November 11, 2017—Columbia Theological Seminary is one of fifteen seminaries across the United States and in Costa Rica to sign on to a rigorous 3-year certification program to integrate environmental care into all aspects of their institutional and community life.
This fall, Boston University School of Theology, Universidad Biblica Latinoamericana, Union Presbyterian Seminary at Charlotte, and Columbia Theological Seminary joined the nine theological schools already enrolled in the Seminary Environmental Certification Program (SECP), an initiative launched in 2016 by the Green Seminary Initiative, a program of Drew Theological School and GreenFaith.
“We see certification as a transformational process for any seminary,” says Sarah Marcias, Green Seminary Initiative co-director. “It starts with a green team composed of faculty, staff, students, and administrators working together to develop an ecologically focused theological community,” she says. “Until such focus becomes the norm, our graduates will enter ministry ill-equipped to faithfully lead others to care for the earth and each other.”
“Four years ago, our late President Steve Hayner initiated a new Sustainability Commission,” noted Stan Saunders, Associate Professor of New Testament at Columbia Seminary. “This will now become our ‘green team’ comprised of students, staff, administration, and faculty. They have already been tasked with oversight and coordination of sustainability initiatives that encompass everything from building and grounds, curriculum, food services, and recycling to green cleaning products and new LED light fixtures. Our new President, Dr. Leanne Van Dyk, has nurtured our new garden initiative with the Global Growers Network. We look forward to expanding these efforts.”
The recent admission of Universidad Biblica Latinoamericana in San Jose, Costa Rica into the program brings its reach into the global arena, says UBL Dean Elisabeth Cook. “[We] bring numerous ties to the international, national, and regional communities, along with a network of students and graduates throughout Latin America, who are committed to issues of environmental justice,” she says.
SECP is part of the Green Seminary Initiative (GSI), co-hosted by GreenFaith and Drew Theological School in Madison, New Jersey that helps prepare religious leaders to respond to the ecological crisis. Laurel Kearns, GSI co-founder and Associate Professor of Sociology of Religion and Environmental Studies, heads the green team at Drew.
“We’ve made eco-justice integral to our curriculum with almost two dozen courses and during the certification process we are working to include it across the curriculum as part of our mission to empower creative thought and courageous action to advance justice, peace and love of God, neighbor and the earth,” she says. “We plan to build on previous work on our grounds and with food and energy policies as part of Drew University’s long commitment to sustainability.”
To be recognized as a certified Green Sanctuary, schools must integrate the environment into core courses, offer elective environment courses and lectures, and incorporate the environment into liturgy, ritual and worship. Schools must also reduce their water use, waste and carbon footprint.
“We are making Columbia Seminary a greener place, even as we affirm creation care as a central, integrating feature of our curriculum and a foundational element of worship, discipleship, and the pursuit of justice,” said Christine Roy Yoder, Interim Dean of Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Columbia Seminary. “Our work in the Green Seminary Initiative accreditation process encourages us onward in partnership with other theological institutions in the United States and Latin America, from whom we expect to learn much while also sharing our own experiences in renewing God’s good creation.”
Columbia Theological Seminary has already initiated some efforts, including the creation of the Community Garden Sanctuary, now used in partnership with the Global Growers Network. Global Growers supports a network of independently managed farm and garden sites in and around metro Atlanta, by providing technical assistance, educational opportunities, and leadership development. Each of the six Global Growers plots are managed by an immigrant or refugee family or individual.
Students from the campus group SAGE (Shaping Attention to God’s Earth) are involved in many projects on campus, including the construction of a renewable rainwater capture system for storage of about 1,500 gallons of water near the garden. Other efforts include an annual Creation Care Sermon Award and marking Earth Day by participating in an “Energy Sabbath.”
Columbia Theological Seminary has two buildings, the Vernon S. Broyles Jr. Leadership Center and the New Residence Hall, which have earned the prestigious Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold Certification by the United States Green Building Council. Both were designed by the architecture firm of Lord Aeck Sargent. It is hoped that other buildings will be retrofitted with similar measures.
Previously, Columbia Theological Seminary participated in the “Science for Seminaries” project funded by grants from American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion (DoSER). During that time, Columbia Seminary hosted over a dozen forum speakers and made significant additions to topics discussed in core curriculum classes under the direction of program coordinator Prof. Bill Brown, the William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament. This year, The Center for Lifelong Learning (CLL) at Columbia Seminary was awarded a grant also from AAAS/DoSER for a “Science for Continuing Education for Pastors” project. The goal of this program is to bring science enrichment programs to pastors and clergy already in the field.
“Such action makes a huge difference,” says Fletcher Harper, Executive Director of GreenFaith. “Around the world, the institutions that train religious leaders are stepping forward to address the climate crisis and environmental care,” he says. “Through the Certification Program and its other activities, the Green Seminary Initiative is committed to accelerating that process, which can’t happen fast enough.”
Columbia Theological Seminary is “Cultivating faithful leaders for God’s changing world.” As an educational institution of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Columbia Seminary is a community of theological inquiry and formation for ministry in the service of the Church of Jesus Christ. Columbia offers six graduate degree programs and dozens of courses and events as a resource for church professionals and lay people through The Center for Lifelong Learning. For more information, please visit www.CTSnet.edu.
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Associate Professor of New Testament
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