The day after Obama was sworn in as president, Trinity Institute launched its annual conference titled "Radical Abundance: A Theology of Sustainability." I sensed I might be attending a different kind of gathering when my press packet materials described how Trinity Church Wall Street joined forces with Green Faith to create a more sustainable conference.
I was aware of The Green Faith Certification Program, which offers a myriad of resources that enable houses of worship to make their buildings more environmentally friendly. But this was the first time I had actually seen a church take advantage of this program. These moves extend well beyond using recyclable paper, serving fair trade coffee, and having recycle bins available to using locally grown products, compostable silverware, plates, and even plastic cups.
As I looked around the room, I saw fewer folks, a factor I expected given the current economy. Author tours, Christian conferences, and the like are all experiencing an understandable drop in sales. But at this particular event, the organizers took a significant step toward carbon offsetting by providing technology that enabled over 80 groups to participate in this conference off-site through web conferencing. So, while fewer people were present in the pews this year, more individuals participated overall in this conversation than had attended in previous years. (Those who don't have access to Trinity Television's facilities can connect with programs like Shapevine that can help make virtual connections.)
Also, this conference had a diverse range of keynote speakers featuring authors and activists from three countries, a welcomed change from the almost all white male line-up I had experienced at a few too many generative gatherings over the past few years.
(FYI -- I don't feel it's fair to condense the speakers' intense presentations into a blog posting. So, I recommend interested parties who want to explore their messages in greater depth to download the speakers' transcripts and pursue the other resources available on the Web site.)
When David C. Korten, author of Agenda for a New Economy cited the irony of launching a book that proposes to dismantle Wall Street while standing at Wall Street, I burst out laughing. But underneath the humor, Korten raised a critical question that echoed throughout this conference: "What purpose do we expect the economy to serve?" Citing Matthew 6:24, Korten reminds us, "No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."
While I've been exploring ways to reduce my carbon footprint and other eco-friendly moves, this current recession has caused me to drastically assess my spending habits. Instead of returning to our current practices once the economy improves, what if we used this time reflect on how we as individuals, church communities, and institutions spend our resources?
For example, when planning the Common Root 2009, Mark Van Steenwyk realized that he could invite celebrity speakers and he might get several hundred folks to attend for a $200 fee. But then he asked himself, "At what cost? Professional Christians with budgets would (perhaps) add this to the list of a handful of conferences they already are planning for this year. Instead, we're inviting respectable speakers who are more interested in faithfulness than celebrity to come to a humble event where the 150 or so attendees can name their own registration fee. The cost for doing this event is negligible and the focus is on real issues facing real communities ... without any hype." Also, internationally known blogger Andrew Jones has been offering some creative food for thought on his blog about how we can do more missions with less money.
I'm looking forward to seeing what creative imaging will take place at next year's Trinity Institute Conference (January 27-29, 2010) when the theme will be Building an Ethical Economy: Theology and the Marketplace. Confirmed speakers include Rowan Williams, the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, Sir. Partha Dasgupta, and Kathleen Tanner. For more information, log on to The Trinity Institute's Web site.