Lindenwood Christian Church sent me to the Gather at the River Conference in Memphis this September. Three hundred people of faith met at the conference to think of new ways to bring ecotheology to our places of worship. I met amazing minds. I learned incredible facts and figures that tug at my heart. To follow up from this experience, I wrote an article for the Lindenwood newspaper. I continue to gently push the idea of a green church in my work here in Memphis. Andrew and I have so much work to do.
Here is my article:
Gather at the River
“Brothers, sisters let’s go down… down to the river to pray.”
Oliver is one of the great loves of my life.
He is like love incarnate in a tiny feline body. On nights when my mind races with no relief, his presence at the foot of my bed brings me peace and comfort. He teaches me what it looks like to love with my full heart and forgive without reservations.
Many of us have experienced God through nature.
We know eternity in our souls when we look across the curve of the ocean.
We know depth of all depth when we stare into the canyon of a mountain range.
We know ceaseless love when we connect with the pure soul of a pet.
Reverend Fletcher Harper, president of Green Faith, works with church communities to incorporate care for creation into church ministry. Harper’s work shows that nearly everyone has experienced God in nature, but few of us have ever shared these experiences with each other. In his work, he often speaks with people about their experiences. He notes that people come alive when they describe feeling God’s grace through encounters with creation. Fletcher Harper was one of the many dynamic speakers at the recent Gather at the River Conference in Memphis.
On Friday, September 24th, three hundred people of faith met at Bridges USA to launch the conference. On Friday evening, Sally Isom, Brenda Hale, Jane Grimes, Kate Korzekwa, and Dallas, Kathy and Andi Minner joined me to learn from this conference. We all came with questions, concerns, and hope for the Mississippi River.
Perhaps we learn a little bit more about our tender Creator when we connect with our beautiful earth. So, what is our role in protecting the fragile parts of God’s masterpiece?
In Memphis, many of us cherish the Mississippi. This beautiful river flows nearly 2,500 miles. We take pride in our piece of North America’s largest river system. We river lovers might connect with the Mississippi through the adventure Huck Finn created in Mark Twain’s novel. Or, perhaps we appreciate the historic significance of the Mississippi in American commerce. In Memphis, we know this river like an old friend. Throughout the conference we celebrated the richness of the Mississippi and worried over its fragility. Parts of our river are dying along with our planet’s shrinking natural resources.
At the conference, we learned about issues around agricultural runoff into the Mississippi, silt trapped in dams along the waters, and shrinking eco-diversity among fish and wildlife in the river. In a shocking keynote address, author John Berry said that an area of land the size of a football field falls into the ocean every 45 minutes outside New Orleans because of the lack of sediment passage down the Mississippi. Many speakers articulated the importance of taking on issues of environment protection in the Church.
The Mississippi River is not the only body of water in trouble. Plastic garbage in the ocean kills more than 100,000 marine mammals like porpoises and sea otters each year. In places like Mozambique, most citizens do not have direct access to clean drinking water.
Beyond our struggling water, we can see the effects of pollution on land, too. We live in a world where breathing the polluted air in Cairo is equal to smoking 20 cigarettes in one day. In Boston, Massachusetts, 450 people die each year prematurely, because of diesel pollution in the city limits. On our planet, 27,000 species become extinct every year due to habitat loss.
What is our role in caring for creation?
At the Gather at the River Conference, we learned that many churches participate in caring for the earth as ministry and mission. Some churches participate in energy audits of their sanctuaries to determine where they can cut energy bills while conserving resources. Some churches invest in recycling paper to reduce waste. We learned that some congregations hold worship services outside or take members on nature walks as a way to connect with nature.
After this conference, I found myself drawn to the banks of the Mississippi in prayer. I got down on my knees and thought of all the little forces of life swimming in front of me. I thought of the tender habitat formed by God that rushes along the banks of Memphis. I thought of our strong church and all of the creative minds that worship together on Sundays at Lindenwood. I imagined the powerful ministry we could bring to our habitat. What could we contribute to the preservation of God’s precious planet? How could we talk about the environment with one another, and, how could we act? I prayed alone on the banks of the Mississippi. I prayed for healing, preservation and hope. Next time, I hope we are on those banks together, collectively sending our prayers and our efforts to the care of creation. Maybe soon, we can all gather at the river and get to work.
If you are interested in a small group focusing on care for the earth or God’s creatures on the earth through study or mission work, send me an email. If you have ideas for Lindenwood’s future engagement with nature, pass your ideas along to me: Sarah.Taylor-Peck@lindenwood.net.