Most people identify themselves as religious and/ or spiritual, and, for many, their faith calls them to live in a way that respects and cares for all life, present and future, and to focus on being more, not having more, after basic needs are met. In the context of the ongoing global dialogues on sustainable development and education for sustainable development, Christian communities can play a critical role in advancing a strong framework for sustainable development that includes the spiritual dimension of life, and that contributes biblical examples of education for sustainable living and social development.
The human community is still struggling to reinvent the idea of “sustainable development”. It is becoming clear that a broader definition is needed for more effective practice – one that integrates poverty alleviation efforts with environmental protection initiatives. Many religious communities have been involved in efforts to mitigate poverty, hunger, and disease, but now they are recognizing this cannot be done adequately without attention to the environment, which is deteriorating rapidly. Sufficiency of food, shelter, and health for humans will depend on a thriving biosphere to support life for the Earth community.
Many religious communities have been involved in these efforts, but only a few have been Christian churches. Most Christian churches don’t get involved because they lack the capacity and knowledge to start a project that links poverty alleviation and environmental protection in a way that can be relevant to society around them.
However, some Christian churches are making a difference in their local communities and we can see what can be done if you don’t have all necessary resources to start a project that integrates poverty alleviation and creation care.
Vineyard Church of the Rockies and its main creation care challenges
The Christian church, as a part of world society, has the power to be an agent of positive change for poverty alleviation as well as the environment. Being part of a Christian community has made me think about how our community could contribute to our larger community: the Earth. I am involved with a Christian church called Vineyard Church of the Rockies in Fort Collins, Colorado. This community has been more aware of poverty and environmental issues around them than most others I have observed and has taken practical steps over the last few years to address these issues in response to God’s broader calling.
Our efforts have started with our enrollment in a local government program called “ClimateWise,” which helps local organizations meet greenhouse gas reduction goals in compliance with a Local Action Plan. So far, participating organizations in the ClimateWise program, which is completely voluntary, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 136,000 metric tons of CO2e per year (as of 2010). Of more than 100 churches in town, only less than 10% participate the ClimateWise Program.
As we started ClimateWise at the Vineyard, we were educated about some of the possibilities we could have to bring the environmental awareness and practical actions in our organization. We have since implemented several environmentally sustainable practices such as recycling, installing energy efficient devices, biking to commute to work, and have also started a community garden in our backyard as an effort to link sustainable agriculture and feeding the poor in our community. The garden had to be put “on hold” in 2010 due to lack of leaders, volunteers, financial resources and knowledge about sustainable agriculture.
Solution – local partnerships?
We started getting in touch with people outside of our community and exploring new ways to be environmentally more responsible, especially regarding our community garden.
Instead of building sustainability efforts by our own means, we decided to cooperate with other organizations and build long-term relationships and create win-win solutions for both organizations and the environment.
Our desire to continue operating the community garden was trumped by our lack of resources; we didn’t have the people, knowledge, and financial means to maintain or grow it. Then we thought that if we couldn’t find resources in the church, we could find resources outside. I was one of the board of directors of a local non-profit organization called The Growing Project, a non-profit that promotes the value of a strong, diverse, and just local food system to all residents of Northern Colorado through direct agricultural experiences, education, and advocacy. They also help local communities with the necessary tools and knowledge to start a garden. We had the idea of talking to them about asking for volunteers to help in the garden. They have a very specific program called Urban Foods Outreach (UFO) that is composed of residential yards throughout the city that are being transformed into Giving Gardens. With the assistance of their permaculture designers and volunteers, UFO hosts are educated and provided the tools they need for gardening and soil preparation, plant identification, watering needs, design and implementation, and the harvesting of the garden. Throughout the growing season there are weekly volunteer times at each UFO site and regular donations of extra produce to non-profits such as local food banks.
We had the idea to partner with them so the church community garden could be one of their UFO’s. As a partnership, the church would have to provide land, and water, and also give 50% of our produce to them so that they could donate to the local food bank. In return, The Growing Project provided volunteers, capacity building, and inputs for the garden such as seeds, tools, etc. It has been a great partnership, resulting in a steady stream of volunteers which is crucial for maintaining the garden.
After almost a year of partnership, we have grown more than ten different crops, built our first compost bin, have our first worm bin, make it possible to have a sustainable farming method that benefits the environment and at the same time we have helped the community we serve have a greater variety of produce in their meals.
We learned the lesson that if you don’t have the resources inside the church walls, go beyond it. As Peter Harris, founder of A Rocha, once said, reach out and collaborate: “Christians may live within a different philosophical universe than others, but we all share the same physical and psychological one. We can work together with anyone who is concerned with caring for creation.” Explore the resources in your community and begin to build long-term partnerships.
Establishing local partnerships with non-profit organizations and local governments in the implementation of joint projects crystallizes the participation and inclusion of different stakeholders into the local church life in implementing sustainable projects. Stakeholders are thus empowered through their involvement in planning, designing, and implementing projects, and can take ownership of the development process ensuring its sustainability as well as replicability. Partnerships built from local communities and stakeholders within government and non-profit organizations are crucial in undertaking a reality check which is often needed in implementing projects and make Christian churches relevant at present.
Local partnerships bring different worldviews and resources we don’t have, and capacity building to the areas of knowledge we lack. Those partnerships have helped us achieve one of our goals as a church which is integrating our creation care and poverty alleviation as a response to our faith in Christ in practical ways.
The experience is amazing because people are working with us in our garden who would never come near a Christian church otherwise. We are building bridges with the world outside the church showing the light of Jesus.
For more information:
 Sustainable development is defined as the development that attends to the present needs without compromising the possibilities of future generations attending to their own needs. CMMAD. 1987. Our Common Future. New York: ONU
 Mary Evelyn Tucker. World Religions, the Earth Charter, and Sustainability. Exploring Synergies between Faith Values and Education for Sustainable Development. 2012. Editors: Richard Clugston and Steve Holt
 Vroblesky, Ginny (2012). Why Every Church should plant a garden…and how. A Rocha USA. Fredericksburg, TX. Available at http://arocha-usa.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/GardenManual.pdf