By Victoria Pearson, Earth Literacy Teacher
I was pleased to be sponsored by Westtown in my application to the GreenFaith Fellowship Program, and upon hearing of my acceptance, was at once excited and had trepidations about being part of a program with ordained clergy. As a Friend who attended an Episcopal seminary, I had the good luck of having fellow Quaker students in my cohort, and the willingness to engage with larger questions of church and justice in a broader Christian landscape. Learning and leading with fellow travelers who were seeking ordination, I gained an appreciation and respect for those called to lead in congregations, and confirmation in my belief in the priesthood of all, the lack of laity that is at the heart of Friends’ faith.
I should not have been worried about engaging with clergy again. Having just completed the first of three retreats that are part of this program, I can safely say that those called to save our planet through the lens of diverse faiths know that what is at stake is reaching out across faith differences, and committing with whole heart to this shared challenge that our faiths call to us.
This program spans 18 months, includes three face-to-face retreats, and monthly webinars. We write eco-autobiographies, theological research from our faith traditions, and plan and implement leadership projects. This program will offer me space to engage theologically with the ecological and justice commitments that motivate me in my work.
GreenFaith’s mission is “to inspire, educate and mobilize people of diverse religious backgrounds for environmental leadership. Our work is based on beliefs shared by the world’s great religions – we believe that protecting the earth is a religious value, and that environmental stewardship is a moral responsibility.” (greenfaith.org/about/) This first retreat, focused on stewardship, offered many insights into the diversity of faiths represented, and our common cause of catalyzing our communities for bold faithful environmental work. Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Atheist, Catholic, Episcopal, United Church of Christ, Baptist, New Church Movement, Lutheran Fellows were represented from around the USA and Canada—and one Fellow from Finland! It was truly an inspiring and challenging event.
At the retreat, we met in year cohorts. I am a member of the 2013 cohort, and the 2012 cohort was having their last retreat with us. Although I was the only Friend in attendance, we had ample opportunity to engage Friends values, as we convened at Pendle Hill, and one of our site visits was to the Friends Center to hear about the process and results of the greening of that building. We also toured a green jobs training center in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, and participated in green site audits at a local Presbyterian Church, and synagogue.
It was exciting to hear about the leadership projects that the 2012 fellows are doing. From liturgical music with earth care themes, to lunchtime discussions in faith communities, to online interfaith organizing, to programming on the regional and national level, these fellows modeled the strategic and systematic thinking needed to bring the good word of our environmental moment to communities still unsure of what to do, or how to do it from grounding in faith.
Our next retreat, in May, is at a Buddhist retreat in upstate New York, and the theme is Spirit. We will be surrounded by beauty, and have the chance to hike and reflect on the deep well of our faiths. I cannot wait to see what work becomes clear for me as I embrace my call to be good enough for the greening of our planet and faiths. I look forward to further reflection and growth with this dynamic program, and the openings that will occur in me as I continue my faithful pursuit of integration of my sense of ministry with the work of the land.