The more you know, the more you know you don’t know. While this saying may seem like a depressing way to begin a fellowship update, it has been a reminder to me over these past two months that every discovery is an opportunity to address a complex problem a little better than before. That may be the scientist in me talking, but it’s been an inspiring thought as I dive into the world of strategic planning for churches interested in pursuing creation care (for more background on this project, see this article). This week marks the completion of one-fifth of my fellowship with the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions, and after interviews and trips to Goshen and Bluffton, I’m ready to share about the work I have done so far.
Research in August and early September took on a new meaning as I sought to understand what strategic planning means for churches with regards to sustainability. I found myself listing the areas I needed to study: strategic planning, environmental theology and ethics, politics and justice within Mennonite communities, Mennonite relationship with the land, ecological crises, climate communications strategies. The list seemed, and still seems never-ending. I would probably still be in the recesses of the Sadie Hartzler Library at Eastern Mennonite University if not for the conversations with many experienced, wise and encouraging professionals in each of these fields.
September also saw the development of my interview questions and the start of the pastoral interview process. From the onset of the fellowship, I had decided that listening to congregations’ successes, challenges, and needs around sustainable creation care commitments would be central to the content of the creation care plans. I sent out a preliminary survey to half the congregations in MCUSA, and I have been so encouraged by the kinds of responses and interviews that have resulted.
One of the biggest highlights of the fellowship was a trip to Goshen, Indiana, in early October, where I had the opportunity to connect with 11 different pastors, professionals and mentors. I visited Camp Friedenswald for a conversation on sustainability planning, Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary for communication advice, and a plethora of Mennonite churches in the area for interviews. I even got to connect with professors and students from Goshen College that I had met and worked with during my summer as the Faith Outreach Intern in 2018. I always find Goshen with open arms, and I was happy to reconnect with old friends and form new bonds with inspiring people.
Now that most of my pastoral interviews are finished, I’ve begun transcribing and analyzing the conversations for the next phase of plan-writing. I look forward to sifting through each conversation and bringing each pastor’s experiences into the framework of these strategic plans. I often hear pastors downplay their experiences or humble their successes or challenges, but I am beginning to understand that every story that is shared has the power to build up, encourage and empower others to take another step towards reconciliation with creation and each other.
I am currently reflecting on my mentor’s response to the despair voiced in one interview, a sentiment that I have heard many times, “How could one family’s actions change the course of climate change? It’s too enormous of an issue!” Her response was simple but profound. She said that those seemingly small actions give us the integrity to demand and expect changes on a large scale. I believe she’s right. It is clear that we need systemic changes to bring about sustainable solutions, and it is even clearer that without the integrity to demand and expect those changes, little will improve. I am encouraged to hear this kind of language coming from the church and am even more inspired to provide a boost to the creation care actions that churches are pursuing. I am so thankful to CSCS for the opportunity to pursue these conversations through research for a year, and I am looking forward to the next stages of this fellowship!