Many years ago, when we were just beginning our ministry, Nancy and I were invited to speak at a clergy luncheon at Asbury Seminary. When I asked one of the attendees to tell me why he was there, the pastor was very honest. His wife had read my first book, Serve God, Save the Planet, and had been nagging him for months to read it, too.
Rev. Ryan Bennett thought that attending the luncheon would make his wife happy and get him off the hook for reading the book. He confessed that he didn’t really see the connection between his faith and creation care, so I sent this skeptical pastor home with a case of books to share with his congregation.
From Genesis to Revelation, what Ryan discovered was a biblical call to care for God’s creation. He asked me to come speak to his church and meet his wife, Heather. That was nearly ten years ago.
Since then, Ryan has been a member of our Blessed Earth board and advisory team, and Heather has written articles for our website. They have started creation care teams in two churches and worked to share a Christian voice in earth stewardship throughout their state. Along the way, the Bennetts and their son, Tyler, have become dear family friends and loyal ministry partners. We have stayed many times in each other’s homes, broken bread at each other’s tables, and shared both the hardships and celebrations of ministry together.
In 2014, Ryan and Heather approached us about starting Blessed Earth Tennessee as a pilot program. Heather had recently completed a master’s degree in sustainability at Lipscomb University, and they wanted to help Blessed Earth discern if a state chapter program was viable.
With their official launch just last month, Blessed Earth Tennessee is already exceeding our wildest dreams. In March, Heather and Ryan spoke at Martin Methodist College and in April led chapel for Earth Week at Belmont University. Blessed Earth Tennessee has already developed a partnership with a Middle Tennessee organization to do a year-long creation care focus in 2016 that will be announced soon. In addition, the UMC’s conference camping program has offered to host quarterly creation care retreats. Heather and Ryan also have been asked to meet with a Christian university’s leadership team to share the biblical foundation for creation care as well as to help develop a minor in sustainability at another Christian college in Tennessee.
Nancy and I are excited about this opportunity for Blessed Earth Tennessee to inspire and equip people of faith to be better stewards of the earth. If you are interested in learning more, please check out their website.
A decade ago, we never would have guessed that a creation care skeptic and his wife would be launching our first state affiliate. But God’s plans are often bigger than our dreams. Those of you who have expressed an interest in starting a Blessed Earth affiliate in your state, stay tuned: Blessed Earth Tennessee is off to a great start, and we will learn much together in the coming months!