Caroline Holmes' Trinitarian Doctrine of Intentional Living

Caroline Holmes, C’17, T'19, understands that religion and the environment are intertwined and at the very core of her being. As such, she is currently pursuing an M.A. in religion and environment at the School of Theology. Along with her fellow millennials she is striving for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being, working toward a green and sustainable planet, shopping locally, buying clothes made to last, and walking to work. Reduce, reuse, and recycle is just another way of describing her Trinitarian doctrine of intentional living and coexistence. It is not so much a political statement as it is a method to live by.  

In 2016, as an Environment and Sustainability major at the University of the South, Holmes fulfilled her Capstone Project requirement in her hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she initiated a curriculum of her own design. Over the course of an eight-week period Holmes taught a class to 15 adult members of Boston Avenue United Methodist Church entitled, “Sustaining God’s Creation.” Holmes shares, “growing up in the church where my parents met, I have always been surrounded by an intentional community of love.”  And this community welcomed her thoughts and ideas as she sampled the congregation’s thoughts for “changes in environmental attitudes and behaviors based on this type of religious environmental education.” She focused her curriculum on the practice of science and policy infused with Biblical passages as well as United Methodist Doctrine, United Methodist Programs, and local environmental initiatives. Holmes admits, however, she discovered that not all who were committed to environmental sustainability could agree on the public policy needed to implement community action.  

Holmes valued this insight and incorporated it during her internship at The Metropolitan Environmental Trust of Tulsa, Oklahoma.  Soon Holmes was researching and teaching about the “alternatives to land filling, waste diversion and recycling through Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). She is candid about her youth and need for experience. “On my first day, my supervisor handed me a sheet of paper and asked me to price recycled bulbs and ballasts. I didn’t even know what a ballast was.” She states, “a quick bit of research and I was ‘in the know’ about PCB (hazardous) ballasts!”  

When Holmes enrolled in the M.A. program in the fall of 2017, she quickly became involved in another issue that is gaining prominence world-wide: pharmaceuticals in municipal wastewater. The Sewanee Wetland Research Station pilot project is designed to address this issue and to “demonstrate the ability of human-made wetlands to remove emerging contaminants from treated wastewater.”  “When someone takes a medication, the body is not able to break down the pharmaceutical compounds completely. The remaining compounds leave the body through waste. Trace amounts of these medications are found in wastewater and scientists are studying the impact on animals living in rivers downstream from wastewater treatment plants.”  

The project’s goal is to determine better and safer ways to dispose of excess medications in small rural communities. The purpose is to provide clean water for every living thing and “conserve our own water use.” She states, “The idea of the wetland project was proposed in 2012, and with a grant from the Coca-Cola Foundation in 2014 groundbreaking for the wetlands started in 2016.” It has been fully functioning for over a year and a half since the first shovel hit the soil. Holmes has spent hours learning about the “complexity of environmental issues from a variety of perspectives and continues her own education to sustain God’s creation.”

Holmes cites the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer as her inspiration for what God is calling her to do—“Christianity is Christ existing in community.” If Christ does in fact exist in community it would follow that the community should be sustainable and the abundance of the community available to all. This theology springs from the idea of a more equitable marketplace system in which the environment is cared for and guarded like a long-term trust fund. Stewardship of the earth becomes covenant to every citizen and loving your neighbor is engraved on the doorways of factories producing fair trade and healthy working conditions. Holmes knows these ideals are as counter cultural as the Beatitudes but it is the meek whose inheritance is on the line.

To Holmes, her calling is clear. She is dedicated to the stewardship of the Earth within the context of basic religious principles. She hopes that one day she will be called to the deaconate. She credits her Methodist family, the Girl Scouts of America, and Sewanee with instilling a love of community and service. Her sash and gown are stitched heavily with earned badges of courage, confidence, and character. But there is even more to Caroline Holmes than all this. She is also acutely aware of the privilege and abundant life she was born into and determined to share her gifts with others. It is not enough for her community to drink clean water and eat whole foods; she walks with a carbon footprint of purpose that will carry the abundance of God’s good creation to the whole world.