Environmental justice organizer joins conference for year-long internship
September 27, 2018
By: Karla Hovde
Meet Isaiah Friesen, the Minnesota Annual Conference’s first environmental justice organizer. He comes to the conference as a full-time intern through Lutheran Volunteer Corps, and he’ll be in his role through July 2019.
“I am concerned with what the church and the sacred have to do with peace and justice, and with creating a healthy and whole world for people, plants, and animals to live in,” said Friesen.
Friesen will contribute to a variety of projects during his year-long internship that started last month. The three main components are:
Working with New City Church in Minneapolis, one of the Minnesota Conference’s new church starts. He will help lead a backyard farming initiative with the goals of encouraging urban agriculture, community building, and food sovereignty in the nearby neighborhoods.
Working with the conference’s Hopeful Earthkeepers ministry team to recruit new participants and brainstorm new initiatives for the Earthkeepers to take on.
Collaborating with an ecumenical cohort of Minnesota denominations to identify how Minnesota churches can be more deeply engaged in water justice.
Friesen is looking forward to the opportunity to recruit and rally people to “the hard work of discipleship to God’s creation.” He says that this work gives him hope for the purpose and the future of the church.
Cindy Gregorson, director of ministries for the Minnesota Conference and one of the leaders overseeing part of Friesen’s work, said that this internship aligns with the Minnesota Conference’s goal of developing residency experiences through which people can explore vocational calling. The work also supports one of the three gospel imperatives that the conference is focused on: healing a broken world.
Discerning what his future in ministry will look like is one of Friesen’s goals for the year. He is also enthusiastic about the chance to get more community organizing training and practical experience that he can take with him wherever he goes next. He will use this year to explore the work God is calling him to do at the intersection of environmental justice and Christian ministry.
A recent graduate of Goshen College in Goshen, Indiana, Friesen completed a double major in Spanish and peace, justice, and conflict studies—and he is currently taking classes at Luther Seminary. He grew up on a family farm that focused on sustainability, which taught him the importance of weather patterns, soil conditions, and the state of water in raising crops and animals.
He is passionate about theology and the role the church has in creating a more just and peaceful world. In college, he was involved in campus ministries and a ministry inquiry program, but he felt that he was missing the aspect of ministry that involved caring for the land. This internship will allow him to focus on both ministry and the environment.
Friesen has also been motivated to pursue his passions through his experience with pipelines that endanger the livelihoods of Nebraska farmers, like his family, and could contaminate the Ogallala Aquifer that lies under much of the Midwest. His concerns around climate change and water protection also overlap with his concern for Native American communities and work with indigenous sovereignty.
“I think that the church at large is called to re-center around caring for the earth and to realize how much God’s earth cares for and provides for us,” Friesen said.
Toward the end of college, Friesen went to a Forum for Theological Exploration, an ecumenical event that brings a variety of church leaders together with young people trying to discern their future in church ministry.
There, he met the person who recruited him to the Lutheran Volunteer Corps internship program. At the same event, he also met Rev. Tyler Sit, the church planter for New City Church. His first impression was, “Tyler’s doing exactly the church work that I’m really intrigued and troubled and excited by”—work that he believes represents the future of the church.
“I had no idea that I would actually get a chance to work with him as part of this role,” said Friesen. “It seems divinely arranged in too many ways to count. That’s increasing my faith. This seems like a perfect situation I’m stepping into.”
Karla Hovde is the communications specialist for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.