Building the Bridge as We Walk

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By Dean Mary Elizabeth Moore, Boston University School of Theology

Robert Quinn’s image of “building the bridge as you walk on it”i is an apt description of the work of Boston University School of Theology in ecological sustainability and justice. Students and faculty have been working on these ends since at least 2005, but I will speak to the momentum that was building when I became Dean and upon which we have been building ever since. In my first semester (spring 2009), I was invited to contribute to a class in Ecological Ethics, and the students shared their “Green Seminary Vision.” I urged them to do more with this than a class project and to submit it to me so we could begin working together – students, faculty, and administration – to study and implement their vision. Within 3 years, we had implemented most of what was proposed in that document, and we have continued to build.

Thus, the bridge was underway and we were still walking on it. In 2013, we did a complete renovation of our basement into a Community Center that would better support community life and witness to ecological justice. The renovation of our 1949 basement was certified by LEED at the gold level. Our hope was that the space would inspire other changes, including ecological practices, curriculum offerings, and degree programs. Indeed, we followed the renovation project by developing a new set of program strategies. We have continued to implement these. We have increased our use of compostable and recyclable material; developed new courses; created an Ecological Theology and Ethics Track within the MTS program; and created an eco-option in the MDiv Global and Contextual Engagement Track.

We have continued to build the bridge in the past three years by building on all that is named above; expanding course offerings; implementing small “green” renovation projects; communicating the degree options; and hiring a new faculty member with a focus on environmental theology. We have also participated actively in “BU Sustainability” projects, including the larger one for greening offices and schools. We were named in 2017 as the first “Green School” in the university (also at the gold level), and we celebrate our faculty, students, and staff that made this possible by their own work in transportation, office energy reductions, course offerings, building changes, and so forth.

When we saw the opportunity to participate in the Green Seminary Initiative Certification program, we knew this was an opportunity to review where we are, where we want to go, and how we can get there. from abby: this is where I’ll insert the “read more” link We are still building the bridge. We are presently surveying our present situation and making important discoveries. Here are a few! Though we have offered options for ecological specializations in degree programs, we have not communicated these adequately, and most students do not know about them. Though we have increased the number of ecologically-focused course offerings, most students do not realize the range of options. Though we have annual offerings in ecologically attuned spiritual life, we have depended somewhat haphazardly on people to invent these options year by year without a continuing commitment to their longterm development. The same is true for special lectures, programs, and worship services. Though we have been blessed with passionate students, faculty, and staff and a wealth of programs and activist opportunities over time, we have not yet made a visible, communal, and longterm commitment to being an eco-movement for change.

These realizations spur our visions for the near and long future. We can do much more in faculty and staff development to expand our imagination about how to include ecological themes in a wide array of courses, how to draw more fully upon resources in the university and Boston Theological Institute, and how to develop one-or two-unit courses that would give students specialized options. Similarly, we have identified ways that we can expand and better communicate our recycling and composting efforts; build ecological themes more frequently into worship and community life; and include more eco-content in publications and social media sponsored by students and staff. Finally, we could do much more in building partnerships with churches and other organizations in the Boston area to extend our work in and with the community.

The Green Seminary Certificate program is opening new horizons for us and strengthening our resolve to implement the visions we identified long ago and more recently. We are grateful for GSI support in building the bridge as we walk on it, and creating the opportunity for us to journey with other schools that are doing the same. Thank you!

i Robert E. Quinn, Building the Bridge as You Walk on It: A Guide for Leading Change. (San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 2004).