably the practice of understanding and caring for places and those who inhabit them.

The Eco-Stewards learn about the river’s history with Justin Doyle, Community Conservation Manager for the James River Association.

The call to become disciples of our watershed, paraphrased by Myers as “We won’t save the places we don’t love, we can’t love places we don’t know and we don’t know places we haven’t learned,” was reiterated throughout the week. At times the concept was illustrated directly by those involved with the work, like watershed restorationist Bobby Whitescarver who has helped Virginian farmers protect over 500 miles of river from livestock excretion while building up tree cover in an effort to prevent soil erosion and excess sediment in the water. Similarly Ralph White, who served as park manager of the James River Park System for 32 years, expressed the importance of knowing and loving a place in an effort to reclaim the health of the river, upholding early volunteer efforts as a method that directly connected locals to building a cleaner James River (originally, the Powhatan River).

While the theme of physical place was essential and prevalent throughout our encounters, much more came out of our week together as our group critically looked at our faith in light of pressing issues of identity, race, privilege, and outlook as well as overconsumption, energy, and pollution. Geographers, historians, tribal leaders, legal aides, faith leaders, social justice advocates, environmental ethicists, singer-songwriters, organizers, theologians, activists, conservationists, eco-liturgical-homesteaders and watershed specialists graced us with their insight into the push for justice within the James River Watershed. This was manifested as watershed expert Kristen Saacke Blunk introduced to us the history of Richmond’s enslaved peoples and the ongoing work of racial reconciliation. Others like Willis Jenkins, a professor at the University of Virginia, helped us explore concepts of stewardship and kinship ethics as we examined larger themes throughout the book and discussed human-nature interactions.

Signs of the James River’s complex history.

Still, our week ventured beyond dialogue as Beth Roach of the Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia invited us into a Water Walking ceremony, blessing the waters while reinforcing the life-giving energy that comes from them. Further along our journey, we visited places of intentional community like Richmond Hill (which prays daily for healing in Richmond), Charis Community (young adults dedicated to radical Christian discipleship), Shalom Farms (which is committed to increasing access to healthy food through hands-on education), and Camp Hanover (a Presbyterian Church USA camp and retreat center) that showed us the importance of collective efforts of listening to the land and loving its inhabitants.

Beth Roach of the Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia leads the Eco-Stewards in a water blessing ceremony.

All those who spoke with us invited us to dive deeper into the James (Powhatan) River watershed to uncover truths found in untold histories and the subaltern voices of both people and animals in an effort to understand the important work of reconciliation, revitalization and revelation that is occurring today. Collectively and individually, we wrestled with how to hold tightly to our faith in a world saturated with past and present trauma.

Themes from Watershed Discipleship came to life as we discussed the links of racism and the neglected earth, and the efforts to reimagine a new future in the wake of both environmental and social atrocities. Perhaps most of all, through our communion together— reflecting upon our own eco-faith journeys, sharing meals, praying together, assisting in local farmwork, singing and making music, and exploring the James by canoe— God continued to provide us with the call for open hearts as well as the importance of addressing injustice though action. Recognizing the struggle of this place allows us to return home with a better understanding of the complex solidarity required to strengthen and uphold local watersheds reinforcing that water is life.

Help us keep the Eco-Stewards Program banner flying by recruiting future Eco-Stewards, hosting a future program and making a donation to our grassroots efforts that shape young adult leaders through place-based experiences that connect faith and the environment!

Richmond Bound!

On Monday, our 2017 Eco-Stewards team will gather on the banks of the James River and “journey toward justice” during our week in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. We’ll travel from Richmond to Charlottesville to Camp Hanover and back to Richmond. We’ve assembled a wonderful team representing watersheds from all around the country, including those in Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Ohio, Oregon and Virginia. Please keep our group in your prayers as we travel, learn, listen, eat, serve and share together from June 5-10. Water is life!



Ready for Richmond!

Great recruiting work everyone! We have a wonderful group coming together for our June 5-10 program, Water is Life: Journeying Toward Justice on the James River. We still have a few open spots, so if someone you know is interested, we’ll still accept their applications if they get them to us soon! They can contact us at ecostewardsprogram@gmail.com


Richmond Deadline Extended to May 1

Okay folks, we’ve extended our application deadline for Eco-Stewards Richmond until May 1. So please keep spreading the word about this wonderful opportunity for young adults, ages 20-30, who have an interest in connecting faith and the environment. Some funding is available for those who need assistance.
Participants will benefit from this program in the following ways:
1) Spending time with other like minded folks in their 20s who are passionate about the environment and faith.
2) Being mentored by older adults who have professional experience and passions at this same intersection.
3) Learning from locals through place-based experiential education about the themes of watershed stewardship/ discipleship, climate justice and eco-theology.
4) Spending time reflecting on one’s own personal vocational discernment.
5) Crafting one’s own “Eco-Faith Journey” as both a spiritual exercise and a future professional organizing/ communication tool.
6) Engaging in creative spiritual experiences rooted in Celtic Christianity and contemporary culture.
7) Cultivating hope, recreating in nature, and practicing joy!
Click here for more info about Eco-Stewards Richmond, Water is Life: Journeying toward Justice on the James River, June 5-10, 2017.

Meet Our Richmond Trip Leaders!

Greetings Eco-Stewards Community,

We are still accepting applications from young adults (age 20-30) for Eco-Stewards Richmond: Water is Life– Journeying Toward Justice on the James River. Please continue to spread the word! Our second application deadline is April 15, and we are looking for more young adults to enjoy this time of community building, vocational discernment, place-based learning, eco-faith discovery, spiritual reflection and outdoor recreation! We’ve lined up an excellent team to lead this exciting adventure from June 5-10, 2017. Read their bios below.

Meet the Eco-Stewards Richmond Program Leaders

Rev. Rob Mark serves as a Presbyterian pastor at Church of the Covenant in downtown Boston, and has coordinated the Eco-Stewards Program since its inception in 2006, leading programs in California, New Jersey, West Virginia, Massachusetts, Vermont, Oregon, Florida and Washington. In November 2016, he responded to a call from indigenous leaders to join 500 clergy from around the country in a historic witness of solidarity at Standing Rock. Rob is passionate about grassroots programs like the Eco-Stewards Program that affect lasting change. He also likes coffee, ultimate Frisbee, stringed instruments and the joy of stewarding his 3-year-old son Rowen who is named after a Scottish tree.

Kathleen Murphy is from the great city of Richmond, Virginia where she works for the Center for Healthy Communities at Virginia Poverty Law Center. She currently attends Second Presbyterian Church and has become active with their young adult group. When she’s not working she loves to cook, garden, spend time outside, and go to various festivals and events around Richmond. She is an alum of the Eco-Stewards Seattle Program and the Boston Food Justice YAV Program.

Alex Haney is a graduate of James Madison University and has taught all kinds of nature-related things at camps in Virginia, Massachusetts, Arkansas, and Tennessee.  He loves being able to call the Appalachian region his home for its rich culture and history. He currently works as a solar panel installer with a construction company in Central Virginia and describes himself a rookie guitar player who gets excited about wild edible and medicinal plants. He is an alum of the Eco-Stewards Seattle Program and the Boston Food Justice YAV Program.

Colleen Earp is serves the Presbytery of  The James as the Director of Youth, Environment, and Service Ministries at Camp Hanover, and is an M.Div. student at Union Presbyterian Seminary. She is a geographer with interests in natural resource conservation and education.  Colleen lives in Richmond, VA with her spouse and two cats, but will always love her home state, New Jersey, more than anyone else in the world possibly could. She is an alum of Eco-Stewards Gainesville and of the YAV Program in New Orleans.

Vickie Machado is a third generation South Floridian. While pursuing her masters, she lived and worked at the Gainesville Catholic Worker house and later helped to host the EcoStewards Gainesville trip. Upon graduation, she worked as a an environmental organizer, pushing for a ban on fracking. She is currently a graduate student at the University of Florida, studying Religion & Nature. Vickie is still passionate about water issues and loves being in the ocean. She is an alum of the Eco-Stewards Montana, Boston/Vermont and Portland programs and served as a program leader for Eco-Steward Seattle.

Becky W. Evans is a New England Presbyterian with a passion for storytelling. She’s worked as an environmental reporter for The Standard-Times of New Bedford, Mass., a communications writing professor at Boston University, and an ESL instructor for adult immigrants at the Community Learning Center in Cambridge. Currently, she serves as a food justice educator for the Boston Food Justice Young Adult Volunteer Program. She loves her role as storytelling mentor and communications coordinator for The Eco-Stewards Program.

Help Us Recruit for our 2017 Richmond, VA Program!

Dear Eco-Stewards Community,

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 May 1, 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.

We’re currently looking for candidates for our June 5-10 program, Eco-Stewards Richmond, Virginia: Water is Life, Journeying Toward Justice on the James River. Please spread the word to young adult leaders in your midst!

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.

Five Lessons From the Women’s March on Washington

by Vickie Machado, Eco-Steward Alum & Leader

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:

  1. 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?

    Eco-Steward Vickie Machado finds compassionate crowds at the Women's March.
    Marchers file out of L’Enfant Station on their way to the Women’s March.
  2. 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.

    Vickie Machado finds compassionate crowds at the Women's March on Washington.
    The Backbone Campaign presents their “We the People” with thousands of signatures.
  3. 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!”

    Eco-Steward Vickie Machado finds compassionate crowds at the Women's March on Washington.
    In the crowd, listening to speakers at 9th and Smithsonian.
  4. 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.

    Eco-Steward Vickie Machado marching on Washington.
    Eco-Steward Vickie Machado marching on Washington.
  5. 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 Santa Cruz, Cali. Heather Lukacs (Eco-Stewards Program Leader) marched for these reasons: To not feel alone. To connect with friends and strangers in my Santa Cruz community. To stand in solidarity with friends from WV and elsewhere traveling to DC to march. To be united across distance with friends in DC, Boston, Portland, Idaho, and so many more places who are marching. To reinforce what I work for everyday – for human rights, for a world and country where all people have human rights – safety, education, clean water and air, and so very much more – Women’s March Santa Cruz County, Women’s March on Washington, Boston Women’s March for America Women’s March on Idaho, and so many more #humanrighttowater #womensrightsarehumanrights #manymorereasons

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!

And don’t forget to spread the word to young adult leaders about our Eco-Stewards “march” on Richmond, VA,  June 5-10 when we “Journey toward Justice Along the James River”— help us recruit the next generation of Eco-Stewards!

The Trees Will Probably Clap Their Hands At This

img_5217Seattle 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.”

To read her full essay check outhttp://christianstudycenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Reconsiderations-Vol-16-No-2-Sept2016.pdf

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.

Eco-Stewards is going to Richmond, VA!

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…


To apply, please download the 2017 application here. (Rolling admissions; Apply early so you can plan your summer.)

Questions? Contact us at ecostewardsprogram@gmail.com

The Land is Holy: Reflections on Seattle Eco-Stewards ’16

by Alex Haney, Eco-Stewards Seattle ’16 Alum

A view of the Salish Sea during a visit to the Lummi Nation in Washington.
A view of the Salish Sea during a visit to the Lummi Nation in Washington.

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.

The Eco-Stewards '16 Seattle group meets with Kurt Russo and Jewell James at the Lummi Nation in Washington.
The Eco-Stewards ’16 Seattle group meets with Kurt Russo and Jewell James (center) at the Lummi Nation in Washington. Author Alex Haney kneels in front.

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):

Blog author Alex Haney, Eco-Stewards Seattle '16 Alum
Blog author Alex Haney, Eco-Stewards Seattle ’16 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!

Victory at Standing Rock, Amen!

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

In the peace of Christ,