This past week, a few members of the ELCA World Hunger staff and I went on a “field trip” to St. Paul’s African American Methodist Episcopal Church, a program site for the Domestic Hunger Grant recipient program, Faith in Place. During the afternoon, we visited with some of the program coordinators and the energetic, enthusiastic children and young people at the church and learned about the ministry of Faith in Place.

Faith in Place works with people of all faith traditions, because they see that “There are two great responsibilities common to all faiths: to love one another and to care for Creation,” and their mission is to help religious communities fulfill those two responsibilities. According to their website, “Faith in Place gives religious people the tools to become good stewards of the earth […and] partner with religious congregations to promote clean energy & sustainable farming.”

At St. Paul’s Church, we were given a tour by some youth who showed us the projects they are participating in. Skye, one of the girls at the church, gave us a mini-tour of their raised plant bed (because the soil in the lot has a high lead content) where they are growing peppers, collard greens, cucumbers, and other vegetables. Next, I was eagerly whisked to the compost trashcan where Devon, one of the youth, proceeded to pull out leftover stems from the greens and onions they had cooked together for the “healthy lunch” earlier that day and shredded cardboard from their boxed lunches the day before. The smell wasn’t too bad, and the smile and pride on his face made the experience a true pleasure! The church also has a rain barrel project in the works, shops for food at the local farmer’s market, and leads the young people in discussions on topics such as energy to discover connections between the interconnectedness of consumption and creation. Faith in Place and St. Paul’s African American Methodist Episcopal Church are making their way toward greener tomorrows!

The experience was a fulfilling JOY for me on two levels. First, it was great to get out of “the cube” (my affectionate nickname for the cubicles that we sit in at the ELCA offices) and out into the communities where the work we do is realized and manifested. It was a rejuvenation of commitment! Second, I am a self-proclaimed “nature lover,” who grew up in the woods of Northern Minnesota and is still adjusting to life in the “big city” of Chicago. To see the connections that people are making as part of God’s good creation to the land they are on, even in the midst of concrete and polluted soil, was a beautiful thing to see.

Earlier this year, I was at a presentation where the emerging theme of ecopsychology was introduced. Ecopsychology, in my understanding, is the human experience of being disconnected physically and, therefore, mentally, from nature, which the presenter linked to materialistic and self-centric societies that “big cities,” especially, can cultivate in individuals. I do believe that the understanding of and connection with creation is essential to our ability to care for creation and for one another.

As taken from the ELCA Social Statement, “Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope, and Justice:”
“ ‘To serve,’ often translated ‘to till,’ invites us again to envision ourselves as servants, while ‘to keep’ invites us to take care of the earth as God keeps and cares for us (Num 6: 24-26).”

How good it was to see a group of young people partaking in care for creation with such vigor and purpose! May we be that enthusiastic to dig around in the (sometimes smelly) compost of our own lives and know the contents of the rich soil out of which we grow!