By Nancy Victorin-Vangerud, Hamline University
“You gotta put one foot in front of the other, and lead with love. Put…one foot in front of the other and lead with love.”
At the end of the 2019 Creation Care Summit—which brought together more than 200 United Methodists in Nashville, Tennessee from July 11-14—a team from Hamline University in St. Paul led a song composed by Melanie DeMore with this refrain. The energy and inspiration from the days prior became clear: In order to confront the challenges of the earth’s changing climate, we can each start with one step and let our hearts lead with love. Between the verses, members of the Hamline team shared brief quotes from visionary leaders who have inspired them to this work of environmental justice and creation care. As a spiritually diverse team, our words and singing offered a positive model of the interfaith movement—we are “better together.”
Those present at the denominational Creation Care Summit strategized how United Methodist congregations, universities, and groups such as our own Minnesota Hopeful EarthKeepers can bring their passions, perspectives, people, and power to organizing for an equitable and sustainable future. How can we do that by 2030, the year that climate scientists say the earth’s systems will begin to cascade seriously into climate chaos? We learned about the research of Harvard political scientist Erica Chenoweth, who found that change can occur through the impact of just 3.5 percent of the population organizing together. Those of us at the Creation Care Summit want The United Methodist Church to be part of that 3.5 percent!
The Hamline team was comprised of undergrads Gretta Breitweiser, Najma Omar, Elaina Tueffel, recent alumna Emma Kiley, who is a VISTA worker on campus, and me. Everyone on our team shares a commitment to sustainable local food systems, as expressed through our campus veggie gardens and the Hamline Church SPROUT garden. At the Summit, we met with other students, faculty, and leaders to develop multiple strategies for how United Methodist higher education can play a direct role. As Gretta, who also serves as Hamline’s Jewish Student Life leader, reflected: “During the conference, I formed connections with students on campuses throughout America and discovered the strengths and weakness Hamline has shown during the fight against climate change. I also learned ways we can improve our weaknesses, and how to talk to my peers to encourage them to help improve the community.”
Emma served on two panels at the Summit—the opening “Lay of the Land” panel, which brought together speakers with diverse stories and perspectives, and a panel of seminary students, alumni, and undergrads in a workshop that I facilitated about how to organize on college campuses. Both Emma and Najma have been involved with the “Feed Your Brain” initiatives at Hamline—aimed at raising awareness about food insecurity—and developing a monthly food pop-up.
“In my future work, I hope to continue intentionally focusing on the complexities of higher ed in order to create food justice programs that address the ever-changing environments of the natural world and our institutions,” said Emma in reflecting on the Summit.
Our team members’ thoughtful responses to questions about connecting with younger generations and working in partnership with other religious and environmental groups made a valuable contribution to the strategies discussed.
“I am a young black Muslim woman, so I brought diversity and a new perspective to this United Methodist conference,” said Najma. “What I took I away was that the climate crisis is not only an issue for people of faith, but it is a human issue.”
Elaina echoed that sentiment: “This event helped me realize that there are mass amounts of people who care deeply for our earth. This has certainly motivated me to push harder at my job, my home, and other places to be earth-conscious.”
The Creation Care Summit provided a timely opportunity for our Hamline team to meet up with leaders and teachers such as Minnesota Earthkeeper Cathy Velasquez Eberhart, a member of Prospect Park UMC in Minneapolis, and Dr. Timothy Eberhart, assistant professor of theology and ecology at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. We are grateful to be putting “one foot in front of the other” with these encouraging mentors from across The United Methodist Church.
Rev. Nancy Victorin-Vangerud is chaplain and director of the Wesley Center for Spirituality, Service, and Social Justice at Hamline University in St. Paul, which is a United Methodist-related institution.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church