An interview with Matthew and Nancy Sleeth, by Blessed Earth staff.
What happens when 12 of the nation’s largest and most influential seminaries sign a covenant promising to promote sustainability and stewardship of the earth?
In a word: synergy.
On April 22, Blessed Earth launched the Seminary Stewardship Alliance, bringing leaders from many of the nation’s most respected seminaries to Washington, D.C., for a ceremony at Washington’s National Cathedral. Leaders from participating institutions signed a covenant to promote sustainable practices in 10 specific areas, including facilities, housing, missions, travel, and use of resources.
Stewardship requires teamwork, and Blessed Earth founders Matthew and Nancy Sleeth believe the seminaries can accomplish more collectively than individually. Channeling the seminaries’ individual initiatives into a nationwide commitment signals unprecedented momentum for the creation care movement in America.
At Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, results have been immediate, says Michael DeLashmutt, associate academic dean for first theological degrees.
“We’ve started to gather as a faculty to think through how sustainability can be more centrally integrated into our curriculum,” DeLashmutt says. “Sustainability isn’t just something that we stick on at the end of a course on ethics, or that we somehow make an off-handed comment about in a course on the doctrine of God and creation. These issues have become central to our imagination around theological education.”
Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, will be adding initiatives to an already healthy commitment to sustainability. “One of the things that’s wonderful about joining the alliance is that it creates this wonderful network of people who have different ideas and can begin to share resources,” says Pamela Cooper-White, professor of pastoral theology, care, and counseling at Columbia.
Over the past two years, Columbia has completed construction on two buildings that received top certification from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).
“These buildings are made out of natural materials,” Cooper-White says. “Even the linoleum is made out of linseed oil and nothing synthetic.”
Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary near Chicago is completing LEED certification for a new student center, a process that includes finding local sources for their cafeteria food. “I’m very hopeful that the alliance can begin to push us further, to really bring to bear this call to live out the mission to care for God’s creation,” says Timothy Eberhart, program associate for external education at Garrett.
Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, showed its resourcefulness recently by asking a student — who is also an experienced plumber — to install water-saving devices throughout the campus.
SSA leaders will share additional success stories like these at a series of regular meetings beginning this fall.
“Our hope is not only for seminaries to make changes within their institutions, but to encourage and hold each other accountable in the years ahead,” Nancy Sleeth says. “We also know that the seminaries work with denominations, churches, missions, and their surrounding communities. At the crux of all of this is relationships — relationships with students, faculty, colleagues, churches, parachurches — and most of all, God and his glorious creation.”