From the Director: A Faith-Based Approach to Conservation

fromthedirectorBack in November 2015, Drake University hosted a conference called Sustaining Our Iowa Land (SOIL), focused on the past, present and future of Iowa’s soil and water conservation policy. Jamie, Ann and I attended the conference. On the first day, a couple of the panelists asserted that a faith-based approach to increased conservation might be an added tool in our outreach and education strategy. Everyone was buzzing about this idea. It seemed to capture imagination. I think we are always looking for that approach that can bring better success. Perhaps it is also an acknowledgment that we need to appeal to folks’ “higher angels” if we hope to make the kind of change needed for a sustainable future.

My mind had already been considering the faith-based approach. Not many of you know that my environmental work started back in 2004 when I coordinated a symposium called “Caring for Creation.” I brought together religious and environmental leaders from across Iowa to the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge for a discussion on the environment and religion. I led the effort to craft a series of proposals on energy usage that were later given to the Governor. In summer 2007, I was asked to be a speaker at a religious-based young adult workshop in Boston that was focused on the environment. As a result of that, I was asked to be a speaker at Union College in Kentucky to give a talk on weaving faith and my work. By that time, I was working for the Iowa Learning Farms.

raindropripples2toneSo, this idea of a faith-based approach was not new to me. Nonetheless, the faith side of my environmental work was put on the back burner as I embarked on a secular journey to motivating change in my position at Iowa State University.

In 2015, when Pope Francis issued his environmental encyclical (letter) Laudato Si’, I started wondering how I might be a part of motivating Catholics and other people of faith toward the ecological conversion the Pope calls for in this document. I knew whatever I did would need to be on my own time. I met with Tom Chapman at the Iowa Catholic Conference and we started brainstorming ways that we might help spread Pope Francis’s message in Iowa.

iowalanduseThen the Drake SOIL conference happened and the call for a faith-based approach. Jamie, Ann and I met to discuss this. All three of us are practicing Catholics. One of us — Ann or Jamie — suggested that we create a Lenten reflection booklet that taught the science of Iowa’s ecology framed by the Pope’s Catholic teaching. Lenten reflection booklets generally provide daily content each of the 40 days of Lent to help in your spiritual renewal journeying to Easter. Booklets like this usually build on the Lenten pillars of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. We met with Tom Chapman and agreed to partner with him and Susie Tierney of the Center for Social Ministry to create the booklet. We wanted it ready for Lent 2017.

Jamie, Ann and I would supply the science as a part of our positions at Iowa State. Let me be very clear here: Iowa State University, Iowa Learning Farms, and Water Rocks! are not promoting or endorsing the views of the Catholic Church or any other faith-based organization. Our jobs were to ensure that the science was represented accurately and explained clearly. Outside of work, Ann and I volunteered the rest of our time to help Tom and Susie finish the booklet.

It was a labor of love. My team can tell you that I often take on projects that are a lot more work in the end. This was certainly true of this booklet. We needed to come up with the format that would work. We knew we wanted the science juxtaposed with information from the Pope’s work. We also knew we wanted some kind of daily “action.” The encyclical gave us a natural form: See, Reflect and Act. “See” would be the science. “Reflect” would be a section from the Pope’s encyclical. “Act” would be their daily action – that one’s pretty self-explanatory.

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We decided to link each week of Lent to one of the videos from the award-winning Culture of Conservation video series, offering this as a supplemental resource to help deepen people’s knowledge of the interwoven connections between agriculture and the environment, soil and water, and our dynamic, ever-changing rural and urban populations here in the state of Iowa. Jamie and Ann got their parts completed and that left me to do the editing, write my sections and weave these in with the Pope’s words. I spent my June vacation on Rainy Lake, MN, reading the Pope’s letter and highlighting parts that really struck me. Don’t let the idea of a “letter” fool you — this encyclical is 184 pages!

leaveswitharrowAfter we completed the first draft, we sent it to Tom and Susie to supply the “action” statements. When they finished their part, Ann took over and used her design skills to create the booklet layout. Again, Ann volunteered her time outside of work at that point to complete the booklet.

A year later and the Lenten reflection booklet is available to the public. To obtain copies of Caring for our Common Home: A Lenten Reflection for Iowans, contact the Iowa Catholic Conference at 515.243.6256. Booklets cost $4.75 each. The full booklet can also be downloaded as a free PDF from the Iowa Catholic Conference’s website at http://www.iowacatholicconference.org.

We know that this approach is not for everyone. It is available to those who want it. It is another way of reaching people. As The Most Reverend Richard E. Pates, Bishop of the Diocese of Des Moines, writes in his forward to the booklet, “This resource, Caring for our Common Home: A Lenten Reflection for Iowans, is a way to re-imagine our place in the created order and put us in touch with Iowa’s bounty and the world’s needs….In this resource, we are called to be mindful of how actions can have consequences for our land, water, air, all creatures and especially humankind.”

Jacqueline Comito