eePRO

The hub for environmental education professional development

EE and the faith community

Stefan Moss is our discussion board host this month and contributed his guest blog “EE in the Faith Community: Reaping the Physical and Spiritual Rewards.” He is on hand this week (Monday, June 5 – Wednesday, June 14, 2017) to field your questions and comments regarding EE and the faith community…so please tap into his expertise by posting away on this discussion thread!...

Thanks for sharing your time and your passion in working with faith community partners, Stefan! This topic is soooo timely considering the political atmosphere toward climate change, as demonstrated by our U.S. president this past week. Shall we kick off this discussion with a loaded question?....From your perspective, how can educators work with the faith community on environmental issues like climate change in the face of climate denial by prominent faith and political leaders?

Darryl,

Thanks for the kick off and for posing this challenging question. Climate denial has become a staple in our news feeds, especially now with our current administration in place. Mistrust of science appears to be at an all-time high prompting a slew of protest and activity that is rather uncommon within the scientific community. Environmental issues are viewed by many in the faith community as distractions from their true purpose, which is the advancement of their religious ideals. Of course, many faiths intertwine their spiritual aspirations with their social activity, but others do not. It is obviously much easier to convince individuals of certain faith traditions to care and actively engage their communities on environmental issues than others. When there is a disconnect, it is important to focus on the consequences of inaction, and to tangibly present evidence that require some form of response. Most faith communities are tirelessly working to improve the lives of millions across the globe and by helping to solve environmental issues like climate change, food insecurity, poor water quality, and air pollution, faith communities show a higher level of sophistication in their strategy to spread hope. It is important also to show that their lack of effort in this regard has grave consequences not only for their community but for humanity in general. Climate deniers in the faith community, for example, must take a hard look at the impacts of climate change and do something, or simply state that their faith encourages them to sit idly while millions around the world suffer from famine, severe floods, and drought.

Thanks for your thoughtful and uplifting response, Stefan. Due to the current political atmosphere toward our environment, it's pretty easy for us EE professionals to become disheartened and disenfranchised. But as you state, these are also exciting opportunistic times with so many faith groups being inspired beyond what good work they are already doing to mobilize further and provide leadership in environmental conservation and protection to fill the emerging national void.

My wife is an ordained United Church of Christ minister who just attended the Annual Gathering of the Southern California Nevada Conference of the United Church of Christ this past weekend. The Conference passed a very timely resolution to affirm environmental responsibility and nurture leadership in environmental stewardship. This mainline Protestant Christian denomination embraces the principal of social transformation, includes about 5,000 churches nationally and one million members (understanding that each congregation is independent in matters of doctrine and ministry and may not support the national body's theological or moral stances)...but this environmental resolution will be presented this month at the General Synod in Baltimore for national adoption. I include the resolution document below for our colleagues to review, to see environmental stewardship though their faith lens, and to see the similarities between our EE program goals and this one example of a religious denomination whose potential partnership is very relevant.

In my own community, the local city councilperson introduced me to the neighborhood interfaith council who met quarterly and provided wonderful community support for a nature center and its planned EE programs I was attempting to establish. The local churches, temples and synagogues were very supportive of my effort since we were all striving to improve the quality of life and the environment together. Stefan, do you have any other examples of religious denominations who may be good EE partners, or resource recommendations to direct us to faith-based organizations who may be great EE partners?

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PDF icon United Church of Christ environmental responsibility resolution124.17 KB

Darryl,

Thanks for your thoughtful reply. There are many religious denominations out there that support efforts to educate the public on environmental issues and/or have developed their own programs for the communities they serve. The Catholic community has a relatively robust environmental program. The Pope's recent encyclical entitled "On Care For Our Common Home" encourages stewardship as a core value within the Catholic community. Among other groups, the Presbyterians, Evangelicals, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Mennonites, Methodists, Jesuits, and Baptists all have some measurable activity that could be described as promoting environmental awareness/action and education of key issues. There may be others that I am missing in this post. Organizations that are made up of members from these faith communities include Interfaith Power and Light, Evangelical Environmental Network, Greenfaith, Creation Justice Ministries , and Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, to name a few.

Thanks for the great resource references, Stefan! It's wonderful to see that there are so many interfaith organizations that are empowering their communities with environmental stewardship knowledge and skills. You and I mentioned briefly some efforts in the Christian community...perhaps some group members following this discussion thread can chime in and share their insights into other faiths and the connections to environmental stewardship...I know I would love to hear the Buddhist, Islamic, Judaic, etc. perspective.

One last question from me, Stefan...do you mind sharing an example of your experience in developing your program partnership with the faith community. How was the partnership seed nurtured, how were the program goals established, how were the program roles identified and implemented, and were there any challenges or successes that we can learn from to advance our own EE efforts?

Darryl,

Thanks for continuing the conversation. Social media has become a very important vehicle for networking and building relationships for me in EE. My most recent partnership began on Facebook where in a group chat, I was introduced to the Director of Spiritual Life at a K-12 faith-based school here in Georgia. We had a mutual friend who just thought that we shared similar interests and she decided to connect us. We met at Starbucks and exchanged ideas and talked about how we could do something at the school. We started working on a few small projects together. I assisted her by appearing and speaking at a student-led event that she organized featuring repurposed household items as art. We organized an Earth Day concert and featured more of the student's artwork. A few months later, we decided to pursue a grant for a larger project on campus that would involve outdoor learning stations, with hands-on experiences that teachers could modify and use in their art, science, math, or writing class. When the grant was awarded, we worked diligently to garner the support of parents, teachers and others to assist in the construction of the stations. With a concerted effort we were able to finalize them, and held a soft ceremony on campus to celebrate our achievement. The entire process was very organic, grassroots, and relationship driven. Many times I've heard individuals in conversation gloss over this very important aspect of our work in EE. In order to become successful in any community, faith or otherwise, there must be a sincere effort to build relationships. Sometimes those relationships are short-term, while in other cases, they may be long term. In whatever time frame that exists, the goals of the project or activity that is being worked on should be clearly stated. In my case, the partnership with the school gradually strengthened as we achieved success with smaller projects. The application for a grant to develop an outdoor classroom was the next logical step in terms of scale. However, it was not without problems. The grant required more individuals to get involved, and some were not as engaged as others. By introducing a sum of money into the mix, it required greater accountability and oversight. With every level of growth in a partnership there will be greater challenges to overcome. However, with a clear vision and the commitment of all stakeholders involved, the successes will always outweigh the shortcomings!

Thanks for sharing the details of how one of your program partnerships took root, Stefan. And I appreciate you highlighting the importance of relationship building in our EE efforts. That circles us back around to the start of this discussion thread...how does one engage with others of contrasting environmental opinions and faith perspectives...and one way is to be open to dialogue and embracing the ability to listen. I greatly appreciate your passion and time in sharing with us examples of your program partnerships with the faith community, and serving as a inspirational resource person for folks who may want to follow-up with you at a later time, Stefan! Best wishes for your current effort working on that program grant with the private school...maybe when it does come to fruition, we can hear back from you about your program successes!:) Thanks for all that you do!