I’m currently carrying out a long-term project on faith communities and the environment. I’m moved by a sentiment similar to that of David Orr, who puts matters this way: “The crisis of sustainability, the fit between humanity and its habitat, is manifest in varying ways and degrees everywhere on earth. It is not only a permanent feature of the public agenda; for all practical purposes it is the agenda.” To say that the ecological crisis should be the only thing on the public agenda is too strong. Nevertheless, I think the line from Orr properly suggests the seriousness of our situation.
I am especially interested in the way faith communities, as well as the organizations they support, have made positive contributions in this space. I also wonder how these contributions might be enhanced. There are good theological reasons for faith communities to get involved here. There is also the simple fact that sound environmental practice contributes to the common good. But why has this not been integral to the way more faith-based organizations serve their communities and the world at large? I’ve been thinking about these things in an informal way for a long time. For instance, as a college student I worked as an environmental educator and wilderness guide. Those who listen to me preach may have noticed that I try to be deliberate about crafting sermons that enhance our ecological awareness. The project I’m working on now, however, is intended to engage these issues more formally and more broadly. Here’s how the project has been unfolding:
- In the fall of 2019, while on sabbatical from my pastoral responsibilities, I enrolled in graduate studies at the University of Ottawa’s Institute for the Environment. I completed courses in the economic, legal and scientific dimensions of the ecological crisis and related challenges of sustainability. Part of my rationale for doing this is to develop a deeper understanding of the connections between these fields and the theology practised and taught by communities of faith.
- In the winter and spring of 2021 I conducted a series of interviews with leaders of Canadian, Christian denominations and humanitarian agencies. My goal was to better understand the obstacles and opportunities these organizations experienced with respect to engagement in environmental initiatives. Why, I wondered, has creation care not been higher on the agenda of many mission (or faith-based humanitarian) organizations? Why is it that Christian communities cannot be relied upon to publicly advocate for creation care? And for those Christian communities that have been active in caring for creation, I wanted to understand the ways they saw this work connecting to their faith.
- I intend to communicate some of what I am learning here on my blog. I also write a column for the Mennonite Creation Care Network. As with my other research projects, I intend to share what I learn in scholarly venues as well.