The following is a reflection on the Eco-Justice Immersion Experience I attended in Seattle at the end of August. The photos included are by co-attendees Jonathan Potter and Caleb Richmond.
Converging from Massachusetts, Arizona and everywhere in between, 17 young adult members of the Episcopal Church gathered in Seattle last week for the first “Eco-Justice Immersion Experience,” organized by the Episcopal Leadership Institute for Young Adults.
The “Eco-“ prefix is intentionally vague, as the conference brought both ecologic and economic concepts to the table for discussion, reflection and action.
From college students and camp staff, to youth ministers and postulants, attendees came together with distinct intentions: Heather Anderson of Memphis, Tennessee, a children and youth minister, was looking for real, down-and-clean ways to help green her congregation. Joe Domko of Boulder, Colorado, had been feeling stagnant with his daily actions to help the earth, and was looking for motivation, which he found in an early conversation on the Tar Sands protests: “I feel like maybe it’s time to get arrested.”
It comes from a serious place, but a comment like this is bound to draw a laugh – and, all week long, laugh we did.
“As transformative as it was, I still can’t believe how much we laughed,” reflected Janna Payne of Toronto.
We laughed in a food court (one with compostable food trays, no less), at gas stations, and lakeside. We laughed with one another, and – maybe once or twice – at one another.
Maybe we were laughing because 14-hour days of soul-searching can be exhausting, and your body doesn’t know what else to do. Maybe it was the sheer joy of being surrounded by likeminded folks. Or maybe it’s because as young Episcopalians, it’s exciting to be leading a charge that’s been called the civil rights movement of our generation.
When we weren’t laughing, we were exploring heady topics like the impact of the nation’s ninth largest port on city neighborhoods, or the opportunities for shifting our communities’ – and our world’s – economies from a straight-line of supply to consumption into a circle of sustainability. But we weren’t delving into these topics just in theory. In one another, and around Seattle, we saw inspiring need for and empowering action in eco-justice.
We explored interfaith opportunities. Nationally, Earth Ministry advocates for the environment on behalf of all faith communities, while locally, Clean Green Farms sells pesticide-free produce at – as the Rev. Robert Jeffrey calls them – “Dollar Store prices,” supported by both New Hope Missionary Baptist Church’s and St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral, Seattle.
We were encouraged to remember the grief that drew us to environmental justice, and to celebrate the joy that we can get from it, by the Rev. Carla Pryne.
We were inspired to green our own congregations by the progress made at Emmanuel Episcopal Church on Mercer Island.
We were moved – to laughter of course – by the sheer profoundness of Brian Sellers-Petersen from Episcopal Relief and Development telling us, “Everything you need to know about Christian formation, you can learn in a vegetable garden.”
In that one sentence, he articulated our week.
Green isn’t a fad. We’re not drawn to it because it’s hip. We are called to advocate for the Earth out of a deep sense of love and respect. Love for the generations that we will never know. Respect for the soil that we came from. We are from dirt; and to dirt we will return. (You can quote us – and Genesis – on that.)
To take care of the earth effectively, to further our Christian formation, last week’s conference attendees will look to a garden for direction.
We will honor simplicity – sun and water are really all a garden needs – and celebrate even the tiniest of environmental victories in our own communities.
A zucchini left on stalk too long will grow too large, get watery, and lose its flavor. So must we constantly tend to our own and our communities’ shifting needs and abilities.
And we’ll deal with the weeds. We’ll remember that Jessie Dye from Earth Ministry excused us from “environmental sainthood.” We will confront obstacles, lose some battles, and move on to the next.
As we take home resources – from 200 practical tips on how to green a congregation, courtesy of the Bishop’s Committee for the Environment of the Diocese of Olympia, to an ever-growing list of book recommendations – more than that, we take home a renewed connection to our communities, our church, and our call.
And now, we sow.