Can you tell us a little about yourself and your ministry?
For the past four years, I served as a chaplain to farmers and their families with a migrant farming community. I was embedded with Puente de la Costa Sur, a non-profit on the South Coast of Northern California. It's a secular organization but a spirit-filled place, and I learned a lot about what it means to claim a call in a rural place.
I recently left California for New Jersey, where I'm currently a first-year PhD student in Religion and Society at Drew University. I have an eye toward a dissertation in ecofeminist theology and climate change. I'm also the Moderator of Fossil Free PCUSA, a grassroots organization founded on a commitment to get the Presbyterain Church (USA) to divest from the fossil fuel industry and to easing our dependence on fossil fuels in antiracist and life-affirming ways.
What social justice issues does your ministry/organization address? How do you address them?
My study addresses climate change, patriarchy, racism, creativity, community building and disconnection from each other and creation. I try to connect a faith in Jesus Christ to a call to love God, love creation, and love each other. practically this means that my studies are currently in political theology, decolonization, and ecology. We're also committed to adding our voice to issues of environmental injustice and racism, commitments that were etched into my spirit while working on the South Coast.
In my work to address climate change, patriarchy, racism, creativity, community building and disconnection from each other and creation... I try to connect a faith in Jesus Christ to a call to love God, love creation, and love each other. My studies are currently in political theology, decolonization, and ecology. We're also committed to adding our voice to issues of environmental injustice and racism.
Describe why/how you see your work as "ministry" rather than just a "job"?
Part of my job at Puente was talking to faith communities around the area about how they could support our work, and sometimes my job was to read stories to kids or help face paint or to know the right kind of cake for someone's birthday celebration. Ministry is about showing up with our whole and authentic self.
When I left my position in a congregation to work as a community chaplain, some of the powers that be were confused and would ask me "but where's your church?" Ultimately they were supportive.
What inspired or led you to do the work you do?
My love of creation is tied to c is wrapped in my childhood. As children, my sisters and I spent most of each day playing in outside—running from our house to our neighbors’ houses. We collected roly-poly bugs We picked flowers and rarely wore shoes. It felt full circle on the nights I would go outside with some of the children on the South Coast and we'd tip our heads back and ask each other "donde esta la luna?" and then, when we saw her, we'd shout, "la luna! la luna!" it was very silly and sweet, and so very much defines the community God calls us to create.
Were you engaged with this or other social justice issues while you were in college or before you went to seminary?
In college, my advisor handed me Heal the Wounds and The Earth Path and said, “Look, this is what you’re writing around and now you need to learn the vocabulary.” The sense of connection and empathy resonated with me and how I experience God and the world. From there I explored how the creation stories in Genesis compare to the Lakota creation story, and the need to reclaim an ecofeminist theology in the Reformed Tradition. In seminary, I read more deeply, but felt like I didn’t know enough—that what I was reading wasn’t informed by my location on the South side of Chicago or to my suburban roots.
So I worked for Faith in Place, an interfaith environmental nonprofit, first as an intern and then as the Youth Program Coordinator. I arrived at elementary and middle schools ready to talk about ecosystems and met students who littered and did not want to listen to me. I learned to meet them where they were, making no assumptions. We went on litter walks and made solar oven brownies and cultivated worms for compost. We mapped food deserts and made food chains and talked about trash. But I will also never forget that we often had to be careful about what we did outside, so we’d miss the needles and gang territory. No assumptions that the outside was safe. Every child should have the opportunity to explore creation safely.
Why did you decide to go to seminary?
When I was 14, I was in church and listening to our pastor preach a sermon, and I thought, "I could do that." Eventually I realized that seminary and ministry isn't just preaching, but at first it was just a sense of my own capacity. When I was in seminary at McCormick Theological Seminary it became clear to me that I wanted to really let my love of creation and my love of humanity in all our diversity intersect in my studies and life.
How did your friends/family respond to your decision to go to seminary?
To this day my mom wished I'd done something more financially lucrative, but solely out of her "maternal hope" that I have enough. I've been very lucky to have supportive friends and family.
What obstacles did you have to overcome in order to get where you are today?
When I started the ordination process in 2008, I faced a lot of suspicion that environmental ministry wasn't a real call. Maybe they worried I would never get a job, or that as a young woman no one would take me seriously. IT forced me to hone my elevator speech as to why/how caring for creation is humanity's original vocation, and over the years I've only gotten older.
As a "community chaplain" I had to be able to talk about my job was more than just a job--and that I didn't just drive to rural North California for fun. Ultimately the powers that be were supportive, but I always get questions like "but where's your church?" One more sentence please
Describe why/how you see your work as "ministry" rather than just a "job?”
As a chaplain to a migrant farming community at Puente, I talked to faith communities about how they could support our work, the ministry was rooted in reading stories to kids or facepaint or to bake right kind of cake for someone's birthday celebration. Ministry is about showing up with our whole and authentic selves and staying there authentically, vulnerably , faithfully and joyfully . As I try to approach my work and studies in each of these communities with joy and a sense of wonder for the individuals and communities I get to encounter.
Where did you go to college? Seminary? Were there any professors or other people who were important to you during your time at either place?
I went to college at Illinois Wesleyan University, and McCormick Theological Seminary for my masters. Dr. Carole Myscofski introduced me to ecofeminism and Dr. Tom Gerschick challenged me in soclologically at IWU. Drs. Ted Hiebert, Anna Case-Winters, Jennifer Ayres remain conversation partners at McCormick. And I'm blown away by the mentorship of Dr. Laurel Kearns at Drew University.
Anything additional thoughts you’d like to share?
This is one of my favorite poems, and I try to carry it etched into my heart:
Wild Geese (mary oliver)
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Abby is a regular blogger. You can find her work at: http://www.featheology.org/
Abby's most recent articlehttp://justiceunbound.org/carousel/dont-let-the-stones-cry-out-in-your-place/