Teaching Eco-Ministry

RicBy Ric Hudgens (right)

I just finished teaching a class in Eco-Ministry at Garrett Seminary. My initial (and still favorite) title for the course was a play on John Wesley’s quote, “the world is my parish.” I wanted to call it The Earth is Our Parish. However, the formal title became “CL-621 Earth Ministry for Ecological Renewal.” CL-621 is one of the core courses in the Ecological Regeneration Concentration of Garrett’s new Masters in Public Ministry program.

I’m writing about it here not primarily to promote Garrett Seminary, but because this Eco-Ministry is a growing edge in contemporary ministry. It often has interfaith and eco-spiritual aspects, which are essential. But its placement in Garrett’s new Public Ministry degree gave it a distinctive social and political slant that is sometimes missing. Garrett’s version also featured radical discipleship resources that gave it a particular focused and practical impact.

The first three weeks were introductory, with the ecological trinity of “soul, soil, and society.” We read Joanna Macy’s Active Hope and introduced The Work That Reconnects (WTR). Later in the semester, one of our students co-hosted a weekend WTR workshop. We tried to keep Macy’s “Spiral” (Coming from Gratitude, Honoring our Pain for the World, Seeing with New/Ancient Eyes, and Going Forth) central to our process.

I began each class with an ecocentric lectionary reflection. Each student was also required to write a “Wild Lectionary” entry based upon those modeled by Laurel Dykstra’s work.

During weeks two and three, we reviewed the debate between Jeremy Lent’s “Deep Transformation” and Jem Bendell’s “Deep Adaptation.” We examined how both are examples of “the great turning” but decenter issues of justice, power, and oppression. Perhaps a radical discipleship lens would call us toward something like Joerg Rieger’s “Deep Solidarity” as a necessary component of eco-ministry.

We divided a significant part of the course into two sections: Place-Based and Movement-Based Eco-Ministry. We read Watershed Discipleship and discussed the need for eco-ministry to go deeper than creation care. We looked at the Transition Movement and studied new forms of ecclesiology moving outside the walls of the sanctuary. We also examined the food justice communities of the Detroit Black Community Urban Food Network and Soul Fire Farm in New York.

In between Spring Break and Holy Week, we spent a week on leadership issues around ecological ministry. We were very aware that in terms of eco-leadership, we are coming alongside many others within and without other faith traditions. A sectarian or distinctively Christian eco-ministry will be counter-productive. We have gifts, but we don’t have all the gifts. We Christians need to serve, support, and collaborate with other efforts and the regenerative potential of the earth itself. The earth will not be transformed if we are not transformed (which is a solidly Pauline conviction).

In the Movement-Based section, we looked at how seminarians might contribute their training, skills, and gifts to the broader environmental movements in our world today. We studied the Sunrise Movement and Extinction Rebellion, as well as the “liturgical direct action,” Bill Wylie-Kellerman has advocated. We contemplated the “principalities and powers” we confront in our movement-based efforts. We also looked at the recent development of Movement Chaplains (especially the Daring Compassion Project) and considered how we might serve “the liturgy of the earth” within our movements.

We concluded by discussing climate anxiety, grief, and trauma. The work of EcoFaithRecovery.com was helpful with this portion.

Of course, the pandemic arose in the middle of our semester. We each began to have our anxiety, grief, and trauma as a daily reality and fulltime job. But we also remembered our radical discipleship tradition was formed during times of crisis.

We dispersed to a remote classroom and ended our semester one month early. Fortunately, I had enough warning to be able to combine lectures and still cover all the material. But it was a truncated end to a promising journey.

The focusing question of their final paper was not academic but personal. How is a vision for eco-ministry taking shape in your life? Reviewing all that we have read and discussed in this class, where is your ecological niche as you go forward? What are the strengths and weaknesses you bring to this vision? What skills do you need to develop, and what mentors do you need to find?

Those might be questions for us all as we turn toward and not away from ministry to this earth.

3 thoughts on “Teaching Eco-Ministry

  1. Matt Carlson

    Thank you, Ric, for sharing this work. I’m wondering if you could recommend any eco-centric curricula for a middle-school and/or high-school Sunday education hour.

  2. This sounds like a great class. I see some strong connections with the Land, Food, and Faith Formation DMin program at Memphis Theological Seminary. Glad to hear if classes the integrate justice and social movements with creation care and preparation for ministry.

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