Tag Archives: creation care

An Interfaith Creation Care Journey

by Mike Ford, Associate Pastor of Youth, Blooming Glen Mennonite Church

Philly group send-off

This past month, PA Interfaith Power and Light (PA IPL) organized two groups totaling 18 bicyclists to ride from Philadelphia and State College, PA to Washington, DC. Our cause was to gather as an interfaith group to travel to our nation’s capital to meet with our legislators, to make a moral case for long term environmental care and clean energy legislation.  Riding bikes helped create relationships within the diverse groups, as well as demonstrate to our legislators our commitment to care for the environment in our travel.  Three pastors with ties to Franconia Mennonite Conference participated in Philadelphia to DC ride, including myself, Mike Ford from Blooming Glenn Mennonite, Conference Youth Minister John Stoltzfus, and former Associate Pastor at Salford, now Campus Pastor at 3rd Way Collective at Penn State, Ben Wideman.

Philly group in DC

Ben, who rode in the past with the State College group, initiated this riding group from eastern Pennsylvania.  In addition to the three Mennonite pastors, our Philadelphia group consisted of two Jewish rabbis and a SAG (Support and Gear) wagon driven by a Unitarian Universalist minister.  Sharing with each other about our faith traditions was fascinating and enlightening.  Daily discussion and daybreak rituals mixed Christian prayer, poetry, Jewish blessings, song, scripture, and the blowing of the shofar (ram’s horn).  Particularly with our Jewish friends, we found an amazing amount of commonality in the history of our people and their persecution and migration around the world. 

Fixing a flat

Rabbi Nathan Martin summed up the trip well in commenting, “It just seemed to me like a really powerful statement, to bring different people of faith together to do something positive by getting on their bikes, by connecting with faith communities along the way and then bringing their voice to the halls of Congress and making their concerns known about climate change.”

People from various faith communities supported us along the way.  Lodging, meals, and hospitality were provided by a UCC minister’s family, a Presbyterian church, the House of Peace (Baltimore), a Jewish synagogue, and an elderly Quaker couple.  Part of the purpose of our ride was to fundraise to support the work of PA IPL, and over $15,000 was donated.

Meeting with Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick

The ride took us from the oil refineries of South Philadelphia to beautiful countryside, challenging hills, and busy city streets.  The State College crew rode 200 miles over 5 days, while the Philadelphia contingent tallied 180 miles in 3 days.  Our final day was spent off the bikes on Capitol Hill, meeting with Pennsylvania Senators and Representatives to encourage them to work on bipartisan efforts and existing bills that take a long term look at creation care and stewardship through greater support for renewable, clean energy sources.

The trip stirred in all of us a deeper desire to inspire and educate others to heed God’s directive to be good stewards of our common home.  You can read more about the trip here.

Peace Farm: A new experiment in Christian discipleship takes root

by Janie Beck Kreider

Peace Farm, a new voluntary service program born out of a collaborative effort between Quakers and Mennonites in Bally, Pennsylvania, will begin its inaugural season in May 2015. This six-month apprenticeship brings together the practical work of farming and an exploration of connections between peace, food justice and faith.

Krista Showalter Ehst
Krista Showalter Ehst

Farmers Krista and Tim Showalter Ehst are excited to see their dream for Peace Farm become a reality. Tim and Krista operate Valley Run CSA (community-supported agriculture), a diversified, sustainable farm in the Butter Valley of southeastern Pennsylvania, about an hour outside of Philadelphia. Along with other local farmers, they will host Peace Farm apprentices for the daily work of cultivating organic vegetables, raising pastured animals and helping with various other agricultural tasks. As part of the hands-on apprenticeships, the Showalter Ehsts will also facilitate ongoing reflections with participants about what it means to approach agriculture and land cultivation through the lens of faith. Themes within the Peace Farm curriculum address scarcity and abundance, food deserts, migrant farm labor, sustainable living and rest, and agricultural practices as a form of peacemaking.

The Showalter Ehsts are not your average Mennonite farmers. Their journey toward this vocation and lifestyle began at Goshen College, where they studied theology and began learning about food production and distribution in the United States and abroad. Neither of them grew up farming, although Krista was raised in a 200-year-old farmhouse on 80 acres of Pennsylvania farmland, and Tim grew up in rural Virginia, outside of Harrisonburg. While at Goshen College and reading authors such as Wendell Berry, Michael Pollan, Vandana Shiva, and the like, the two decided to pursue a farming apprenticeship in Kentucky upon graduation. They’ve been interested in this type of work ever since.

Bounty at Valley Run CSA.

“Coming off of studying theology and then moving right into learning about farming made both of us keen to find intersections between our faith commitment to Anabaptist-Mennonite theology and this work of tending to the land,” reflected Krista, who also pastors Alpha Mennonite Church in Alpha, New Jersey, a Franconia Mennonite Conference congregation. “We soon realized that our commitment to a lived discipleship found natural expression in the daily tasks of cultivating food in ways that respected the goodness of God’s creation and the interdependence of healthy human communities with healthy landscapes.”

Krista earned a Master of Divinity at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, while Tim helped start Oakleaf Mennonite Farm, a diverse urban farm on the six-acre property of Berea Mennonite Church, also in Atlanta. After getting the farm off to a good start, Tim took a position as interim director for DOOR (Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection) Atlanta, which is affiliated with Mennonite Mission Network. It was while Tim was at DOOR, working closely with young adult volunteers, that the dream for a faith- and farm-based voluntary experience began to take root.

“We knew that there were lots of experiences for young adults to spend a year in a faith-based voluntary service program, and we also knew that there were tons of farming internship opportunities,” says Tim. “But there weren’t many opportunities for young people to learn about sustainable agriculture through the lens of faith.”

It wasn’t long before this dream began to germinate. After moving back to Krista’s family pigfarm in Pennsylvania and starting up a successful CSA (a cooperative farm where members help with start-up and operating costs in exchange for food), they began to brainstorm with Christina Repoley, one of Krista’s seminary friends who also directs Quaker Voluntary Service. Then Glenn Balzer, director of DOOR, joined the conversation. Quaker Voluntary Service and the DOOR program have signed on as program partners. The Showalter Ehsts also received a grant from the Fund for Theological Education that helped finance the development of the program.

“We began to imagine what it would look like for these peace churches to develop a program that centered on sustainable agriculture and food justice,” says Krista.

The inaugural season of Peace Farm will begin in May 2015. The experience is based on the rhythms of the farming year, so while most voluntary service programs start in August or September, Peace Farm will begin in late May. By the time they leave at the end of November, apprentices will have experienced not only the ins and outs of a sustainable farm, but will have engaged in essential conversations about how spirituality and faith commitments can inform a healthier relationship with the land.

This piece originally appeared as part of Mennonite Church USA’s #WeAreMenno series. Reprinted with permission.

Executive Board OKs two resolutions for Phoenix

Mennonite Church USA Phoenix Conventionby Gordon Houser, The Mennonite (reposted by permission)

At its last meeting before the delegate assembly in Phoenix in July, the Executive Board (EB) of Mennonite Church USA met April 4-6 in Kansas City, Mo., and decided to send to delegates two resolutions for their consideration.

One resolution, “Protecting and Nurturing Our Children and Youth,” seeks to raise awareness of child abuse and neglect and encourage the adoption of policies and practices to protect children and youth in the church community. Because of concern for liability issues, the board decided to recommend its adoption, “pending legal counsel.”

Another resolution, on creation care, calls for congregations and members to care for creation as part of the good news of Jesus Christ. EB members recommended this without discussion.

A third resolution, on Israel/Palestine, had gone to the Constituency Leaders Council’s meeting in March for discussion.

However, said Dave Boshart and David Sutter, co-chairs of the resolutions committee, “nearly all table groups at CLC discouraged or had significant reservations about presenting the resolution … to the delegate assembly.”

The committee did agree that the topic was important, and EB’s executive committee asked, What do we want to achieve?

Eventually, EB agreed on the following: “Executive Board desires to have conversation in the church which helps us understand both Israeli and Palestinian narratives and the Christian and American narrative in relation to them, and which helps us understand how we interpret the Bible in regard to these issues, particularly how we understand Christian Zionism.”

In an unprecedented occurrence, much of EB’s business time was spent in executive session, which means the press is not allowed to report on what is said.

In an April 8 email, moderator Dick Thomas said: “We spent about one-third of our meeting in either executive session or in session with agency staff and media present [but] where we requested no reporting of the conversation. Some of this conversation had to do with internal board processes and some with matters of discernment that will be reported after further conversation with individuals or groups that could not be at the board meeting.”

In other business, EB decided to reduced its number of meetings per biennium from seven to six, with one meeting in a non-convention year held by teleconference and the summer meeting in a convention year held at the convention site, with no meeting in the fall. EB members recognized the need for cutting budget but lamented the loss of meeting time.

Larry Hauder said, “It’s hard to build relationships with fewer meetings.”

Executive director Ervin Stutzman noted that the Purposeful Plan, which guides the work of the church, did not say anything about “our need for God.”

The board agreed to add the following to the document:”We recognize that because of sin, all have fallen short of the Creator’s intent, marred the image of God in which we were created, disrupted order in the world and limited our love for others. Therefore, through the reconciling power of Jesus Christ, we seek to walk in righteousness, or ‘right-relatedness’ with God and others.”

And in the section under Holistic Christian Witness, they added the following sentence: “Our allegiance to Jesus Christ calls us to love our enemies, demonstrating our willingness to die for our convictions but not to kill for them.”

God’s Caretakers

Steve Krissby Steve Kriss, skriss@franconiaconference.org

After Hurricane Sandy, I trekked with a Mennonite Disaster Service assessment team out to the peninsula of the Rockaway neighborhoods of New York City. This thin peninsula juts south from Long Island into the Atlantic in the borough of Queens. It’s a beautiful spot for a beach vacation, but a precariously situated stretch of city neighborhoods packed with people.

There are a lot of political issues that I don’t speak to directly. I try to avoid issues with easy-to-figure-out delineations between left and right in the political conversations that boil over into the life of the church. But driving on the thin peninsula with feet of sand blown in from the beach, cars tossed indiscriminately by rising water and trees stripped by wind, I had a distinct moment of realization: “So this is what global climate change looks like.”

I’m ready to believe and name that the relationship between humans and the planet is provoking — or at least providing the perfect storm of situations to cultivate — significant changes that will continue to have serious repercussions for all communities.

As usual in the human community, the most vulnerable are often the people that Jesus suggested we should be the most concerned about — the poor, the elderly, people with disabilities. In Staten Island where the most deaths occurred in the United States from Hurricane Sandy, most who died were from those vulnerable populations.

I do all sorts of things that both contribute to climate change and attempt to take the pressure off. I live in a walkable neighborhood. I recycle religiously and have a garden with my neighbors. I purchase wind-generated energy. But I drive a pick-up truck about 25,000 miles a year, take frequent airplane flights and have innumerable spare laptops and cellphones lying around in the house that will contribute to mounds of toxic electronic waste someday. “Living simply so that others may simply live” is complicated.

As a kid growing up around Johnstown, Pa., I learned rebuilding without rethinking our relationship with the terrain leads to further and repeated destruction.

Our little neighborhood was ripped apart by a tragic flash flood in 1977. It never really recovered. Some houses were never rebuilt. Other reconstructed homes were elevated to avoid first-floor inundations with water if a similar 100-year storm would occur again.

In Johnstown, those storms seem to come every 40 to 50 years. Along the Northeast coast, we’ve had two 100-year storms in the last two years. Journalists and neighbors in the path of the storm’s destruction have remarked that those communities will never be the same after the storm.

Seeing storm-ravaged communities provoked a graphic realization that our actions — our behaviors as humans in an interconnected system — are not divorced from the winds, rain and waves. Instead, we are a part of the creation God has made and called good. God has charged men and women to tend this gift of planetary existence and to live well within it.

Paul writes that all of creation is waiting in anxious expectation for the sons and daughters of God to be revealed. Part of that revealing is reconnecting the human relationship with all of creation, in all of its beauty and raging. It’s connecting our care of the planet with our love of the Creator and our neighbors. Both our action and inaction are intertwined with our relationship to the Divine.