Inspiration for environmental justice ministry at 39th annual Trinity Institute

February 2, 2009

Environmental leaders from seven dioceses in Province IV gathered with undergraduates, seminary students, area clergy and lay people at the University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee, one of 80 partner sites of the Trinity Institute, on January 21- 23. "Radical Abundance: a Theology of Sustainability," the conference theme, had a particular appeal for those seeking a deeper grounding for environmental ministry.

Trinity Institute was founded by Trinity Parish, New York City, in 1967. Clergy and laity of many faiths participate in the annual National Theological Conference, both on site at Broadway and Wall Street on Manhattan, and through video-linked partner sites in the United States, Canada and Great Britain.

Joyce Wilding, Province IV environmental ministry leader, said she appreciated the scripture exegesis in the first presentation by Timothy J. Gorringe, St. Luke's Professor of Theological Studies, University of Exeter, United Kingdom.

She also noted that Gorringe used the term "foodshed," which inspired her to think about the relationship between watersheds and water issues,on which she has been focusing, and agriculture.

"We local folks, as we talk about sustainable communities, need to encourage parishes to offer programs on food, faith and hunger," she suggested.

Jerry Cappel, rector of Resurrection Episcopal Church, Louisville, Kentucky, enjoyed the balance between input and conversation at the Sewanee site. Both in New York City and at partner locations, reflection groups helped participants integrate what they are learning and build community. Capel felt that all the speakers were "articulate at painting pictures which were motivating" for environmental ministry.

Speaker and visionary David C. Korten's three key questions -- What is real wealth? What is our image of God? What is our true human nature? -- inspired Cappel to consider the challenge of spiritual foundations for environmental awareness among people in the pews. As he thought about encouraging environmental ministry in the Diocese of Kentucky, he asked, "Should environmental ministry be in social justice in our diocese, or in Christian formation?"

At Trinity Church in New York City, Phyllis Strupp, member of the Episcopal Ecological Network leadership team from the Diocese of Arizona, appreciated particularly the presentations of Majora Carter, founder of Sustainable South Bronx, and Néstor O. Míguez, professor of New Testament at Instituto Universitario ISEDT, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Strupp also came away concerned as to how drawing on traditions and practices in the Episcopal Church can be integrated with environmental ministry. "The church has to engage all the tools of our tradition that are effective in transforming the heart," she said. Strupp sees confession as one of those tools, and likens the experience of the conversion we need to build sustainable, creation-honoring communities to the story of the prodigal son "wallowing in the pig slop." Like him, she said, we need "to come to our senses, repent the harm we have brought upon creation and ourselves, and return home to forgiveness and grace."

In the question session after David Korten's address, Michael Schut, the Episcopal Church's associate program officer for Economic and Environmental Affairs, asked Korten how to proceed when "anytime we seriously consider creating a world of enough for all God's creation, we are immediately faced with the fact that almost all of us in the church benefit from the way things are." He added, "Our own lifestyles and pursuit of economic growth, no matter the cost to the poor and ecological systems, significantly contribute to inequity and degradation."

But Schut sees no need to place blame. "The good news is that we are invited to a way of life," Korten stated, emphasizes that this new way means growing the real wealth of community connections and healthy neighborhoods."

Cappel summarizes his experience of 'Radical Abundance: a Theology of Sustainability' by reflecting that all the speakers "were people of passion and thoughtfulness and faith, and you could watch them in all their honesty and integrity. You could catch their spirit."

The conference presentations may be viewed on demand at the Trinity Institute website.

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