“Green thinking” is beginning to percolate throughout many of the nation’s churches. But how do you build on the momentum? How do you speed up the process?
In spring 2011, Blessed Earth co-founders Matthew and Nancy Sleeth felt like God was leading them to the answer: Build an alliance of seminaries that will commit themselves to creation care and sustainable practices. Following God’s calling, the Sleeths brought together a coalition of seminaries whose leaders have signed a covenant promising to implement specific stewardship initiatives.
The result is the Seminary Stewardship Alliance — a diverse coalition representing a broad spectrum of theological thought. The SSA, whose members include many of the nation’s largest seminaries, is an exciting illustration of God’s desire to see the church embrace creation care. The 12 member seminaries came together on April 22, 2012 — Earth Day — to sign the covenant at the Washington National Cathedral.
“Since many seminary students pastor or work within the church setting while in school, we believe the effect will be immediate,” Nancy says. “In fact, we already see it happening as our books and films are being used at seminaries across the nation. The new SSA website, www.seminaryalliance.org, also provides resources that can help churches immediately.”
The SSA is an outgrowth of the Sleeths’ work with Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky, where Blessed Earth is based. For years, the Sleeths lived just two blocks from campus, which made it easy for Matthew and Nancy to build a relationship with Asbury.
After Matthew began guest lecturing at the seminary and speaking at chapel services, Asbury asked the Sleeths for help in making their new family housing units more sustainable. Geothermal heating and cooling, super-insulation, and community gardens were just a few of the ideas adopted by the seminary. The Sleeths also helped Asbury start a Creation Care Covenant community, where students used Blessed Earth’s film series to study what the Bible has to say about stewarding God's creation in the context of community.
But God’s vision was even bigger.
“At a certain point, I felt God asking me a question,” Matthew says. “Why just Asbury? Why not another seminary? Why not all seminaries? We prayed and felt called to act boldly.”
Step One was to meet with Asbury's President, Tim Tennent, and Fuller Theological Seminary’s President, Richard Mouw. They both immediately gave their full support to the project, helped write the covenant, and began calling other seminary presidents. Once this initial group supported the project, the pieces quickly fell into place. Shortly thereafter, in another example of God’s blessing on the project, the SSA received funding for its first five years.
“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 says. “We also know that the seminaries work with denominations, churches, missions, and their surrounding communities.”
On April 22, 2012, the Sleeths watched as God’s vision became reality: Leaders from the flagship seminaries came to Washington, D.C., to sign the covenant and launch the SSA.
“Some of the most important conversations happened the night before, sitting around a table and sharing a meal,” Nancy says. “We believe that such conversations and relationships are a critical part of the SSA's success.”
Beginning next fall, Blessed Earth will bring together faculty and administrative leaders from each member institution to encourage each other, share successes, and hold each other accountable. This SSA leadership program — and the bonds it fosters through regular meetings and on-going relationships — will be an important part of the SSA’s long-term outcomes.
“With these 12 seminaries on board, we have already reached a tipping point in terms of number of students and churches affected,” Matthew says. “It's exciting to see change happen; it's even more rewarding to watch the tide turn.”