Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary…Everence…Mennonite Healthcare Fellowship…Mennonite Men. What do a seminary, a financial institution, health professionals and a men’s organization have in common, besides connections to the Mennonite Church USA?
Despite their differing missions, all of them are addressing climate change and environmental degradation in one way or another, and each was part of a conversation on creation care that included 19 Mennonite-related organizations February 17.
Jennifer Schrock of Mennonite Creation Care Network and Doug Graber Neufeld of the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions called the meeting and co-hosted the event. They were motivated by the voices of people from multiple churches and organizations struggling to find effective responses to this time of environmental crisis.
“None of us have unlimited staffing or budgets; all of us can benefit from learning more about what others are doing. Our hope was to gain a sense of the U.S. Mennonite creation care landscape, identify places where collaboration would be beneficial and plug holes that need filling.” Schrock said.
“We were surprised and delighted that every organization we contacted accepted the invitation to come to this meeting. It speaks to how important creation care has become to a wide range of people,” Graber Neufeld added.
Each organization at the two-hour Zoom marathon had a chance to give an elevator speech about the ways they were working on creation care, to identify their unique strengths and to suggest next steps that would benefit their group. Discussion followed.
Conversation ranged from the practical to the theological. On the practical end of the spectrum, participants learned that Camp Friedenswald recently finished planting an oak savanna and had installed shingles made from recycled car bumpers. TilT, an incubator for social change in Taos, New Mexico, teaches people how to build with low-cost, locally available materials. Radical Living addresses food deserts in New York City neighborhhoods by teaching youth community gardening.
Mennonite Economic Development Association has a Green Finance Portfolio, providing grants that enable businesses in the developing world to leapfrog from polluting technologies like diesel generators to green technologies such as solar panels and drip irrigation. Mennonite World Conference has worked on the environmental impact of its assemblies, including starting a carbon offset fund for travel.
For some, environmental issues were unavoidable. Karla Friesen of Mennonite Disaster Service attended the meeting in her role as chair of Mennonite Disaster Service’s Creation Care Committee. “The severity, frequency and scope of disasters continues to increase in the U.S., affecting the poor and marginalized people whom we help,” she explained.
Several people also expressed a desire for a deep, collective theological grounding.
“Many of us have a powerful vision of what the Kingdom of God looks like,” Katerina Friesen of Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery said. “I am noticing in myself a desire for that vision to be seeded throughout the Mennonite Church…What is our common vision of flourishing? Continuing the conversation through the lens of the Kindom of God could be helpful,” she added. Kindom is an alternate respelling of Kingdom that highlights mutual relationships.
Collaborations were already in progress between multiple groups present. Five of the organizations in attendance were already core or strategic partners for the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions. Everence and Hungry World Farm had tree-planting projects underway with Mennonite Men’s Join Trees Project. The Peace and Justice Support Network and Mennonite Church USA have worked together on militarism, including its effects on the environment. Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College and AMBS collaborate on educational programs.
More possibilities for working together emerged during the meeting. Mennonite Mission Network mentors new churches, some of whom form around a common interest such as environmental concerns. The ability to connect churches passionate about a particular topic with like-minded groups is important to their work.
“Send us interns!” Karla Stoltzfus Detweiler of Hungry World Farm told the group, while also offering onsite retreats. Tammy Alexander of Mennonite Central Committee mentioned that her office can help set up advocacy meetings with congressional offices.
One of the more painful topics touched on was how much time should be spent trying to win over people who do not see environmental issues as the Church’s concern. On this, a wistful desire to not leave anyone behind and a commitment to hearing from multiple perspectives were coupled with practical limitations and a sense of urgency.
What was perhaps most impressive about this two-hour slice of the Mennonite community was the collective reach the participants represented. Amy Huser of Camp Friedenswald said that her camp alone serves 10,000 people a year and it is just one of 37 camps in Mennonite Camping Association. All of them teach about nature. Janeen Bertsche Johnson observed that there were nine AMBS graduates on the call, illustrating a seminary’s unique opportunity to train church leaders that care about creation. Mennonite Central Committee communicates with a politically diverse constituency. The Sustainability Alumni Network has ties to young adults who may not be connected to church institutions otherwise. Bartimaus Cooperative Ministries communicates an Anabaptist vision of ecojustice to ecumenical audiences.
Next steps are not set yet, but fostering opportunities such as this meeting are a priority for Graber Neufeld and Schrock.
“Mennonites have a unique and important contribution to the world working towards better care of creation. This meeting helped to bring us together as a united voice speaking to how our faith calls us to respond to the environmental problems we see around us,” Graber Neufeld said.
If your organization is actively engaged in creation care and you would like to collaborate with this group, email firstname.lastname@example.org.