Serving God in Serving the Planet: A Look at the Creation Care Alliance
One has to only take a step out their front door in Western North Carolina to be awed by the splendor and glory of creation, from the rolling blue mountains to the shimmering lakes to the flora and fauna that truly make this region one-of-a-kind. And yet, we are too often reminded of the reality of human impact on God's creation--as we pick up litter on the trails, drive past factories releasing waves of toxic fumes, or watch the ice caps melting on the news, it is easy to feel discouraged, to grieve for a planet and for people we are unsure how to protect.
The Creation Care Alliance of Western North Carolina (CCAWNC) hopes to be a community that not only holds space for conversation and grief, but also inspires and supports the efforts of those working to bring about environmental change in WNC and beyond. Described as "a network of people of faith and congregations who have united around a moral and spiritual call to preserve the integrity, beauty, and health of God's creation," the Creation Care Alliance works to care for creation guided by four principles: inspiration, education, service, and advocacy.
"The Creation Care Alliance is a network of faith communities and individuals that seek wholeness and right relationship with other people, land, and creatures," said Rev. Scott Hardin-Nieri, Director of CCAWNC. "Congregations can draw power and energy from one another and from their spiritual lives and from being connected to resources. We seek to share the stories oof various congregations doing good work, as well as provide access to resources for others."
A central part of the work of The Creation Care Alliance is creating connections between those involved in environmental work from a variety of faiths, backgrounds, and locations. One way in which they do so is through their annual Creation Care Alliance Symposium, a gathering of like-minded neighbors, from lay leaders to clergy, that share in prayer, discussion, storytelling, and more. This year's symposium, taking place virtually from January 28-29, 2021, will feature a diverse group of guests and speakers including Jacqui Patterson, Climate Justice Director for the NAACP, Judith Glixon, cellist and composer of "One Cello, One Planet" and our very own Rev. Anna Shine, the St. Luke's Boone Missioner for Creation Care and Social Justice and campus missioner for PECM at App State.
"Anna will be part of the 'Sacred Lands' Workshop, a broad exploration of how congregations might best steward their land," Hardin-Nieri said. "She is very wise and intelligent around policy and science as well as is very grounded and embodied in her spiritual practice. We're really grateful to have her be a part of the conversation."
For Anna Shine, caring for creation and finding ways to deepen her relationship with the planet has long been a part of her spiritual practice, long before she even had the words to describe it. Growing up interested in science and the outdoors, she always felt that her interest in science helped her grow and develop her personal faith.
"This has been a passion for most of my life, I didn't necessarily have the language of Creation Care growing up but I was always someone who appreciated the outdoors and a lot of my spiritual life came from being in nature," Shine said. "Before I switched to religious studies I was a biology major in college and science was my thing. I've always been fascinated by the sciences, and I think it enhances my faith. I think of it like two sides of the same coin, using two different languages to discover the same truth."
Fascinated by the contemplative mystic side of spirituality, Shine is fascinated by the correlations between the sciences and deep truths of many faith practices, from mysticism to Buddhism to Daoism. As an Episcopalian and follower of Jesus, she finds much of her faith grounded in her experiences outdoors, observing and experiencing God's Creation. Guided by Jesus' call to care for 'the least of these,' an environmental focus in her faith also informs other elements of her work, especially when it comes to issues of social justice.
"Really no matter what you're passionate about, in some ways it's related to creation care," Shine said. "But it goes both ways, if I care about the climate, I also have to care about those on the margins. The fact that in the larger climate crisis, the people that are going to be harmed and impacted more by this are by definition going to be people who are more harmed by society in general because they don’t have the same kind of protections in place."
In working to help others understand the correlation between environment and justice, Shine found unique ways for her congregations at St. Luke's and App State to worship and spend time in nature. During the summer months, St. Luke's participated in 'Garden Church,' working together in the garden prior to the service and then placing the harvested food on the table alongside the communion, thanking God for his blessings. Shine also spent much time outdoors with PECM for safety, but found it a unique way to incorporate community-focused language in prayers and discuss environmental issues taking place in the world.
"I've been trying to refocus my own thought process on the concept of land and understand that it's an equal partner and member of every congregation, not just something we have our buildings on," Shine said, "The truth of the matter is, if we actually took time to care for the dirt around us, we would have increased our membership astronomically in terms of the number of living organisms we would have participating in communion. Our soil can speak to us and through us if we actually take the time to observe it and care for it, and if we care for it it cares for us and creates the nutrients necessary for the food we ingest."
Shine is excited to share these ideas and hear from others across the faith community at the Creation Care Alliance Symposium. With this year's theme being "'Sacred Lands, Sacred Bodies," much of the discussion will center around preserving and caring for our planet, and protecting and advocating for those who are most greatly effected.
"What we're realizing as people begin to explore climate change grief is that they're touching on unresolved grief tied to oppression and trauma," Hardin-Nieri said. "People are filled with anxiety and we want to support them. It also encourages action, because people who are healthy and are able to face their own grief with courage are more able to act lovingly in a world that needs them."
Ultimately, the Creation Care Alliance hopes that through their work, people will feel more equipped to have these challenging conversations and take action to be a part of a larger change.
"I think the erosion of trust in our country and the attraction to dehumanize one another is so strong," Hardin-Nieri said. "My hope for the Creation Care Alliance would be to continue to deepen our humanity and our capacity to reflect the light of God in a way that embraces relationships with people and place, animal and mineral."
To learn more about the Creation Care Alliance, please visit https://creationcarealliance.org/
Learn more or register for the 2021 Creation Care Alliance Symposium at https://secure.everyaction.com/3EXokT2WB0iPPS2q_bLKGQ2