Representatives of the 47 congregations of the Diocese of Indianapolis gathered on March 21 for a conference aimed at empowering heightened levels of care for the stewardship of the Earth. The 2009 edition of "Under One Roof," a biennial diocesan mission conference, was titled "This Fragile Earth, Our Island Home." The conference participants heard from Bonnie Anderson, president of the House of Deputies, also a noted environmentalist. Anderson holds graduate degrees from the University of Michigan's School of Natural Resources, where she has served as an adjunct professor. She has also served as the citizen representative on the Michigan State Environmental Review Board by appointment of former Governor James Blanchard. Her publications include "The Citizen's Guidebook to the Great Lakes Ecosystem." Anderson also gave the participants a challenge. "As Episcopalians, our relationship with the earth, and all living creatures, is a serious matter," said Anderson. "The Episcopal Church has the potential to make a big difference in sustainability of the earth as we know it. But we have to get organized and get moving." Beauty, connections, callIn a keynote address, Anderson presented three concepts aimed at helping participants grasp new understanding and motivation for the care of the Earth as Christians. She related the significance of the earth's beauty to the concept of Celtic "thin places," places where, according to Celtic teachings, one can catch a glimpse of heaven. Anderson compared the natural environment to glimpses of heaven. "These thin places are tangible evidence of heaven, provided by God, to remind us what a reconciled world could be like," she said. Sharing personal experiences from her extensive travels, Anderson made a connection between poverty and environmental degradation, especially concerning water. "We cannot talk about God's fragile earth without talking about climate change; and consequently water scarcity. Water is the lifeblood of all living things, humans included. Without water we cannot live physically," she said. "It is no coincidence that water is the symbol of the sacrament of baptism. We are literally connected to the earth by water and air, just as we are connected spiritually to God and each other through our baptism." Anderson concluded her presentation by reminding participants that the baptismal covenant calls us to promise to God and to each other that we will love our neighbors as ourselves. "There is an undisputable connection between the degradation of the environment and poverty. We have promised to love our neighbors as ourselves. The poor of the world are our neighbors. Together we have the capacity and the resources to create a sustainable environment for and with our neighbors," she said. "Let's dump the inertia and get going. The time to act is now." The greening of a dioceseIndianapolis' 2009 mission conference was just another step in a process several years in the making, said the Rev. Canon Debra Kissenger, canon for leadership development, who led the planning for the conference. She said there has been a growing awareness of environmental issues among the congregations of the diocese, several of whom have established "green committees" in recent years. A resolution by the 2007 convention of the Diocese of Indianapolis called on congregations to conduct energy audits and established the Earth Stewardship Committee, which has subsequently taken steps to reduce the carbon footprint of the diocese. The committee sampled energy bills from each parish and reported on overall energy consumption at the 2008 convention. The committee's next efforts will involve in-depth energy audits and walk-through assessments aimed at identifying energy-saving measures and environmental stewardship projects. "This Fragile Earth, Our Island Home" included a variety of workshops on environmental stewardship including "Building a Parish Green Team," "Environmental Sustainability and the Poor" and "Greening the Local Parish -- Lowering Carbon Footprints while Cutting Expenses." Three childrens' sessions focused on saving animals and plants from extinction, how to catch a vision for peace and justice, and concrete steps that everyone -- including children -- can do to make a difference in caring for the planet. Life depends on itPreaching at Trinity Episcopal Church, Indianapolis, on March 22, Anderson said that God invites us into the fullness of life now, calls us to behold the beauty of the earth and each other and to treat all things with kindness, as Jesus teaches us about "the least of these." "In John's Gospel, believers in Jesus are promised eternal life. We are believers of the living Christ, of the living God, active in our daily lives, as close to us as our own heartbeat, as our own breath. God invites us into this eternal life now. It is not something that is saved for when our earthly life ends, but we are invited into the world as it should be. We are invited into being the spiritual beings we are created to be. We are invited into a journey with Christ and with each other," she said. "Remember 'whose' you are, and square your shoulders in determination to behold this earth and each other as if your life depends on it. It does." -- Joe Bjordal is Episcopal Life Media correspondent in the dioceses of Provinces V and VI. He is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.