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EcoTheo Archives - Sustainability at Wake Forest

Sustainability at Wake Forest

Posts Tagged ‘EcoTheo’

A Theological Approach to Sustainability

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

When thinking about theological education, sustainability might not be the first word that comes to mind. The Wake Forest Divinity School, however, is currently adopting some changes that will influence sustainability learning outcomes for their students.

At the end of the spring 2013 semester, a group of Divinity School faculty participated in a retreat centered around the question “What would it look like to have a curriculum that takes full advantage of the places where we are located?” The result will be a gradual transformation of the curriculum to reflect what many refer to as a “place-based” education. By definition, place-based education is rooted in the unique culture, history, and ecology of the community.

The Divinity School has since introduced new courses that take full advantage of the place where we are located. For instance, in a class on worship and liturgy, in which the professor teaches about baptisms and communion, the students have been able to connect these sacred rituals to the place in which they are located. The class began with a trip to the Salem Creek, followed by a visit to the Water Treatment Plant. Divinity School Dean Gail O’Day notes that these trips aid the students in viewing water in a different way; they begin to think about the water theologically and have a newfound appreciation for it as a resource. The class also took visits to a community garden and a local winery in order to fully understand these resources from cultural, ecological, and theological perspectives.

This unusual approach to graduate education appears to be incredibly beneficial in several different ways. As expected, taking advantage of the “place” element of education has a positive impact on the students’ learning and in their preparation as leaders who understand issues members of their communities are facing.  Jill Crainshaw, professor of worship and liturgical theology, explains that effective religious leaders must be “deeply immersed in and knowledgeable about the people, history, and patterns of the particular places where they serve.” This curricular approach emphasizes the importance of a connection and understanding with the surrounding community, in hopes that they will take this strong foundation with them to the communities where they will serve in the future. According to Dean O’Day, “The better they understand the complexity of the world in which they live and in which they are going to serve, the better able they are to make informed decisions about what’s good for their community.”

The new curriculum also seems to instill a passion for sustainability and caring for the Earth. Dr. Crainshaw explains that through these place-based classes, students appear to develop “cosmocentric sacramentality” in which they “begin to see the many ways in which the world around them – both inside and outside of the walls of the church – is sacred.”  In this way, the Divinity School is not only shaping individuals who care for the people they are serving, but also about the environment they call home.  Dr. Mark Jensen, who received a grant from the WFU Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability to convene the curriculum retreat, is a leader in the ongoing curriculum changes. He says that an essential part of achieving their mission of developing “agents of justice, reconciliation and compassion” is exploring themes of sustainability and instilling the idea of the interlocking contexts of natural and built environments. Jensen quoted environmental writer Wes Jackson saying that we all need to “become native to the place in which we live” and take lessons from ecosystems that work harmoniously.

The developments across the curriculum complement a strong existing interest in sustainability within the school. An environmental theology student group called EcoTheo has grown in popularity over the past several years, convening regular meetings, contributing time to service projects, and working to incorporate principles of sustainability into everyday practices around the school. At their bi-weekly community lunches, students and faculty now use reusable plates and silverware, which the students wash, and food scraps are collected for composting after each meal.

A Food, Faith and Religious Leadership initiative offers to “equip religious leaders with the knowledge, skills, and pastoral habits necessary to guide congregations and other faith-based organizations into creating more redemptive food systems, where God’s shalom becomes visible for a hungry world.”

The Wake Forest Divinity School’s leadership is shaping the future not only of the communities in which its graduate students will serve, but of the wellbeing of life on the planet.

By Andrea Becker (’16), Staff Writer

Forward on Climate:There is No Plan[et] B

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

climateObscenely early on Sunday morning I joined eleven sleepy Deacons in a van headed to the Forward on Climate rally in Washington, DC.

Five and a half hours later we arrived at a DC Metro station and boarded a train bound for the National Mall where our meager dozen joined the nearly 40,000 people gathered in the shadow of the Washington Monument. It wasn’t until we were on the train that I began to get a sense of what we were about to experience. Each stop added more to our number. At our final stop, amidst a train-car full of folks undoubtedly headed to the rally, I heard a woman explain to her six year old, “This is where all the tree-huggers get off.” For this comment, I felt both sharp resentment and heartfelt pride.

It wasn’t long after our small stream of supporters meandered out of the station towards Constitution Avenue that we were swept up in a river of ralliers headed to the National Mall. It was more than I could have imagined – costumes, huge signs, hand-held wind turbines, and clever chants. The crowds began to fill the space between the Washington Monument and Constitution Ave.

The march was preceded by a number of speakers. These speakers shared not volumes of data, charts, mathematical models for current and projected carbon emissions, but stories. Caleb Pusey, another divinity student present remarked, “For the first time, I recognized that the environmental movement in our country has finally stopped beating people over the head with scientific evidence and learned to tell stories of suffering and hope.”

For too long we have believed that if people would only hear the numbers, if they understood the science, then they would not only be convinced, but they would change their lives and the world. I think the environmental movement is beginning to see that this is not necessarily the case. Sometimes we need to be reminded that people are suffering. Climate change it is not simply a concept to be explored, but a reality that has actual consequences in our everyday lives and some people are dying for it. But, we also need to hear and learn to tell stories of hope, courage, bravery, and redemption.

The march began slowly as we crept down Constitution Ave. But, with each step the energy grew. Chanting and singing energized the crowd. I was particularly intent on reading every sign I could get my eyes on. They were funny, witty, grave, and thoughtful. The signs portrayed a wide spectrum of issues from fracking, to mountaintop removal, solar and wind energy advocacy, the Keystone pipeline, human rights, and many more. Holding these signs were amazingly diverse people – black, red, rich, young, yellow, dreadlocked, gay, white, brown, old, handicapped, bearded, straight, and poor. It was a powerful reminder that this is an issue that affects everyone, though some are more harshly affected. The health of our air, water, and soil is something that no one can outrun.

I was also reminded that everyone has a part to play. This was obvious not only in the 40,000 people marching around the White House, but also in our little group from Wake Forest University. Some were content with simply being present. Some couldn’t imagine passing up the opportunity to dance in the mobile drum circle while others took a wide birth around it. For some it was not enough to participate in the chants − they were moved to lead them. We each found our different niche. Reflecting on these distinct means of involvement leads us to larger questions of ideology, reform or revolt, cooperation or insurrection, grassroots or top-down.

And so it is for the entirety of the environmental movement. Everyone has his or her favorite issue and we bring a unique set of skills, desires, and experiences with us. While this movement has leaders and voices that draw a larger audience than others, no one owns this movement, no one at Sierra Club, 350.org, or Wake Forest. Movements that create lasting change employ a wide range of tactics, strategies, and approaches. They articulate scientific, economic, sociological, and political points of view. They have conversations with co-workers at lunch, email members of congress, and march in the streets. They embody a diversity of ideas, opinions, and people.

On the train ride back to the van, I couldn’t help but think of the woman who identified the tree-huggers for her six year old. Neither she nor I realized that there were way more people on our train headed to the rally than we would have ever guessed. So, whether you are a quiet marcher avoiding the drum circles or a costume-wearing-sign-hoisting-chant-leading-enthusiast, there is a place for you in this movement. Bring your skills, bring your passion, bring your story, bring your voice, and save the Earth.

 By Jamie Sims,   Wake Forest Divinity School, Class of 2013

Faces of Sustainability: Nathan Peifer

Monday, August 13th, 2012

Photo courtesy of Nathan Peifer

Nathan Peifer is a competent and capable person; that’s why it was extremely disconcerting when, one year ago, he realized, in the most basic way, he did not know how to feed himself.  Thus began Nathan’s study of gardening, a journey of self-directed learning he describes as “chasing ignorance.”  This summer his chase landed him in the Wake Forest Campus Garden, where he works for the Office of Sustainability as the Campus Garden intern.  If you have been to the garden lately, you will find it difficult to believe that just one year ago Nathan’s entire gardening experience amounted to trying (unsuccessfully) to grow grass out of a Styrofoam cup for a grade school craft project.  Over this past week alone, the garden produced 74.09 lbs of produce and the harvest has just begun; the fruits of Nathan’s labor will be ripe for picking all the way into the fall.

One of the secrets of Nathan’s success is extensive research.  In order to best manage the campus garden, Nathan does a good bit of reading and seeks advice from his gardening mentors.  He takes inspiration from other gardens as well. Through these visits he has he has learned that every community and campus garden has its own unique strengths and challenges, so “you should never try to become someone else’s garden.”

Nathan identifies a strong partnership with Facilities and Campus Services as one of our campus garden’s unique strengths.  This summer Nathan worked out an arrangement with Megan Anderson, the campus recycling manager, to divert extra cardboard to the garden.  Nathan uses the cardboard to keep weeds down between rows of plants and the cardboard improves the quality of the soil as it degrades.

To Nathan, who is entering his third year in the Wake Forest Divinity School this fall, gardening is an art not a science (although, he points out, there is plenty of science happening in our garden).  He likes to garden because there are no right or wrong answers and you have to think creatively to solve problems that arise.  After two rigorous academic years in the Divinity school, the hands-on, outdoor work of the garden is a welcome change and he finds his work in the garden and his education to be “mutually informative.”

One of Nathan’s favorite aspects of his internship is working with different groups who volunteer their service in the garden.  So far this summer has hosted The Benjamin Franklin Scholars, the LENS program, StudentLife, and 4Good volunteers.  Nathan sees the garden as an opportunity for service learning and hopes faculty will take advantage of the garden as an unconventional classroom with the potential to “bring cultural assumptions [about farming and growing food] into high relief.”

This summer in the garden has helped Nathan shape his plans for the future.  He is seriously considering bivocational ministry, which combines traditional pastoral duties with other work, such as managing a community garden.  To anyone who now stands where he stood one year ago, in a place of ignorance about the source of their food, he offers this advice: “Find someone who knows what they are doing, befriend them, and rely on them as a resource. And remember, there is no one right way to do anything. You just have to try.”

By Annabel Lang, Wake Forest Fellow

Faces of Sustainability: Gail O’Day

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

Dean Gail O’Day spends her days at the Divinity School helping her students help others. Whether they are growing food in the campus garden to distribute to those in need or volunteering with Kids Café (a program of Second Harvest Food Bank), O’Day’s job is to make sure students have the resources they need to be successful.

Student interest was the impetus for the school’s sustainability club, EcoTHEO. Students also are working in many hunger-focused ministries, either as service-learning or volunteer work. “It’s a great reflection of the importance of sustainability for this generation of ministerial students,” O’Day said. Seventy percent of the university’s divinity students are under the age of 30.

When she started at the university in August 2010, O’Day heard students express their commitment to and passion for sustainability as a major social justice issue.  The School is developing a focus on food and faith communities, because “food issues struck us as the most accessible entry point into questions of sustainability,” she said. “It (food) has intergenerational appeal and need. The need for healthy food and food access also crosses ethnic lines. Many different faith communities can participate, so it crosses faith lines too.” (more…)