The Common Good
September/October 2007

Suggestions for Green Seminaries - WEB EXCLUSIVE

by Katharine M. Preston | September/October 2007

Integrate books on religion and the environment into the syllabi of existing seminary courses , from biblical studies to pastoral care.

Integrate books on religion and the environment into the syllabi of existing seminary courses , from biblical studies to pastoral care. A good resource is the bibliography of The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Ecology by Roger Gottlieb, Oxford University Press, 2006; also, www.webofcreation.org.

Add an eco-justice requirement. Many seminaries require students to face the personal, cultural and institutional aspects of racism, sexism and homophobia, yet most seminarians are not required to explore the "moral assignment" of preserving God's creation. Ideally, an environmental justice course should be required for graduation. Short of that, eco-justice should be an element in some other required course.

Add a new elective, using full or adjunct faculty. See an example of a recent summer course offered at Wesley Theological Seminary.

Offer environmentally related field education, clinical pastoral education, or church internships. These practical aspects of a seminary education can be tailored to train students specifically for eco-justice work on campus, in association with nonprofit organizations in the community, or with a church that explicitly chooses to explore its environmental mission in the local or global community.

Offer a certificate program exploring the relationship between ecology and religion that runs concurrently with work toward a master's of divinity. See the description of the environmental ministry emphasis at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.

Provide postgraduate "remedial training" and professional leadership

conferences. The Rev. H. Paul Santmire has suggested that pastors could be encouraged to return for "remedial" training in faith-based environmental issues. Such courses, on campus or on-line, could be offered to local pastors, thus connecting the seminary with ongoing community environmental efforts. Many schools offer summer institutes or continuing education conferences that could be themed on environmental justice issues. GreenFaith, a New Jersey interfaith coalition on the environment, has a new fellowship program seeking religious leaders at different phases of their professional lives.

Support campus-wide "greening" initiatives, from expanding support for local, organic, and sustainable providers of food to reducing the carbon-based footprint of the institution. Due to the hard work of TREES, an environmental student consortium at the Graduate Theological Union, the board of trustees at the Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley adopted a "green initiative" as part of their strategic plan in 2005.

Hire professors specializing in eco-justice and creation care. Most effective would be for a seminary to raise money for an endowed full-time professorship, to ensure a permanent presence on campus to teach, mentor, and stimulate the environmental conscience of the institution.

Katharine M. Preston is a writer and workshop leader concentrating on issues of social justice and creation awareness and care.

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