Reflecting on Gainesville: 360 Degrees of Pig Frogs

by Jake Lawlor, 2014 Gainesville Eco-Steward

jakeIt’s been close to a year now since I headed down to Gainesville, FL with the rest of the Eco-Stewards crew, but I’ve found myself thinking back to it more and more these days as the 2015 visioning trip is in the works. I joined Eco-Stewards because of a recommendation from my boss at the time at John Knox Ranch, a Central Texas summer camp where I was filling a brand new position as Environmental Stewardship Director for the summer (great place – check it out if you’re ever in the area).

The Eco-Stewards group was comprised of an amalgamation of people from various backgrounds united in the common interest of Presbyterian Earth Stewardship. This offered a pretty unique opportunity for us all to meet and share ideas with people with similar interests, but different areas of expertise. Over the week, we got to experience some pretty incredible things, ranging from working on some organic farms to speaking with community members who were active in food systems sustainability, to learning about Florida hydrogeological systems with the Florida Springs Institute.

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We stayed in a  local church (located at the corner of 22nd and 22nd – hilarious Gainesville design flaw in my opinion) full of nicely broken-in couches and lots of character. We helped cook and serve meals at the Gainesville Catholic Worker House, spent some time taking in the smells of freshly-grown sunflowers and strawberries at local farms, and enjoyed a week in the Florida sun. Not to mention the group’s close encounters with the alligators, giant tree snakes, and sea cows of the Florida swamplands, all the time serenaded by the omnipresent songs (snorts, really) of the Florida Pig Frog.

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The week not only introduced me to some new ways of thinking about local food systems, but also familiarized me with the whole world of Presbyterian Environmental Ministries. As a unofficial-Presbyterian who had been working at a Presbyterian summer camp for a few years, I wasn’t fully aware that things like the Eco-Stewards Program, Young Adult Volunteers, or Presbyterians for Earth Care even existed. This great group of people at Eco-Stewards opened a whole bunch of new doors for me to consider in the next few years and were a pleasure to share time and space with.

In summary, 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.

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Glimpses of Creative Resistance

by Rev. Rob Mark

(Excerpted from Unbound: An Interactive Journal of Christian Social Justice)

Some­times, upon wak­ing, the weight of a wounded planet is pal­pa­ble. We are beset by extreme weather events that con­tinue to raise high the warn­ing flags of the new nor­mal that is cli­mate chaos—and by a shame­fully decreased polit­i­cal will to be the least bit prophetic (or at least respon­sive). It is enough to stymie even the most hope­ful per­son who claims faith in the Author of Hope. And often, even the best efforts from for­ward think­ing churches, who reg­u­larly weave in all-things eco, don’t seem to be enough to curb the tides of depressed inactivity.

We are over­whelmed into inertia.

This is why I wear an Eco-Stewards bracelet year-round.This sim­ple shock cord, given to each par­tic­i­pant in the pro­gram, reminds me there are peo­ple engaged in moments (if not move­ments) of cre­ative resis­tance. It reminds me that the anti­dote to this iner­tia is reg­u­lar expo­sure to sto­ries of cre­ative, alter­na­tive, grace-laced com­mu­nity resis­tance to the broadly accepted myth of con­sump­tion par­adise and fos­sil fuel inevitabil­ity. These sto­ries point to sim­ple moments of local­ized change we can believe in—and begin to embody. Shar­ing such sto­ries should become a val­ued spir­i­tual discipline.

Since its hum­ble yet ener­gized incep­tion in 2006, the Eco-Stewards Pro­gram has been striv­ing to cre­ate such forums for a grow­ing com­mu­nity of shock-chord bracelet-ed souls. And it remains a true anti­dote against cyn­i­cal stag­na­tion for me: a fluid, con­structed the­ol­ogy of grace that encour­ages engagement.

Here are the basics: the Eco-Stewards Pro­gram is a Chris­t­ian com­mu­nity respond­ing to God’s call through applied eco-stewardship. It seeks to edu­cate, train, and inspire young adults (ages 20–30) in the ways of eco-stewardship within the wider con­text of Chris­t­ian faith. The pro­gram shares roots in and draws par­tial sup­port from the Pres­by­ter­ian Church (U.S.A.) Envi­ron­men­tal Min­istries, Pres­by­te­ri­ans for Earth Care, and the Pres­by­ter­ian Camp and Con­fer­ence Asso­ci­a­tion (PCCCA). The over­ar­ch­ing goal of this grass-roots ini­tia­tive is to help young adults con­nect and share their pas­sions for faith and envi­ron­men­tal stew­ard­ship through par­tic­i­pa­tion in place-based learn­ing pro­grams that explore how faith com­mu­ni­ties are respond­ing to chal­lenges from cli­mate change to moun­tain­top coal removal. Dur­ing these week-long pro­grams, eco-stewards spend time reflect­ing upon and shar­ing per­sonal eco-faith jour­neys, tak­ing part in a hands on eco-project, explor­ing the out­doors, play­ing music, and expe­ri­enc­ing wor­ship together. Paid sum­mer intern­ships are also offered. Com­post­ing toi­lets and used tire earth-ships have been built; urban gar­dens have been vis­ited; and numer­ous con­ver­sa­tions with eco-faith-practitioners have been enjoyed…

Click here to read more about why Rev. Rob Mark is involved in The Eco-Stewards Program.

Click here to apply for our 2013 Eco-Stewards Portland, Oregon Program: June 1-8, 2013

Eco-Stewards bracelet power!
Eco-Stewards bracelet power!

Eco-Stewards to Visit Portland, OR

Greetings to all! We are excited to announce specific plans for our June 2013 Eco-Stewards Program in Portland, Oregon: Connectional Urban Living as Creative Response. We are eager to recruit a new crop of Eco-Stewards (Ages 20-30), so please help us spread the word by sharing the link to this blogpost with any young adults who care deeply about faith and environmental stewardship. You can find more information about the program below:

Connectional Urban Living as Creative Response

Portland, Oregon: June 1-8, 2013

PortlandPhotoDawn

This place-based learning program for young adults (ages ~20-30) will consider how people of faith in the Portland area are responding in creative ways to environmental challenges such as climate change (Oregon coal export controversy), food inequality and urban sprawl. We will spend the week exploring the city by foot, bike and public transport as we visit farmer’s markets, ecumenical partnerships, co-housing communities, food cooperatives and farms. Along the way, we’ll meet with community organizers, city planners, church leaders and environmental activists to discuss how they are laying connectional roots to build a sustainable urban community. During the week, we will also take time to reflect on our individual eco-faith journeys while staying at Menucha Retreat & Conference Center and hiking and recreating in the Columbia River Gorge and foothills of Mt. Hood in the Cascades. For more information, contact Rev. Rob Mark: revrobmark@gmail.com

Application Deadline: Applications still being accepted this week, so apply ASAP. (Rolling admission).

Eco-Stewards 2013 Application

Program Cost: $400* (Participants must pay their own travel expenses to/from Portland; *Financial assistance available)

 Want to host an Eco-Steward intern in Summer 2013? Click here to download a copy of our Intern Request Form. Send questions to revrobmark@gmail.com