Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Unique Eco-Discipleship Retreat Hosted at Camp Emmaus

Camp was likely one of the first places where you had the opportunity to explore the values of biblical earthkeeping. Whether it was activities like participating in worship outdoors, composting food scraps, or learning how to “leave no trace” while hiking in the woods; each experience left an indelible imprint on your faith formation.

Outdoor Ministry Association Board members Jonathan Stauffer and Randall Westfall have come to believe that living attuned with God’s creation is now essential to our discipleship with Jesus. In recent years, we have rediscovered just how attuned to creation Jesus was. His teachings often made a point by drawing on the natural world around him. He knew God’s wisdom came from these encounters and sought them out intentionally. He sought the solace of the wilderness, the sea, the mountain, and the garden to regenerate his ministry and mission. Jesus was drawing on a blueprint as old as creation itself.

As a result, Jonathan and Randall have crafted an innovative weekend retreat entitled “Cultivating a Verdant Faith.” Sessions are scheduled for March 8 - 10 in the winter retreat lodge at Camp Emmaus. Each day weaves eco-practices into the fabric of one’s discipleship and spiritual formation with Christ. By exploring the four directions of eco-discipleship, along with bible study, worship, and group discussions; participants will unearth their relationship with creation in new and profound ways. Ages 18 and up, are invited to unplug and rediscover the eco-blueprint of faith that our Creator gave us.

retreat logo cross inscribed by green flame
If you’re interested in registering for this unique spiritual formation experience, please read the brochure. You may contact retreat leaders for more event information. CEUs will be available through Brethren Academy. (Note: The retreat needs at least 10 registrants committed by Feb 4 to carry out and is limited to 25 participants.) They hope to see you at Camp Emmaus in March 2019!

Contact info:             Email:                                                 Phone:
Jonathan Stauffer                     (815) 973-0247
Randall Westfall         (231) 867-3618

Please complete brochure flap, tear it off and send the slip to:
Jonathan Stauffer
506 S Franklin Ave
Polo, IL 61064

Checks for the retreat can be made payable to Jonathan Stauffer.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Canton Church Forms Environment Team, Makes Rain Barrels

Story submitted by Kevin Kessler.

About 2 years ago, the Canton CoB Leadership Team began to grapple with the questions of congregational purpose and vitality. Carol Davis, a member of the congregation, enthusiastically led the process by calling together a visioning team of committed persons from within the congregation. They first developed questions and then invited the entire congregation to respond. Responses were then gleaned through a few focus group settings.  After compiling the responses, the visioning team spent time discerning key areas of interest, or passions, which emerged.

It became evident that the congregation was passionate about 5 areas: Ministry and Education, Relationships, Environment, Community, and Traditions/History. These passions, along with an umbrella statement claiming dignity for all of God's creation, were confirmed by the congregation. The entire congregation was then invited, by one-on-one conversations, to engage in one of the areas of passion. Subsequent gatherings provided opportunity for congregants to share ideas, set goals, and develop strategies to move forward in their respective passions. The process has generated enthusiasm and excitement around a variety of projects and ministry opportunities, one of which is the rain barrel project.

Jessica Brewer and David Ludlum, participants in the Environment Passion Group, have been instrumental in moving the rain barrel project along. A completed barrel system was installed at the house of David's parents.

The Environment Passion Group, through a brainstorming session, decided to embark on a project to create rain barrels as a creation care ministry. Three benefits motivated the group to forge ahead with the rain barrel project:
  • Collection of rainwater alleviates excess runoff into city drainage systems. A practical benefit is that captured water helps reduce flooding and erosion issues.
  • Water running off parking lots and city streets often mixes with petroleum-based products from motor vehicles. When these products enter our waterways wildlife and human life is adversely affected. Thus, collecting rainwater from the roof, before it flows over the ground, reduces pollution and provides an environmental benefit for our area.
  • Collecting rainwater also reduces the need to divert clean drinking water for watering gardens and indoor plants. The financial benefit is a reduction in the cost of household water usage and saves more clean, potable water for human consumption.
A first step for this project was finding barrels that could be converted to collection units. Following some research and phone calls, a company that produces dairy-based products offered to donate nine barrels to our project with the caveat that the containers would be given a thorough cleaning before using them.

The next step was finding reasonably priced hardware to convert the drums to rain water collecting units. Conversion kits were found at a major retail hardware store for approximately $30.00 each. However, an online source afforded the opportunity to purchase individual parts at a cost below the full conversion kit price. Because of our low-cost production, we can use church funds to cover the expense and give the barrels to recipients for free.

A “conversion day” is planned for this coming spring whereby a small group will install hardware on the nine barrels. The completed rain barrels will then be distributed to interested persons in the congregation. Any remaining barrels will be distributed to people beyond the congregation. The Environment Passion Group hopes this project will not only increase the vitality of the Canton congregation but also aid people in stewarding God’s good creation.

Canton Church of the Brethren website -

[Stay tuned for updates!]

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Earth is the Lord's

In my last post, I had reflected on the well known verses of the Twenty-third Psalm in regards to God’s promise for providing for our daily needs. The first verse of the following Twenty-fourth psalm gives another reason that Christians should be caretakers of the environment.

“The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it.” (NIV)

Here we read that the earth is not owned by us, but by God. Everything whether mineral, plant, or animal is under the Creator’s possession. This truth was understood in Jewish culture. There are several laws and narratives in the Old Testament that advise for responsible use of land and resources (For example, Exodus 23:10-12 and Leviticus 25:1-7 on granting the land to rest every seven years). Jesus recognized the authority of God over all living things throughout his parables and often sought communion with the Father in the calmness of creation (I intend to explore these accounts in later posts).

In the beginning, the world was entrusted by God as a gift and blessing to us. It is true that in Genesis 1:26 God said for humans to have dominion over the earth. Since we are made in the image of God, our dominion should model from the intent of the Creator. Yet many humans have taken this phrase to mean complete control on all resources and ecosystems to exploit for our own endeavors. Our cultural motivations are more often focused on maximizing profit or conveniences rather than honoring God and the gift of creation.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word stewardship is the act of “careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care”. Stewardship of the environment is more like management than free reign because of already established interactions that support all life on this earth. God designed the earth to consist of these ecosystems and any step hindered in the process can affect others down the line. So the concept of Eco-stewardship includes the management of these life-sustaining systems as God intended and understanding how they impact the lives around us.

We as Christians must recognize to not carelessly take from what has been given into our care, but rather we must be care-takers of what has been given. J. Matthew Sleeth wrote in the book Serve God, Save the Planet, that the essence of stewardship for Christians is “to take a gift, nurture it, and give it away someday” in the same or better state. We are only on this planet for a finite time and then our dominion is left to our neighbors and the generations after us. How do you believe your management of earth's resources has looked through the eyes of God? What could you do now to improve your stewardship of the earth for God and your neighbors?

Friday, January 2, 2009

Our Daily Bread

When we read Psalm 23 we are reminded that God blesses us in many ways. Indeed he does, but I also wonder in what ways we understand that blessing. For example, I am sure we are all familiar with the second verse, “He makes me lie down in green pastures,” yet I sense that many people imagine a lust, green meadow. At least I had this image in mind, until recently.

I remember attending a Wednesday night bible study at my church. Our pastor had been using a video series on biblical images in the Holy Land. It was called “That the World May Know,” and the presenter, Ray Vander Laan, on this episode was standing in front of his tour group discussing the shepherd imagery in the Bible. From the video, I could see that it was a rather dry region. It was then that Laan had commented on the 23rd Psalm and shared that the “green pastures” were actually created by areas with enough water to allow thin patches of grass to grow. It was enough for the sheep to eat that day. The pasture within the desert is to remind us that God provides for daily needs.

I now wonder how we were led an imagery of lush abundance. From my view it seems like many of us in the U.S. believe that we deserve things to be bigger, better, and have it instantly. We get our fill and still want more. Many people like to listen to leaders, political or spiritual, who promise prosperity and wealth. God does indeed promise us blessings, but remember it’s so much more than material!

Since I was a child, I have heard the story of the Israelites in the desert on the journey to the Promised Land. The people are beginning to groan and complain of discomfort to the point that they wish they were back in Egypt. God spoke to Moses that He would send manna and quail, and commanded them to only take what would satisfy their needs for that day. Yet, some took more than necessary and whatever was leftover by the next day became rotten. (Exodus 16) I believe that similarly our hearts can become rotten when we disregard what God gives us.

We as Christ-followers have already called to live a sustainable life. Think of Jesus’ words in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.” I believe it is not just spiritual, but includes our material needs. We should desire only that which we need each day to survive, and leave the rest for others, for another day.

The challenge is that each of us have different needs, some related, others unique. Each of us needs repeatedly to take time with the Father to discern what we really need. I am not saying that will necessarily mean giving up our cars, becoming vegans, or getting rid of the computer. We simply need to take time to give thanks for what we have, reflect on how we are living, and whether that is productive for God’s kingdom. Then ask Him for leading in how to change willingly and effectively.

I would like to end this post with a verse from Proverbs that I believe may help us to meditate on what is our material Daily Bread.

Proverbs 30:8-9

Keep falsehood and lies far from me;

give me neither poverty nor riches,

but give me only my daily bread.

Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you

and say, 'Who is the LORD ?'

Or I may become poor and steal,

and so dishonor the name of my God.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Current Ideas in Eco-Stewardship

In the previous article, I discussed how the ministry of eco-stewardship is an important mission to churches because of our interconnections to God and the world around us. In this final article, I would like to share three ways in which faith communities can promote a strong eco-stewardship ministry. The ideas am sharing are also presented in “Greening Our Churches,” an article by David Rhoads and Andrea Orcutt in the July issue of Sojourners magazine.

The first is seeking ways to integrate nature into our worship services. Our church’s tradition already practices a “Rural Life” Sunday which reminds us of the gifts and responsibilities that God has given to us on Earth. Also, our hymnals contain many new and familiar tunes that reflect on the wonders of God’s Creation. There are also many good worship resources available from Christian organizations (The Sojourner’s article gives two good websites, and Overall, an inclusion of nature in worship helps us to remember the earthly blessings our Father gives and increases our value in taking care of it.

A second way promotes the education of current environmental concerns and looks into the ethical use of nature. Learn what you can about being ‘green’ from articles, books, TV, or even your own experience. I would also encourage you to read the 1991 Annual Conference Statement “Creation: Called to Care” for our denomination’s view on eco-stewardship. Be open to share these ideas and concerns with each other as it helps everyone in increasing their range of knowledge.

Finally, be active in the congregation and community to reduce our environmental impact. Find ways to reduce energy use in your home and the church. For example, our church is already active in highway cleanup. Also, the York Center Church of the Brethren is currently discussing ways to reduce their building’s energy consumption through efficient lighting and heating methods. Urge the government, at all levels, to support funding toward conservation and sustainable policies.

The eco-stewardship movement is growing among churches, and I see a capability that the Church of the Brethren can perform within it. Our rural heritage along with values of simplicity, compassion, and justice gives us a strong role to share with other denominations. God be with us as we seek ways to be part of His plan for restoration.

The Importance of Eco-Stewardship

Everything that we choose to do has consequences on the world around us. The conveniences that our modern society provides us often come at a cost somewhere else down the line. For example, a lot the food that we buy from the store requires a collaborative effort between farmers, manufacturers, and freight carriers. More often today the food has to travel over hundreds of miles until it reaches your plate, all the while consuming fuel that adds to polluting the air along the way. While obtaining food is beneficial, the means by which it is delivered can be negative on the environment.

The social, economic, and environmental concerns apparent in this world are undoubtedly connected to our lifestyle choices. If we take just a moment explore where our clothes come from, how our bananas are grown, or where our trash goes, we begin to find a chain of world-wide interactions. We all have heard stories and seen pictures from guest speakers who address the inconsistencies of wealth and necessity around the world. How would you feel if even the choices we made here at home affected those communities? If you knew how to adapt your lifestyle to be more beneficial to other people and the earth, would you be willing to do it?

The ministry of Eco-Stewardship desires to address these and similar concerns, and gives us ways in which witnessing God’s love can be done through our daily decisions. Growing some of your own food or buying locally at the farmers market are a couple solutions to the example I gave above, and only a fraction of the options that eco-stewardship encourages us to explore. As followers of Christ, we need to examine our choices and seek ways to extend the Golden Rule everyday, everywhere.

There are a growing number of examples where churches have demonstrated eco-stewardship in the world. Next month, I hope to share some of these cases and help discuss other possible ways in which our congregations could contribute.

The Church and Environmentalism

On July 21, the York Center Church of the Brethren (located near Lombard, IL) held their first Green Fair. The idea for the event is connected to the church’s goal of reducing total carbon emissions by 80% in building and congregational use by the year 2050. The purpose of the fair was to invite faith communities in the Western Chicago area and provide discussion on ways to reduce the impact our lifestyles take on the environment. Five presenters were invited to give information and answer questions that address the most important environmental concerns pressing faith communities.

I was invited to present as a representative of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA). The organization is a non-profit coalition of Illinois residents who seek to inform and discuss ways that renewable energy and sustainable technology can become implemented in Illinois. Since 2001, they have held their own fair in August at the Ogle County Fairgrounds and more information is posted on our church’s bulletin board.

The sustainable choices we make in the faith community are a part of a growing ministry movement known as eco-stewardship. Cleaning trash up alongside our roads and Rural Life Sunday are the most familiar actions our church currently takes, so isn’t anything totally new. What is new is a broader focus on how congregations can seek to care for creation. York Center is one of many churches that are exploring ways to work in this ministry. I am also becoming interested because of my interests in sustainable energy.

Now what does sustainability mean? Generally speaking, it is the means that our lifestyle choices will ultimately have the least impact on our surroundings both now and in future generations. One way this can be done is by using renewable energy to power our homes and vehicles (examples include solar, wind, and biofuels). It can also include the ways you get your food and clothing.

In the next issue of the church newsletter I will reflect more on the importance of having an eco-steward ministry. Stay tuned.