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Message from the Director Archive

Message #2

Over the summer the Center supported the development of God’s Gift of a Beautiful and Bountiful Land: A Christian Declaration on the Spiritual Values of Tennessee’s Cherokee National Forest by collaborating with colleagues, camping and discerning several days in the Forest and developing the written statement afterward. The Statement and the accompanying video, which includes on-site interviews of the participants in the process, have just been released.

The working group CRE established to explore campus programs, particularly a “Certificate in Creation Care,” developed a relatively short list of the minimum environmental concepts it felt that persons working on environmental issues should know in addition to the theology and spiritual practices that would shape and motivate their actions. We started to think about the case studies in our area that might best serve to teach these principles and provide material for theological reflection. Realizing the amount of effort and resources it would take to start such a program, we have scaled back our efforts to focus first on students (both College and SOT), faculty/staff, and community members who already have an environmental background and who wish to explore how to integrate their faith more fully into their environmental understanding and action. To that end a relatively small group of undergraduates, School of Theology (SOT) students, faculty and community are starting a pilot program in the fall. The agenda includes a trip over Fall Break to visit Christians for the Mountains, an organization based in West Virginia that is working to end mountain top removal, as well as an Opening the Book of Nature retreat for participants before school starts.

The School of Theology (SOT) is considering the possibility of offering an environmental course in the summer 2011 Doctor of Ministry program. Walter Brownridge, Associate Dean for Community Life at the SOT also has scheduled an Opening the Book of Nature program for the seminary community following graduation in May 2011. We hope that this event will prove a fruitful way for us to grow in our awareness of how God speaks to us through God’s creation and will enliven our faith and commitment to stewardship.

With respect to retreats we have several efforts underway. With the encouragement of Bishop Parsley, we are continuing to work on offering a pilot retreat in early fall for priests of the Diocese of Alabama. We hope that this experience will enable us to fine tune the program and then offer the retreat to other nearby dioceses. We are discussing with Fr. Morris the possibility of offering a retreat at St. Mary’s Sewanee a year from now in late April/early May. In addition, Sister Madeleine Mary of St. Mary’s Convent has volunteered to help CRE offer environmental retreats to students. She brings extensive experience in environmental activities in New York City as well as in presenting environmentally-related retreats. She already has met with the campus Environmental Residents to get acquainted and hopes to meet with the Green House residents soon.

Robin served as the keynote speaker for Earth Day activities on April 22 in Gainesville,  GA. He spoke to students at Brenau University and Gainesville State College, and to the general public as the invited presenter for a panel discussion entitled “Happiness: Beauty, Faith, Economics and Ecology” at the Featherbone Communiversity.

Finally, in September Ilse Fuller of Richmond, Virginia, responded to an article about a new Center for Religion and Environment with a $1,000 gift to help the Center become established. Now, she has made a new commitment of $50,000 to create the first endowment related to the Center. Named in honor of Fuller and her late husband, Reginald Fuller, the Ilse and Reginald Fuller Environmental Ministry Fund will provide financial assistance to individuals who are participating in programming provided by the Center.

If you are interested in knowing more about any of the above, please contact us.

Message #1

It was a busy fall at the Center for Religion and Environment. Since it’s a brand new program, Rick and I have been setting up the office, working on the Web site, working with the advisory board, talking with our various constituencies, and making contact with potential collaborating institutions. We’ve spoken to a variety of local groups, as well as a couple with broader reach (see the listing of “Selected Events”).

Rick and I have realized more than ever the overwhelming amount of information that has relevance to our work as well as the many things the Center and would like to do. However, the harvest is great and the laborers are few. So we’re trying to focus our efforts in a few key areas for the near to medium future.

First, we have established a working group of faculty, staff and students to determine what program(s) the Center should offer, at least initially, on campus. One idea is to offer a “Certificate in Creation Care” (or something like that) to both college and seminary students. This program would teach students in the basics of theology, spirituality, social and natural science to understand what might be broadly termed “creation care ministry.” All too often someone has a background in, say, theology, but doesn’t understand basic economic or ecological principles. Or we may have a strong science background but don’t have a way to integrate environmental passion with everyday spiritual practice or our understanding of our faith. This non-credit, extracurricular program would address this problem by integrating basic concepts into a coherent set of ideas and experiences that would better prepare our students to make positive change in the world. Such a program would provide the opportunity for Christians, Jews, Muslims and Buddhists to explore the environmental dimensions of their faith and enter into dialogue with members of other faith communities on these issues.

An important part of the program would be to introduce participants to practical ways to implement these concepts when they leave Sewanee—for example, green building, land conservation and urban design, energy and water conservation. We have the opportunity also to promote internships, service experiences, and student research, as well as on-campus sustainability efforts, that integrate religion and the environment. The members of the working group are: Robin Gottfried, Deborah McGrath, Bran Potter, Julie Püttgen (College faculty) and Nathan Bourne (College student); Susanna Metz, Becky Wright (School of Theology faculty) and Derrick Hill (seminary student); and Annwn Myers (Associate Chaplain).

Second, the Environmental Ministry of Province IV of the Episcopal Church is funding an intern, Joshua Davis, to work at the Center this spring. Josh is finishing his Ph.D. in theology at Vanderbilt this spring and teaching courses in religion at the College. He will be heading an effort to assess the environmental education resource needs of dioceses and parishes and then to develop materials to address those needs. Do parishes’ creation care ministers have access to the types of environmental education materials they need? Do they have materials that provide an integrated approach to the environment?  If they have good materials, do they encounter obstacles to using them? If so, what are they and can we help overcome them? Once we understand what sorts of opportunities are there for the Center to serve, Josh will help us determine how best to respond to them and start developing materials that do so. Our goal is to have a pilot course ready by the end of the spring semester.

Third, we have hosted a small brainstorming session with regional environmental leaders to consider whether the Center should mount a symposium or workshop within the next couple of years on religion and land conservation, particularly the protection of large undeveloped areas. There was quite a bit of energy developed around this possibility. Rick and I are digesting the results of the session and will be getting back to the participants shortly with our thoughts.

Fourth, Rick and I have been talking with a few educational institutions in the region to begin explorations of how we might work together to achieve common goals.  There exists a huge potential for gains from collaboration. As these efforts proceed to more explicit cooperation, we’ll keep you informed.

Finally, as part of my sabbatical I am exploring the intersection of the literature on theological aesthetics (the theology of “Beauty”), the Trinity, and ecological design. This effort might inform how we approach and motivate our discussion of how humans should live in the world. We all have had those “ah….!” moments when presented with a gorgeous sunset or mountain valley, moments when we are struck by the enormous beauty of a scene. How do we name that experience? Does the experience matter? Why does Dostoevsky assert that “Beauty can save the world?” If Beauty matters, how do we interact with the natural world to create places, products, and social systems that are Beautiful? So far, exploring these questions has been fascinating.

The Center for Religion and Environment has been blessed by individuals who have donated time and financial resources to us. As you may know, we have no direct funding from the University. The gifts we have received to date are a great help, providing us badly needed operating funds. If you (or someone you know) might be willing to support our work through the donation of time, talent and/or a financial donation, please let us know or encourage your acquaintance to contact us.

--Robin Gottfried


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Sewanee: The University of the South735 University Ave, Sewanee, TN 37383931.598.100035.204826-85.921674