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Report on Activities for "Earth Year at LSTC: 2009-2010"

Report on “Earth Year at LSTC: 2009-2010”

The purpose of the following report is to describe the events that occurred at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in connection with its first theme year, “Earth Year at LSTC: 2009-2010,” to serve both as a record and as a source of ideas for institutions that would like to host similar "theme years."



Faculty members David Rhoads and Terry Baeder, along with Ph.D. student Rob Saler, began working on concrete plans for the theme year in the spring of 2009. Dave organized a series of meetings with faculty, staff, and students to let them know about plans for the year and to solicit ideas. It was agreed that Rob Saler would be paid to work approximately ten hours a week on the year. Rob’s first set of duties, besides being involved in the general meetings, was to discuss with faculty how they could incorporate the theme into their following year’s teaching and activities in a way that would not be burdensome for their already-busy schedules. After a series of planning sessions, the theme year was introduced to the community by means of a community lunch in the late spring of 2009. Over the summer, the committee (Dave, Rob, and Terry) began preparing for the fall’s events. Planning by this committee continued throughout the year.A major effort was made to formulate ideas that would highlight diversity among speakers (around issues of race, gender, nationality, etc.).


Existing Environmental Initiatives

When planning the year, the committee was able to build upon several decades of focused efforts on the part of some LSTC faculty, students, and various offices to make Earthkeeping a part of the seminary’s ethos. The student group Green Zone was established and active, and several faculty and staff members had already been working in the area of religion and ecology for many years. The goal of the theme year was to highlight, amplify, and build upon these efforts in order to increase community focus on care for creation. It was important to work with existing efforts rather than burden the seminary’s already-busy schedule with wholly new projects.

            It should also be noted that many of the activities described below arose spontaneously throughout the year in response to community initiatives (rather than specific planning by the Earth Year committee).



• Social networking. Rob Saler set up a variety of social media related to the year (Facebook, Twitter, email) for publicity purposes.

• Logo. The Earth Year logo was featured on a large banner placed on LSTC’s outer window so as to be visible from the street.

• LSTC Directory: “Our Earth Community.” Various plants and animals around the LSTC campus were photographed and included in the 2009-2010 LSTC directory, thus giving it a focus on LSTC as an “Earth community.”

• Presentations. Rob Saler presented on the goals of the theme year to the LSTC Women’s Guild in late October. A few weeks later, he presented a similar lecture to a course on ecological theology (taught by Marcia Bunge) at Valparaiso University, thus publicizing both the theme year and the seminary itself.

• Articles. Several articles promoting the theme year, written by Rob and Dave Rhoads, appeared in the Epistle (print), the E.Pistle (online) and the Lutheran magazine (in the Metropolitan Chicago supplement). Also, throughout the year, the LSTC student publication “The Door” has featured a regular column on the year, including reports of some Earth Year lectures..

• Websites. Information about Earth year was featured regularly on the LSTC website. The year also featured a news story on the newly constituted “Lutherans Restoring Creation” website, initiated by the Lutheran Earthkeepers Network of the Synods.

• Video. LSTC student Brian Wise filmed various events with the plan of creating a DVD chronicling the year.


Financial Partners

The committee sought financial partnerships with the seminary’s various centers (including the Zygon Center and the Center for Christian-Muslim Engagement for Peace and Justice), particularly for help in sponsoring special events. In addition, from the funding sources listed below the theme year was able to accrue a budget of approximately $5000.


Funding Sources

A grant from The Tithing Foundation to support student workers.

Funds from CORE designated for the theme year.


Green Zone Activities

Green Zone, the student environmental advocacy group, immediately took on a key planning and execution role in the year, supervised by Ben Stewart with student workers Carolyn Brostrom and Kaila Hochhalter. During the fall, the Green Zone met with students every Wednesday during the lunch hour for informal brainstorming sessions. The Green Zone also established relationships with other area student environmental groups, such as Oikos (a pan-denominational group based at Meadville-Lombard Seminary).

• Garden. With the help of Bob Berridge and others, the Green Zone instituted LSTC’s first community garden, which has been a success.

• Clean-up. Working with Rob Saler and Esther Menn, the Green Zone also arranged student participation in a service project (restoration of the 63rd St. dunes), which was well-attended by both Masters-level and doctoral students. There was also a community-wide litter pickup, sponsored by Earth Zone, during April’s Earth Week.

• Reminders. The Green Zone also placed various signs around campus, using the Earth Year logo, urging community members to conserve resources.

• Graduate Dinner. Green Zone held the annual dinner for graduates. Carolyn and Kaila presented information about food and ecology and told the story of the garden. Dave Rhoads demonstrated www.webofcreation.org and www.lutheransrestoringcreation.org. Graduates received some printed resources.



Opening worship in the chapel; sermon by President James Echols.

Introduction: Rob presented a discussion of the year and its goals to the new students at their orientation. Dave Rhoads also presented his inaugural Earth Year lecture (see “Earth Year Lectures” below)



• “Liturgy, Ecology, and the Body” (Fall, Ben Stewart)

• “Constructive Theology” with ecological justice as a major theme (Fall, Linda Thomas)

• “Greening Your Congregation” (January, Dave Rhoads, in which Rob Saler also lectured.)

• “The Future of Creation” (Ben Stewart and Gayle Woloschak).

• “Church and Society” Ecological justice as a component in the course (Fall, Richard Perry)

• “Nature Writing in Theological Perspective (May Term, Rob Saler).

• Course Lectures. Rob Saler was a guest lecturer in the theology courses of Drs. Westhelle, Rodriguez, Thomas, Rhoads, and Stewart/Woloschak where he discussed current trends in ecological theology.

• Field Education: Numerous students pursued projects related to congregational care for creation at their field placement sites. These students were: Erich Hartenberger, Brian Robinson, Christine McNeal, Dara Schuller-Hansen, Rebecca Lund, and Juania Krmaschek.

• Reading Group: In the fall, a Growth in Faith reading group formed to discuss ecological works. The group read Thomas Friedman’s Hot, Flat and Crowded; Robert Glennon’s Unquenchable; Sallie McFague’s A New Climate for Theology; and Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma.


Earth Year Lectures and Publications

• Orientation Lecture: Dave Rhoads was the first keynote lecturer for the year, presenting a lecture on “A Lutheran Theology for Earth Community.”

• Keynote Earth Year Lecture. “Blacks in Green: The Principles of Village Green-Building,” Naomi Davis of Blacks in Green. The fall’s largest event was a keynote lecture in October. The publicity for the event focused on inviting the greater Chicago community, and we were pleased that several people from the community did indeed come. Elonda Clay helped the committee organize that event. Over eighty people came. The lecture was recorded and the podcast made available on the LSTC website.

• Global Conversation. This series in the Language Resource and Writing Center featured a lecture by David Creech, director of Hunger Education for the ELCA, who spoke about climate change and world hunger.

• Heritage Lecture: The Heritage Lecture is an endowed lectureship which focuses upon the Lutheran Confessional tradition. This year’s lecture was “Waiting for the Lutherans.” Noted theologian and ethicist Larry Rasmussen, Emeritus professor of Social Ethics at Union Seminary, New York, came in November to give the Heritage Lecture. The lecture was well-attended. That lecture was also recorded and made available on the LSTC website as a podcast.

• The Scherer Lecture: The Scherer Lecture is an endowed lectureship which focuses on current issues in Christian mission. In March, LSTC Ph.D graduate George Zachariah, from Gurukul Lutheran Theological College, Chennai, India (where he is associate professor) lectured on ecology and mission in the global context: “Healing of the Earth: A Call to Public Witness in Solidarity with the Groaning Creation.” The lecture was well-attended and much appreciated.

• Earth Week Lecture: Paul Santmire, noted Lutheran theologian and lecturer, gave the lecture “Luther, The Word, and Nature: The Ambiguities and the Promise,” and was presented with the LSTC 2010 Confessor of Christ Award. Again the lecture was well-received and well-attended. This lecture was jointly sponsored with the Zygon Center for Religion and Science. The lecture will be published in Currents in Theology and Mission.

• April Currents Issue. “Faith and Earthkeeping: A Tribute to the Environmental Ministry of David Rhoads” (download) was the April issue of Currents in Theology and Mission. Edited by Barbara Rossing and Robert Saler, this tribute to David Rhoads’ ecological ministry featured contributions from many theologians, including Larry Rasmussen, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Norman Habel, Peter Perry, Robert Saler, and John Spangler, as well as ecological testimonies from Bishops Callon Holloway and Mark Hanson. The issue also featured a tribute to Rhoads by Dean Michael Shelley.

• Other Faculty Projects: Richard Perry is including a chapter on ecological matters (environmental health) in his current book project. Barbara Rossing attended the UN Copenhagen summit on global climate change and gave a presentation there.


Physical Plant (from Bob Berridge)

City of Chicago GreenCore Grant - LSTC received a grant to relandscape the front of the building.  Over a three year period we will receive $4,500 in plants, professional horticultural design, and city labor crews to plant perennial and vegitable  gardens in front of the building.  A garden matching the shape and colors of the stain glass window is being planted this first year of the grant.  LSTC is providing volunteer labor and annual maintenance of the gardens.
Solar panels for the housing is the senior gift of this years class.  Together with the gift of the 2008 class, next year we should be able to install solar panels for hot water heat on one of the 6 flat apartment buildings.
3 more composters were purchased so every back yard in housing has a compost bin.  The green zone students are helping to administer the use of the bins and teach people how to use them.
10 tons of recycled tires were purchased and installed in our largest backyard playground.  LSTC purchased the recycled tire mulch.  Students provided the volunteer labor.
There have been 3 volunteer garden days in the courtyard and there will be more this summer.  We are replanting the perennials with a design that Robin Caldwell (an LSTC student) provided that will replant the courtyard berms with native Illinois perennials.
We continue to have people signing up for all the garden plots in the backyards of housing.  We will be utilizing some new areas this year as more people volunteer to care for them.
We had a donation from an employee that is providing thermometer decals that will go into all the refrigerators and freezers in the apartments.  This will help the students to set the freezers and refrigerators to the right temp and not over-freeze their food.


Workshops, Conferences, and Panels

• “Stewardship as Restoration (October): Planned and presented by the Tithing Foundation (in conjunction with the Metropolitan Chicago Synod), this workshop featured Ray Pickett and Rob Saler discussing biblical and theological visions of stewardship as restoration. Rob focused particularly on Joseph Sittler’s views of ecological restoration in relation to stewardship.

• Professional Leadership Conference (February). The theme of the Professional Leadership Conference was “Inch by Inch: Growing a Green Congregation.” It was planned by Laura Wilhelm. Dave Rhoads lectured on “Conversion to Earth” and there were a variety of workshops including “Greening your Congregation” led by Steve Jerbi, “Earthbound” by Dick Bruesehoff, “How to Talk to Lutheran Congregations about Nature without Sounding like a Pagan” by Rob Saler, and “The Church on Earth: Worship and Ecology” by Ben Stewart.

 “Shared Earth” Interfaith Conference on the Environment (March): Planned and presented by the Center for Christian Muslim Engagement for Peace and Justice (in connection with a Luce grant) and the Zygon Center, this conference featured excellent speakers (including Philip Clayton, Ellen Bernstein, Saleem H. Ali, and Sevan Ross) as well as workshops.

• “Interfaith Perspectives”: An Interfaith Panel: discussion on ecology sponsored by the Zygon Center for Religion and Science, the Center of Christian Muslim Engagement for Peace and Justice, and the Future of Creation Class. The panel included Rabbi Elliott Gertel, Ghulam Haider Aasi, and Rob Saler.



• Daily Worship: Throughout the year, daily chapel worship included consideration of creation and our mandate to care for it. This consideration took the form of prayer petitions, hymns, and homiletic themes.

• Blessing of All  the Animals, Humans Included (October): Ben Stewart preaching.

• Professional leadership Conference (February): Sarah Olson preaching.

• Dedication. The chapel had a service blessing the new composters in the LSTC courtyards. Rob Saler preached, and Green Zone led worship.

• Earth Week Services: Ben Stewart, Elonda Clay, and Paul Busekist preaching. Green Zone planned and led worship. There was also a evening healing service for Earth and an Earth Day vigil.

Native American Worship. Special event sponsored by the Diversity Committee and the Multicultural Center on Earth Day, April 22 in the LSTC Courtyard, with Native American worship led by Vance Blackfox and friends.


Resource Development

• Lutherans Restoring Creation website: Throughout the year, David Rhoads and Rob Saler worked with the Lutheran Earthkeeping Network of the Synods steering committee, as well as with other consultants, to develop a comprehensive online resource for Lutherans engaged in Earthkeeping: www.lutheransrestoringcreation.org The website launched in March.

• “EarthboundDVD: Numerous LSTC faculty, staff and students were featured in the DVD “Earthbound: Created and Called to Care for Creation.” This DVD, published by Seraphim Communications in January, was hosted by David Rhoads and featured contributions by Barbara Rossing, President Echols, Gordon Straw, Kwame Pitts, and Rob Saler, as well as a lengthy section on LSTC’s ecological efforts.


Artistic Contributions

Leaps and Bounds,” an artistic performance (April): by Tevyn East from the Affording Hope Project. Over 20 people attended this artistic demonstration of the need to care for creation.

• Art displays. During the Professional leadership Conference, Brian Wise (LSTC senior) displayed his art made from transformed waste items. 




LSTC Awards related to care for creation:

• Outstanding Alumnus: Rev. Dean Stewart, pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Moscow, Idaho, for commitment to care for creation at the parish level.

• Confessor of Christ Award: Rev. Dr. H. Paul Santmire, noted Lutheran eco-theologian.

• Community of the Cross: Holden Village, for its continued commitment to providing a space for meditative interaction with God’s creation.

• The James Kenneth Echols Prize for Excellence in Preaching. Jason ChesnutDaniel Kerr, and Todd Koch were the finalists for this event, in which students prepared a sermon on Romans 8:12-25.

• Additional Relevant Awards: Barbara Rossing received a Lilly sabbatical grant to work on a book on creation care, “For the Healing of the World.” Ben Stewart received his Ph.D from Emory University following the acceptance of his dissertation on the ecological implications of the Easter liturgy. This thesis was nominated for a university-wide award for outstanding dissertations. Ph.D. student Elonda Clay received a fellowship from GreenFaith, an interfaith environmental advocacy organization.


If you have comments or questions related to the theme year, or if you would like to brainstorm ideas about hosting your own, please contact Rob Saler at rsaler@hotmail.com
Peter Bakken,
Jun 14, 2010, 10:23 AM