The Interfaith Sustainability Project is Earlham's chapter of the White House Interfaith Challenge. Approved by the White House, our year-long initiative brings together students, faculty, and Richmond community members on the topic of spirituality and the environment.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Back-Campus Cleanup and Meditative Walk

Friday afternoon we held a back-campus cleanup and meditative walk. The event was co-sponsored by every single religious life group on campus: Earlham Christian Fellowship, Bahai Club, Buddhist House, Earlham Young Friends, Jewish Student Union, Interfaith House, Questing Catholics, Unitarian Universalists, and the Muslim Student Association. Earlham Environmental Action Coalition was also a co-sponsor. We started in a silent circle on The Heart, then got to know each other by sharing our favorite things about nature. Warm sunshine, vivid colors, blowing leaves, and God's presence were some of the answers given. We then set out in two groups for back-campus, hands gloved and trash bags in tow.

We walked in the back-campus woods for about an hour, some in silence and some not. We made sure to keep track of recycling and trash so that we would not have to sort it out later. By the end of the hour, we had more than 10 bags filled, along with a blue kiddy pool and a sled! We closed the meditative walk with another silent reflection circle around the bags filled with trash. It felt good to see the difference that we could make in just one hour, but it was also sad to think how much more there is to do. All attendees expressed interest in attending another back-campus cleanup, and we plan on having another one next semester.

In other news, steering committee members are working hard on outreach to local churches. We are also just starting to plan a discussion, hopefully led by Earlham religion professors, that is centered around environmentalism in sacred texts.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Reaching Out Begins Successfully

This week we on the steering committee had the opportunity to meet with the Richmond Area Ministerial Association (RAMA). We were received with enthusiasm and grace. About fifteen congregations were represented at the October 13 meeting, four of which have already expressed their interest in being involved. In our presentation, we emphasized our belief in creation care, that we all have the responsibility to be "stewards for the earth," and that we want to build strong relationships with the congregations we work with. This message seemed to resonate with the ministers present. It was incredibly uplifting to be in such a welcoming environment, and the four of us were especially moved when we were mentioned in the closing prayers at the end of the meeting. We now hope to move forward with the congregations that we met and also reach out to other local ministerial groups, including the biracial group Community and Unity.

Friday, October 28 at 4:15PM we will be co-hosting a back-campus clean-up and meditative walk. Some of the other sponsors that we have already are: Earlham Christian Fellowship, Bahai Club, Earlham Environmental Action Coalition, Questing Catholics, and Buddhist Club. In the next couple of days we will be finalizing all the co-sponsors so that we can advertise in the beginning of the week.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Bonding and Brainstorming at the Green Team Retreat

This past weekend was our Interfaith Green Team retreat, and it was a fantastic success! We had a total of seventeen participants. all of whom are committed to volunteer on Green Teams for the two semesters. The retreat was a wonderful opportunity for everyone to get to know each other and eat, learn, and shape the Interfaith Sustainability Project together. 

The retreat started for the steering committee Friday afternoon when we cooked chili for Friday dinner and macaroni and cheese and apple crisp for Saturday lunch. All vegetarian, with vegan options! We saw sharing good food together as a vital part of the upcoming retreat, so worked hard to make everything extra delicious. 

Everyone arrived at 6:30 PM for dinner, and as soon as they tasted the chili exclaimed with sounds of satisfaction. Jacob shared with us that the chili was made from a recipe passed down orally through at least three generations of his family. We shared the delicious meal, then moved onto some silly icebreakers. It was a great opportunity to loosen up and get comfortable with one another. Everyone was willing to be outgoing and energetic. It was so refreshing to be in a room filled with such friendly and spirited people! 

Next on the agenda was a campfire, which we were lucky enough to share with Stephanie and Wyatt, two representatives from Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light, an organization with the mission to "call together Hoosiers of faith as stewards of creation in order to promote energy conservation, energy efficiency, renewable energy and related sustainable practices." Stephanie and Wyatt have had a lot of experience working with faith communities in Indianapolis and Bloomington, and we hope to learn from each other and help them establish a permanent presence in Richmond. They had many wise words to share with us with regard to forming mutually respectful relationships with the faith communities we'll be working with. It was a great honor to host them, and we on the steering committee will be communicating with them a lot in the coming weeks to get advice and work with them more closely. 

With bellies filled with delicious s'mores and hearts and bodies filled with warmth and happiness from an around-the-fire folk song session, we returned to Interfaith House for sleep. 

In the morning we had a quick breakfast of bagels, then got right back into programming. We started out with a quiz to test our environmental- and faith-literacy. The quiz was just for fun, but it was helpful because it emphasized a lot of the similarities between Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism, while revealing to us a lot of things that we did not know. 

We then reached the peak of the retreat: consensus about Green Teams and the direction of the project. We decided to have a consensus process because we knew that new and exciting ideas would emerge, and having consensus would give all Green Team members a sense of ownership on the project. One of the most exciting ideas that came up was to have one Green Team specifically devoted to reaching out to the Latino faith communities in Richmond. All members of that Green Team have a base level of Spanish fluency, and they are excited about working with that demographic. The general consensus which we came to as a group was that we will have four Green Teams, each one coordinated by a steering committee member. Each team will have one to three churches with whom they will work, depending on the amount of demand we get from Richmond churches. The teams will be fairly autonomous, but we will have monthly potlucks where we can update each other on the progress that we are making. 

Once the Green Teams were formed, we split into two groups for some interfaith dialogue. Everyone participated, and we had fruitful discussions on some of the following questions: 
  • What types of positive and negative things do you associate with organized religion? 
  • Is it possible to believe in and follow your religion but not believe in God? Is it possible to believe in God but not be religious? 
  • What place to religion and spirituality have in Earlham's culture and community? 
We closed the retreat by giving everyone an opportunity to tell the group their "story of self," or what they see as the story that led them to taking part in the Interfaith Sustainability Project. Knowing and being able to tell our personal stories will be important in the coming weeks and months, because we need to be able to explain to others what makes interfaith environmental action our passions. 

The Interfaith Sustainability Project is gaining momentum all the time, and we are extremely excited! This coming weekend, we will be receiving training in how to use the technology that enables us to identify heat leaks in windows and doors. 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Preparations, Adjustments, and Recruitment

One week away from our Green Team retreat, and the Interfaith Sustainability Project is going strong! These past two weeks, we've had to prepare for the upcoming retreat, adjust to some unexpected changes, and recruit new Green Team members.

The retreat, which will be Friday, September 30 6:30PM to Saturday, October 1 4:00PM, is meant for all new Green Team volunteers. We will be spending that time together sharing meals, engaging in interfaith dialogue, having a campfire, choosing Green Teams, and more. The steering committee has been working hard to put together a packed schedule. The retreat was originally going to be an off-campus campout, however we made the decision to have it be on-campus so that more of the volunteers could come. This will be a time for us all to come together, get to know each other, and have fun!

We have, however, had to make some major adjustments recently. Kelly Burk, Director of Religious Life at Earlham and our faculty advisor, made the decision to take the rest of the semester off for medical reasons that are not life-threatening. This lead to some serious thinking about how our project will continue, and we reached the decision that it is still very possible for the Green Teams to be strong forces in the Richmond community, even without a faculty advisor. There are still a number of Earlham faculty involved in this project, including the directors of the Center for Environmental Action and the Green Science department. So the project still has all the same goals and ambitions, and we also have a number of faculty to whom we can turn when needed.

Recruitment will be going strong up until the retreat begins! Steering committee members have been visiting religious life houses and clubs as well as environmental houses and clubs. So far we have 25 Green Team members, which is past our goal of 24! However, the more volunteers the better.

Next week, updates about the retreat with pictures!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Project Kick-Off!

Hello! Welcome to the Interfaith Sustainability Project blog. My name is Rachel Winsberg, and I will be writing to you once a week with updates about our past and upcoming events, off-campus successes, and general exciting information about the project. 

But first you may be asking, what is the Interfaith Sustainability Project? Our project began in the Spring, when Obama issued "The President's Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge"inviting institutions of higher education to commit to a year of interfaith and community service on- and off-campus programming. Director of Religious Life Kelly Burk and I wrote a detailed plan of action, submitted it, and got the White House's approval. We chose environmental sustainability as our theme. In addition to abiding by our “Principles and Practices,” which states that we must “work for an environmentally responsible and sustainable future,” this theme is appropriate for Earlham because of its well-established passion and momentum on campus.

Over the next two semesters, our project will be pursuing both on- and off-campus initiatives. Our on-campus events will always be co-sponsored by one of the many student or faculty religious and/or environmental groups with whom we are collaborating. Those events include, but are not limited to, highlighting environmental sustainability during religious emphasis week, film showings, religious text studies on environmental themes, speakers, and a back-campus trash pick-up/meditative walk. 

Our off-campus initiative aims to build relationships with Richmond faith communities and help them make their communities more green. We will train and equip student interfaith "Green Teams" to provide multiple free services for the faith communities. A unique service we will offer is energy audits that inform the faith communities of heat leaks in windows and doors. We will then work closely with them to help them fix those leaks in the most cost-effective way. We are currently looking for more student volunteers! Spread the word, and contact me if you're interested. You can get Bonner hours for it! 

Our goal is to offer our services to every faith community in Richmond that is interested.  However, we are especially interested in providing services to faith communities that have a high percentage of low-income families. By reaching out to low-income faith communities, we hope not only to address environmental concerns, but also to work at reducing utility costs for communities struggling to make ends meet. 


Now that you know what we're all about, here's an update on our progress! This past Saturday, September 10, the Interfaith Sustainability Project and Earlham Environmental Action Committee co-hosted showing of Renewal at Interfaith House (Thornburg). Renewal documents faith-based environmental action all over the US. According to its website, "Renewal is the first feature-length documentary film to capture the vitality and diversity of today's religious-environmental activists. From within their Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and Muslim traditions... these women, men and children are re-examining what it means to be human and how we live on this planet." 

The showing was a great success, and afterwards we had a question-and-answer period about what it would mean to be on a Green Team. Collin Schulze, Molly McIntosh-Case, Jacob Willner, and I constitute the steering committee for this project. We fielded questions about the Green Teams, and by the end of the evening we had twelve people committed to volunteering this semester. A fantastic start! We're hoping to have at least twenty-five volunteers this semester, and the rest of the volunteers will be found through meetings with religious life groups, environmental action groups, and religious life houses. 

That's all for this evening. Thank you for your time, and spread the word to any Earlham students you think may be interested in getting involved!