Seminaries Get Certified to Meet Ecological Crisis of Our Times

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Fourteen seminaries across the United States and in Costa Rica have signed on to a rigorous 3-year certification program to integrate environmental care into all aspects of their institutional and community life.

In October Boston University School of Theology, Hebrew College, Universidad Biblica Latinoamericana, Union Presbyterian Seminary at Charlotte, and Columbia Theological Seminary joined the nine theological schools already enrolled in the Seminary Environmental Certification Program an initiative launched in 2016 by the Green Seminary Initiative, a program of Drew Theological School and GreenFaith.

The divinity schools represent over five percent of the 270 seminaries in the United States.

"We see certification as a transformational process for any seminary,” says Sarah Macias, Green Seminary Initiative co-director. “It starts with a green team composed of faculty, staff, students, and administrators working together to develop an ecologically focused theological community, she says. “Until such focus becomes the norm, our graduates will enter ministry ill-equipped to faithfully lead others to care for the earth and each other,” she says.

The recent admission of Universidad Biblica Latinoamericana in San Jose, Costa Rica into the program brings its reach into the global arena. UBL Dean Elisabeth Cook says, “We bring numerous ties to the international, national, and regional communities, along with a network of students and graduates throughout Latin America, who are committed to issues of environmental justice. "The Seminary Environmental Certification Program is part of the Green Seminary Initiative (GSI), co-hosted by GreenFaith and Drew Theological School in Madison, New Jersey that helps prepare religious leaders to respond to the ecological crisis. GSI co-founder and Associate Professor of Sociology of Religion and Environmental Studies, Laurel Kearns leads the Green Team at Drew.

“We’ve made eco-justice integral to our curriculum with almost two dozen courses and during the certification process we are working to include it across the curriculum as part of our mission to empower creative thought and courageous action to advance justice, peace and love of God, neighbor and the earth,” she says. “We plan to build on previous work on our grounds and with food and energy policies as part of Drew University's long commitment to sustainability.”

To be recognized as a certified Green Seminary, schools must integrate the environment into core courses, offer elective environment courses and lectures, and incorporate the environment into liturgy, ritual and worship. Schools must also reduce their water use, waste and carbon footprint, something that Methodist Theological School of Ohio (MTSO), near Columbus, had started prior to embracing the rigors of the certification process. Geothermal energy and solar panels power MTSO classrooms and administration buildings and courses connect ecology, religious education and social justice.

The institution’s mission is to “prepare and invigorate transformational leaders to engage the church and the world in leadership and service,” says, Tim Van Meter, MTSO Assistant Professor in the Alford Chair of Christian Education and Youth Ministry. Seminary Environmental Certification Program is “giving us a comprehensive framework for gathering administration, faculty, staff, students and trustees in thinking about our ecological initiatives in support of our institutional mission and our hope for our world."

One year into the certification process, members of the Green Team at Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University see the process as a structured way to support their mission, “grounded in an historical commitment to social justice, civil rights and activism,” says Faith Harris. Harris leads the green team is and is adjunct theology professor at the school. “We have a unique role and challenge as a seminary on a small historically black college campus to expand the greening vision throughout the university and to support a global environmental justice vision.”

Such action makes a huge difference says Fletcher Harper, Executive Director of GreenFaith. “Around the world, the institutions that train religious leaders are stepping forward to address the climate crisis and environmental care,” he says. “Through the Certification Program and its other activities, the Green Seminary Initiative is committed to accelerating that process, which can’t happen fast enough.”