Color My Seminary Green

by Margaret Farnham

Over the years, students and faculty have become more involved in recycling, energy conservation, gardening, and other activities that demonstrate a faithful commitment to the care of creation. This fall, Trinity will formally kick off a three-year process to become a GreenFaith certified seminary.

color green aWhen graduating senior Inge Williams visited Trinity for the first time as a prospective student more than four years ago, she took note of several things: Alum Creek and its adjacent walking trail, a nearby park, a professor and campus organization dedicated to environmental justice, and daffodils. “It was March and the daffodils had just bloomed,” she recalled.

Because Williams’ call to ministry arose in part from a garden project with her home congregation, she was encouraged during that March visit by what she saw and heard from Dr. Lisa Dahill, associate professor of worship and Christian spirituality. As a result, Williams chose to study at Trinity.

Shortly after her arrival in 2010, she joined the seminary- sponsored group SEEDS (Stewarding Earth and Environment Daily and Sustainably). Established on campus in 2006, SEEDS hosts guest speakers who share their experiences with things like energy audits, community garden projects, clean-up activities, and political advocacy as it relates to the environment.

As an intern in Seattle, Williams joined other clergy to testify against the development of export terminals in Washington and Oregon for the storage of coal shipped from Montana and Wyoming to Asia. Dressed in her clergy collar, she spoke of the ports’ devastating impact on the surrounding plants and waterways, not to mention the people who would inhale the coal dust.

Last February, Williams was assigned to the Northeast Pennsylvania Synod, an area where farmers set aside land for potatoes and other staple products used by area soup kitchens.She sees the progression of her journey as the work of the Holy Spirit.All of these things have “helped me to claim the stuff I was wrestling with before I entered. For me, this was a call to leadership,” she said.

In her last weeks at Trinity, Williams and 15 other students helped to launch an energy audit of the seminary by Ohio Interfaith Power and Light, the Ohio affiliate of the national Interfaith Power and Light network.Interfaith Power and Light exists to educate faith communities and elicit their participation in energy conservation, energy efficiency, and the use of renewable energy.

In November 2013, the Trinity Board of Directors gave approval for Ohio Interfaith Power and Light to conduct the energy audit as part of the seminary’s GreenFaith certification process. To become a GreenFaith certified seminary, Trinity must meet criteria in four areas: facilities, curriculum, spiritual life, and advocacy.
During the energy audit, students accompanied energy consultants and certified lighting professionals as they toured the building and collected pages of data about the seminary’s lighting, outlets, and heating and air conditioning system. John Fetters (father of Andy Fetters, ’07), of Effective Lighting Solutions, oversaw the lighting evaluation.

The data will be used to create a computer simulation of energy use and ultimately provide a list of Energy Conservation Measures for the seminary. The audit also will include a solar analysis and an evaluation of the seminary’s water use. The total cost for the audit is $22,750. Volunteer assistance from the students helped to reduce that amount by $2,900, and American Electric Power offered a $5,000 rebate. Based on the final report and recommendations, there will be additional rebates available, said Craig Foster, president of Foster Energy Management Co. and the lead auditor.

In addition to the energy audit, members of the seminary community continually look for ways to raise awareness about energy conservation, climate change, pollution, and the global need for clean water. Last fall, Trinity and Bexley Seabury seminaries invited climate scientist Lonnie Thompson, of The Ohio State University Byrd Polar Research Center, to participate in an interfaith panel discussion about climate change, and this spring Trinity welcomed renowned speaker and author Cynthia Moe-Lobeda for the seminary’s first eco-justice event.

color green bTrinity’s attention to all matters ecological can be traced to Professor Dahill, who not only teaches a course called Ecological Spirituality, but weaves matters of creation care into most classes she teaches and the sermons she preaches. She continually asks the question: “How can we live in a way that is more life giving?”

Dahill’s questions—and quest to involve others in the preservation of earth and its resources—comes down to “relationship”; more specifically, our relationship with God and God’s creation.

“Bonhoeffer talks about living in correspondence with reality, where God and the world come together. We can’t speak of God without speaking of the world,” said Dahill, a noted Bonhoeffer scholar. “But we have failed to see God of the world; we’re not living in correspondence with reality.”

Carbon emissions and the burning of fossil fuels contribute to global warming and deforestation; pesticide runoff from farms continues to pollute important water sources; and the population most affected by pollution, poor air quality, and toxic waste continues to be the poor and disadvantaged.

“Faith communities have a unique role in equipping people to face reality, to tell the truth of what we see, and to draw on our centuries of ritual and practice to participate in God’s work today of re-creating human economies, communities, and lives toward the flourishing of all,” Dr. Dahill wrote in a report to the Board of Directors outlining the reasons why Trinity should become a GreenFaith seminary.
Through her preaching and teaching, Dahill continually encourages others to learn to live in a way that “gets us in touch with the world and the earth.” She rides her bike to the seminary each day, water bottle in tow.

“I ride my bike because it is fun, good exercise, and it saves fossil fuels. It is intrinsically life giving and joyful to be out in the real world and among living things,” she said.

“Her passion is contagious,” said first-year student Joel Rothe of Dr. Dahill. “Without her, students would not be this involved or aware. I think we are all grateful for her presence here.”

Recognizing the need for an organized effort to raise awareness and involve students in matters of ecological justice and sustainability, Dahill formed the SEEDS group soon after her arrival on campus. The organization grew slowly, but today involves numerous students in various degree programs. Williams and Rothe earn work study money provided by Ohio Interfaith Power and Light to serve as student liaisons between the seminary and OhIPL. They help organize activities on campus, such as continuing education events and the energy audit.

“My involvement in SEEDS has furthered my own sense of need for stewardship for the world around me, and refined my own theological sense of how I fit in the midst of creation and how the gospel speaks to ‘more than human life’ – all the life that surrounds us,” said Rothe. He is most concerned about climate change and the church’s role as researchers provide more details about its impact on the environment. A California native, he regularly organizes hikes to Columbus-area metro parks and encourages his colleagues to get outdoors.

color green cMembers of SEEDS also organize cleanup of the portion of Alum Creek that runs adjacent to the seminary and seminary apartments. Trinity is a partner with the Friends of Alum Creek and Tributaries (FACT), a 25-year-old, non-profit volunteer organization dedicated to the preservation of the creek, a main water source for one Columbus community and home to an abundance of plant and animal life.

A few times a year, students, faculty, and staff pull shopping carts and tires from the creek’s muddy banks, and remove plastic bottles, cans, and litter from the nearby walkway. This spring, students planted new seedlings along the trail that runs beside the creek.

Members of SEEDS and the broader seminary community also share their voices in the public sphere. Members of the community were urged to sign a petition to support Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency in Ohio, and in a story for The Cleveland Plain Dealer, President Rick Barger and Professor Dahill provided opposition to Ohio Senate Bill 310, a bill that would stall energy efficiency programs and the further growth of wind and solar power.

As membership in SEEDS continues to grow, so do the projects. First-year student Creighton Leptak this year spearheaded a new garden project behind the president’s home on Sheridan Avenue near the seminary. Six new beds were created and now hold cucumbers, squash, cabbage, radishes, peppers, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, sweet corn, beans, potatoes, and a variety of herbs. Students who remain on campus throughout the summer will join Harriet Barger in tending the garden. Its bounty will be shared with members of the community and others.

This fall, the community will formally kick off the three-year process that ultimately will lead to Trinity’s designation as a GreenFaith seminary. “I want the tone of the process to be fun and life giving, like riding my bike,” said Dr. Dahill, who hopes one day to see attention to creation care in all aspects of the seminary curriculum, from biblical studies and ethics to pastoral care and field education.

“God has embraced all of creation in the flesh of Christ. God, human, world, earth…we experience all of this as the fullness of God,” said Dahill. “We’re compelled as Lutherans to think that way. How can we enjoy it and lament its great losses, and have the courage to face hard things.”

As Inge Williams prepares for her first call in Pennsylvania, she anticipates the Holy Spirit will continue to move through her ministry as she finds new ways to engage others in the care of creation.

“Wherever you go, people are connected to the land,” she said. “There is so much nature around us, but we take it for granted. The gospel gives us another way to treat one another and God’s creation.”