Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Brethren help lead retreat on environmental stewardship.

Pastors, science teachers, and environmental advocates convened for a weekend retreat at Laurelville Mennonite Church Center in Mt. Pleasant, Pa., in mid-February. "Creation Care: Stewards of the Earth" was sponsored by the Church of the Brethren, Mennonite Mutual Aid (MMA), and Laurelville.

The weekend aimed to encourage participants to persevere in the face of a culture that, in spite of warnings from the science community and pleas from the world's marginalized peoples, has been slow to change its habits of consumption.

"This is a new model of resourcing for us," said Carol Bowman, coordinator of Stewardship Formation for the Church of the Brethren. "By collaborating with other Anabaptists, we had a broad pool of leadership from which to draw, and content was strengthened."

She noted that registration fees appeared to be higher than for past events because more of the costs were passed on to participants through fees. Despite winter snowstorms and lower than anticipated attendance, she felt the event was challenging, motivational, and inspirational.

Keynote speakers included David Radcliff, who heads the New Community Project (NCP), a Church of the Brethren-related nonprofit; and Luke Gascho, director of the Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College and a founding member of the Mennonite Creation Care Network.

Radcliff offered first-hand testimony of his work with NCP, an eco-justice collaborative that sponsors learning tours to threatened habitats and cultures. He highlighted indigenous people residing in the Alaskan Arctic, as well as groups living in the equatorial rain forests, sharing images and stories of environmental degradation and its impact on these cultures. "Thank God for communities who persevere," Radcliff said. "They are in some ways canaries, helping us sense that perhaps danger is ahead."

Gascho likewise communicated the imperative for the church to respond to God's call for environmental stewardship. "Resurrection brings life to all things," he told the gathering, citing the Mennonite Confession of Faith. "The peace God intends for humanity and Creation was revealed most fully in Christ Jesus." At Merry Lea, Gascho and other Goshen College staff have established an educational resource for the community, offering nature programs, study courses, and hands-on learning opportunities.

Break-out sessions looked at engaging those who are skeptical about climate change, making environmentally conscious consumer and investment decisions, and passing creation care onto a new generation.

In one session Wendy Chappell-Dick of Bluffton, Ohio, shared some of the environmental stewardship struggles she faces as a mother to teenage daughters in a consumer culture. "We have to think about what we're buying," she said. "Every time we go shopping, we're buying our own trash." She has become creative in efforts to reduce her children's consumption habits, coupling a restricted clothing budget at retail stores with a virtually blank check at thrift shops. "I hope the ecological message gets through," she commented.

Bowman affirmed this sort of response. "We have the opportunity to instill values in children long before they enter school," she said. She presented a toolkit of resources including children's books and hands-on learning ideas during an afternoon workshop entitled, "Will Our Children Care?"

That question loomed throughout the weekend--not just for future generations but also for those represented at the conference--as participants grappled with environmental threats and the implications they have for creation. Perhaps no one voiced a more hopeful response than did Radcliff in his closing benediction:

"May we be so moved by Jesus' words, inspired by his example, hope-filled by his presence, that we choose another way, breaking into glad song as we move along toward that day."

-- This report was jointly provided by Carol Bowman, coordinator of Stewardship Formation for the Church of the Brethren, and Brian Pfaff of the marketing staff at Laurelville Mennonite Church Center.

Source: 3/10/2010 Newsline

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