The Steward of God's Creation Award is bestowed to those individuals who exhibit courage and commitment in the caring and keeping of the earth in a heroic, distinguished and effective manner. Awardees are determined by a vote of religious leaders and bestowed at a public event, normally the National Prayer Breakfast for Creation Care, which is sponsored annually by a coalition of religious organizations and affiliates.
Click on a name below for more information about each recipient.
In 1999 Vincent Rossi was tasked with the articulation of a moral and ethical commentary on what did not yet exist: a Christian theology of forests. Vincent previously authored important articles on Christian responsibility for creation while serving as the executive director of the British Religious Education and Environment Programme (REEP) in London while attending Oxford University.
In tackling the challenge of a theology of forests, he developed the first article showing the connections between forests and Christian theology. He is perhaps the first modern author to recognize that whenever the word “tree” is used to represent Christ’s crucifixion in the Epistles, this represents a special ‘kerygmatic’ moment in the growth and development of the church. For his ground-breaking research and article, Vincent Rossi was awarded a Steward of the Forest award at the first national Conference on Religion and the Forests which was held at Blackwater Falls State Park in West Virginia.
Grass Valley, California
In l989, Chad and his brother Kirk hiked the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from the U.S.-Mexican border all the way to Canada. Over five months and four days they traveled 2,700 miles, mostly through National Forest back-country. They discovered while on this long distance adventure that our National Forests were being systematically logged and destroyed by commercial timber companies. They were horrified at extensive clearcuts and devastated hillsides.
While sitting on a huge stump at the top of a barren mountain, without a standing tree within 360 degrees, Chad vowed that he would work to stop this destruction and desecration of God's creation. He went to law school and obtained a degree in environmental law. He then wrote, with legislative assistants, the National Forest Protection and Restoration Act, which was introduced into the 106th Congress.
Chad then spearheaded a campaign within the Sierra Club which resulted in the Club taking a stand to end commercial logging on America’s National Forests. This was the first time that the Sierra Club had taken such a stand against logging in the National Forests.
For this action as well as his continuing service to forests through the John Muir Project (JMP) which brings lawsuits against the federal government for improper logging on National Forest land, Chad received a 1999 Steward of the Forest award.
Kenna, West Virginia
When the idea of mobilizing religion to conserve forests was still a new proposal, Bob Marshall was the first person to speak in favor of a religious articulation of an ethic of forest conservation. Throughout 1999 Bob Marshall repeatedly sacrificed his time and resources to protect our public forests from private commercial exploitation. He spoke at press conferences; he set up meetings with legislators; he organized local events; he relentlessly taught the importance of care for our public forests.
Bob is also known throughout West Virginia for his successful battle with the state’s Department of Natural Resources. He successfully promoted a court challenge that required the State of West Virginia and its agencies to protect its forests from timber companies. Together with his brother Joseph, he obtained enactment of West Virginia’s first public involvement law which allows citizen input on all forest policies.
For his initiative and service, for his heroic action to protect and preserve West Virginia’s forests, a 2000 “Steward of the Forest” award is presented to Bob.
Valley Forge, Pennsylvania
During several visits to Washington, DC, Reverend Owens steered religious leaders through the political maze of the nation’s capitol. He saw the steps necessary for a new organization to acquire appointments with White House officials, the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, the Secretary of the Interior, the Office of the President of the World Bank, as well as major Congressional figures.
His insight and astute sense of diplomacy guided the public policy initiatives of the new religious coalition. For his statesmanship, leadership, and guidance, Owen’s esteemed service is acknowledged with a Year 2000 “Steward of the Forest” award.
Reverend Dr. Owens has also served as chair of the National Council of Churches Eco-Justice Working Group where he coined the term “eco-justice.”
In addition he has also demonstrated how one motivated clergyman can turn a large metropolitan area around when he took on the challenge of cleaning up the polluted streams of Eastern Pennsylvania around Philadelphia. After ten years of dialogue with the city plus townships, water companies, sewage treatment facilities, farmers and businesses, he developed a model campaign of citizen action in his efforts to clean up Metro Philadelphia’s rivers and streams. As a result they once again support a healthy trout fishery.
By profession Reverend Owen serves as director for the Environmental and Racial Justice department for the American Baptist Church’s Office of National Ministries, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.
In December, 1997, Julia Hill ascended a 1,000-year-old redwood tree in rural Humboldt county in Northern California. Her purpose was to protect it from logging by Pacific Lumber Company.
For over two years she lived atop that tree, despite continued harassment and insults by loggers, inclemencies and extremities of weather, including frostbite and gale force winds, in order to save a giant ancient redwood tree from the logger’s chainsaw. In saving this tree, which she named “Luna,” she demonstrated a love for God’s creation and a commitment to saving the last remnants of intact old growth forests. At the same time she galvanized the imagination of countless others to sacrifice their time and energy and resources for the protection of native forests.
For her sacrifice and courage in defending the need to save the world’s last remaining old growth forests, for her example of selfless service in upholding the need to preserve creation’s integrity, A 2000 Steward of the Forest award was presented to Julia in Berkeley, California at the first stop on her national book signing tour.
St. Paul, Minnesota
During the first exploration by religious leaders to articulate the religious and spiritual values of forests in 1998, Jim chaired a study committee in Redwood National Park which consisted of participants from many different faith traditions. Over several days of study, reflection and discussions his committee began early and worked long into the night to reach consensus on a statement summarizing the theology of forest conservation. By relentlessly pressing his committee, by maintaining late nights and by successfully steering through all difficulties and challenges, Jim succeeded in leading his team to a clarion theological articulation of the religious values of forests.
Again, in late 1999, Jim set aside the duties of his busy import company and applied his mediation skills to the coordination and inspiration of religious leaders in drafting an ethic of forest products consumption which encourages a reduction in the use of forest products.
Jim serves as the CEO of Larand, International, a St. Paul, Minnesota import company. For his continuous service to the cause of forest protection, Jim was awarded a 2000 Steward of the Forest award.
In 1999 and again in 2000 Dr. Robert Jonas helped promote the Washington Week concept when he joined with many other religious leaders to speak to Congressional representatives about the importance of conserving and preserving America’s national forests. He participated in early dialogues with the World Bank, he recorded the proceedings and in the process helped in the effort to persuade Bank officials of the importance of setting aside grant funds to restore the degraded forests in Mexico.
Through his efforts at the RCFC’s initial Washington Week programs, he was so moved by the experience that he committed one-third of his busy schedule as a psychologist to forest and land preservation issues. He turned his family’s own private forest lands into a model of protection and preservation from commercial exploitation.
As director of the Empty Bell Sanctuary in Watertown, Massachusetts, Robert is an author, professional psychotherapist, student of the shakuhachi (Japanese flute), photographer and forester. He also leads spiritual retreats and coordinates an interfaith dialogue between Christianity and Buddhism.
Washington, DC and Oshkosh, Wisconsin
Michael Dombeck made history as the only person to lead America’s two largest land management agencies, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The New York Times has described him as “the most conservation-minded chief of the Forest Service since Gifford Pinchot.”
As Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, Michael Dombeck stopped the logging of old growth forests and discussed the necessity of saving all remaining old growth trees on national forest lands. In this cause he introduced and supported the National Forest “Roadless Rule” which protected certain wild areas from logging of the remnants of old growth still remaining on national forest lands. While this act created a huge uproar among logging companies, it preserved a substantial portion of national forest lands. For his courageous stand in protecting and inventorying all remaining old growth forests on national forest land, the RCFC presented Michael Dombeck a 2001 Steward of the Forest award.
In his resignation letter several months later after the inauguration of a new Administration, Chief Michael Dombeck wrote,
“The values of old growth, as the public is coming to understand them, and as we understand them scientifically, far exceed their value solely for timber....
“I think it would be a feather in the cap of industry to engage in a dialogue to end old-growth harvest and, at the same time, work with mills that are dependent on old growth to develop the technologies to harvest second growth and smaller-diameter material and, frankly, capitalize on the technology and the markets that are out there....
“The mark of a truly wealthy nation is not measured in acres harvested, rivers dammed, oil barrels filled, or mountaintops mined. Our maturity is most ably displayed by demonstrating mastery over ourselves. Our willingness to say, ‘Enough, these ancient forests cannot be improved through commodity timber production’ honors our nation far more than engineering an expensive road to harvest an old-growth stand.”
Walnut Creek, California
Dr. Barak Gale left his professional career as an eye doctor to serve as a religious environmental leader and voice for forest protection both for the San Francisco Bay area and the national Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL). From 1997 until the present, Barak labored to save the old growth forests of the West Coast. He initially organized Jewish synagogues to help preserve Headwaters Forest in northern California; he then worked within the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life to pass the first formal declarations calling upon all people of the Jewish faith to protect America’s national forests from logging. In conjunction with a spectrum of religious leaders, he has lectured, developed insightful articles and widely promoted the importance of saving what is left of America’s once-great forest legacy. An ophthalmologist by profession, he says that he can do more to heal the vision of America by working to save its remaining forests than by working to save its citizens’ eyesight.
In a citation delivered by Rabbi Warren Stone at the National Prayer Breakfast for Religion and the Forests at the Willard Hotel in Washington, DC, the following citation was read:
To Barak Gale, who bound by Jewish spiritual tradition has been an untiring advocate for protecting and preserving the life of the forest, the care of species and has been a true guardian of the earth.
To Barak, who left his own career for further dedication to serve as a religious environmental leader and voice for the San Francisco Bay area and national area Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life.
To Barak, who has given his moral voice to the Campaign for Forest Conservation helping to bring about wilderness and roadless acts for future generations in America.
To Barak Gale, whose Hebrew name means lighting and serves as a lightning rod to others, leading others in Tu B’Svat Seders honoring trees and the forests and ultimately honoring his Creator.
To Barak, a person a great inner faith and a dear friend and a model of righteousness to us all,
We honor with a 2001 “Steward of the Forest” Award.
Hume Davenport is a commercial pilot who usually runs an air taxi service, ferrying customers around the country. In 1996 he founded SouthWings to lend his skills to the protection of the southeast’s forest and natural environment and generally to provide aviation services to environmental causes. The passengers in his unique air service are community leaders – politicians, journalists, scientists, sometimes religious figures and occasionally celebrities - people who can affect public policy and shape public opinion. "Our motto," declared Davenport, “is ‘Let's fly people who can make a difference.’” And make a difference he has. Even hard-bitten journalists sometimes weep when they see the effects of irresponsible logging and other examples of environmental devastation from the air. The result of his efforts is what might be called an environmental air force, as his SouthWings organization has flown representatives from more than 450 organizations over imperiled areas of the southeastern states, including a special gathering of the RCFC to return to the Cradle of Forestry and articulate a new vision of forestry for the 21st century. For this important service to forest conservation, Hume Davenport was awarded a 2002 Steward of the Forest award.
In 1998 as the RCFC was struggling to articulate a religious theology and ethic of forestry, Ann Alexander, a New York City attorney and national chair of the evangelical Christian Environmental Council, headed a committee in Redwood National park which sought to define those appropriate actions which religion might provide in defense of America’s forests. Ann and her committee surprised the gathering by proposing an end to commercial logging on public lands. While this conclusion seemed radical, her arguments in support of this perspective were persuasive and she brought the entire gathering of religious representatives into support of this concept. In subsequent years this position has spread widely and has become by far the dominant perspective among religious organizations on forest policy. In gratitude for her pioneering efforts in articulating the rationale for an end to commercial logging on all public lands, the RCFC awarded Ann with a 2002 Steward of the Forest award.
In 1998 Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney (D-Georgia) together with Congressman Jim Leach (R-Iowa) introduced pioneering legislation that called for the end to commercial logging on the national forests. She worked hard for this bill in the face of criticism and intense opposition from the timber industry. Her proposed legislation collected over 100 co-sponsors in the 106th Congress and remains a model for legislation. Even though this bill did not pass, it set an important precedent by proposing the end of the use of our national forests for commercial logging. For courage and bravery in face of industry criticisms, and for her efforts to push this ground-breaking legislation, a Steward of the Forest award was presented to Cynthia McKinney inside the Canon House Office building.
Connie and Dave Hanson had no idea America's National Forests were being commercially logged and destroyed until their sons Kirk and Chad returned from hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from Mexico all the way to Canada. When Chad showed pictures of the clearcuts and massive devastation that they repeatedly encountered, they were shocked and spurred into action. Following Chad’s lead, the whole family joined the Sierra Club and became charter members of the Religious Campaign for Forest Conservation (where Connie remains a board member). In addition, she put forth a vigorous effort to obtain Congressional co-sponsors for the original National Forest Protection and Restoration Act, and served on the Sierra Club's national “End Commercial Logging on Public Lands” Campaign Committee.
Connie’s greatest contribution to environmental protection is the establishment of a prayer circle which she and daughter Amy began in 1997, called Christians Caring for Creation Prayer Network (CCCPN). Over many years what began as a small circle of friends has grown into a vigorous nationwide prayer network, enlisting hundreds of churches and individuals to pray for the protection and preservation of God's creation as well as the people and projects that are working for creation protection and restoration.
Reverend Owen Owens presented Connie with a 2004 Steward of the Forest award during a National Prayer Breakfast for Forest Conservation at the Willard Hotel in Washington DC.
Durham, North Carolina
Fr. Jacek Orzecholwski is a Franciscan friar and priest who takes the example of Saint Francis seriously. As a seminarian he attended an early Washington Week program and after ordination continued with the work of the Religious Campaign for Forest Conservation. To engage his fellow Franciscans in awareness of the seriousness of forest conservation issues, he issued a challenge to his brothers to develop a formal declaration to alert Roman Catholics of the need to preserve and protect our remaining public forests. The result was not only a strong statement declaring the responsibility of Franciscans to advocate for the protection of old growth and an end to commercial logging of the national forests, but also a call to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, and for Franciscan in particular to look to their tradition which challenges us to a healing and reconciliation with all creation. In his elaboration on this need, Fr. Jacek recalled that Saint Francis of Assisi forbade his followers to cut down a whole tree so that it might grow up again and that with great gladness he exhorted the forests to love God and serve Him joyfully. His awareness of the profound interconnectedness and kinship with the creation led St. Francis to experience all life as embraced by a loving God. With all this in mind, he successfully urged his Franciscans and all people to take up a discipline of using only recycled waste paper, to reduce consumption of wood products, to purchase paper that is either 100% recycled or made with post-consumer recycled paper, and to pray for wisdom concerning the value of forests. His work has spread widely. The Catholic Bishops of Mexico, in part inspired by his reminder of the example of Jesus Christ, passed a strong statement on forest policy after reading of the Franciscan declaration on forest conservation. For this inspired work, Fr. Jacek was awarded a 2004 Steward of the Forest award.
San Diego, California
The Reverend Peter Moore-Kochlacs pastors a United Methodist Church in the suburbs of San Diego, California. The United Methodist Church nationally receives donations from Collins Pine Company for clergy retirement and overseas missions of roughly $3 million annually. Nevertheless Rev. Peter proposed an official church statement that called for the end of commercial logging and the end to all cutting of old growth trees. To develop the credentials necessary to address forest conservation issues, he went back to college and obtained a forestry degree. During his studies he authored an influential paper, entitled "Valuing the National Forests: From a Religious, Environmental and Economic Perspective." This analysis of the impact of commercial logging on National Forests encouraged the passage of strong forest protection legislation by the Southern California district of the United Methodist Church. This forest protection resolution has since become a template for resolutions from other United Methodist Judicatories, and other denominations and religious groups have used this paper in an effort to bring an end to commercial logging in our U.S. National Forests and protect old growth trees.
Frost, West Virginia
After graduating from Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1998 Allen Johnson assisted the Religious Campaign for Forest Conservation in developing its national statement on forest protection. His insight was instrumental in proposing justice for forest workers by inserting a call for the retraining of any forest worker who might be displaced by an end to commercial logging of the national forests. Under this stipulation any timber company employee would receive retraining education in forest restoration and repair.
Additionally Allen assisted in developing a landmark statement on the spiritual values of the Lost Cove-Harper Creek wild area in Western North Carolina in conjunction with Appalachian Voices. As a direct result of that statement he founded Christians for the Mountains in 2005 along with Bob Marshall. This new organization would work to end mountaintop removal as a method of coal extraction in his home state of West Virginia as well as address such other issues and measures as would protect the forests and wild lands of the Appalachian heartland.
Rabbi Warren Stone has been a strong advocate for Jewish involvement with the environment ever since his participation in the 1997 UN Climate Change Kyoto Protocol. As chair of the environmental committee of the Central Conference of American Rabbis he persuaded his fellow rabbis to pass strong statements on the importance of protecting America's remaining public forests. Rabbi Stone emphasized that all people share a sacred obligation to the Creator, to Creation, and to future generations to safeguard and protect Earth's ecosystems. We are all to serve as protectors and defenders of God's magnificent creations, ensuring safe passage of all creatures from one era to the next by protecting their habitats. Rabbi Stone emphasized that in a world where matters of faith seem so frequently and so tragically to divide us, there is no issue that aligns us more deeply than our shared and sacred responsibility to this tiny planet. “Let us protect our forests and natural resources for generations to come, said Rabbi Stone in his acceptance remarks.
For his insight, persistence and leadership in the stewarding of God's good earth and its forests, Rabbi Warren Stone was awarded a "Steward of the Forest" award at a meeting in the Washington DC chapel of the National Council of Churches.
Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin
During the late 1950s and early 1960s environmentalists sought to identify the many values of wilderness, including their spiritual values. After the passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964, this emphasis seemed to fade away. Tom Herschelman sought to change this. He worked to organize explorations to articulate the spiritual values in areas of the Upper Midwest including the Trap Hills in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and the areas surrounding the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of Minnesota. He assisted in programs in other portions of the nation and to better prepare himself to address these matters he returned to college to earn a masters degree in theology. For his organizing labors, for his persistence in promoting respect, care and expansion for America’s wild lands, for his work within his local United Church of Christ congregation to develop a regional statement on forest protection, for his steady work in Washington to bring the spiritual values of wilderness and the national forests to the attention of legislators, Tom received a steward of the forest award at the 2006 national prayer breakfast held in the Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC.
Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico
By day Carlos Agnesi was a businessman, running Lloyd’s of Mexico, his country’s largest commercial insurance company. By night and on weekends he promoted the care and protection of Mexico’s forests. As the national chairman of the environmental affairs committee of the Interreligious Council of Mexico (Consejo Intereligioso de Mexico), he began to provide for the ecological training of Mexico’s clergy in 1998 by raising the funds to transport key leaders to the Au Sable Institute in Michigan. Carlos subsequently convened Mexico’s first national religious festival for protection of the environment which he held with leaders of the Catholic Church outside of Mexico City on the Feast of Saint Francis. He subsequently organized ecological training for the Catholic bishops of Mexico and as an unexpected consequence this resulted in their promulgation of a pastoral letter on the seriousness of forest conservation. The bishops declared that saving Mexico’s forests was “a life and death issue” for the campesinos of central Mexico. Carlos also helped to spearhead RCFC’s dialogues with The World Bank in Washington DC that resulted in grants and non-repayable loans for the restoration of Mexico’s forests in the states of Michoacan and Oaxaca (totalling US $91 million). Additionally Carlos serves as an environmental consultant for Mexican President Felipe Calderon and pushed the Pro-arbol reforestation program that planted over 250 million trees in 2007 and that will plant another 280 million trees in 2008, giving reforestation jobs to over seven million people in poor rural communities. For his long service in the care and keeping of the Lord’s good forests, Carlos Agnesi received a Steward of the Forest award at the RCFC’s 2008 National Prayer Breakfast.
Santa Rosa, California
Calvin DeWitt began his career as a professor of wetland ecology at the University of Wisconsin. In 1979 he saw the need for a Christian institute that would connect environmental science with religious principles. This would articulate a clearer understanding of ethical responsibility to God for the care of Creation. Out of this inspiration the Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies emerged as the first academic institution to promote the study and practice of Christian environmental concern.
While serving as the Au Sable Institute’s first president, Cal lent his skills and enthusiasm to many other organizations including the United Nation’s Environmental Programme where he served as a religious advisor and the World Council of Churches where he served as a science advisor.
Cal DeWitt also traveled the nation and the world, lecturing and advocating for religious responsibility for the environment. He developed additional campuses for The Au Sable Institute in India, Central America, and the Pacific Northwest. In addition he assisted and served a variety of organizations, bringing his insights to numerous publications and sharing his eloquence with audiences around the world. For his tireless service, for building a network of academic and activist institutions that serve the cause of Creation care, for his generosity and enthusiasm in serving God and creation care, we extend our thanks and gratitude to Calvin DeWitt as we present him with a 2009 Steward of God’s Creation award.
New York, New York
Dr. James Hansen serves as the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. As early as 1981, he and scientists from the Goddard Space Institute observed that rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide would lead to global warming sooner than previously predicted. While most climatologists presumed that warmer temperatures might become apparent by 2020, Hansen delivered startling testimony before a 1988 Senate hearing and declared that the effects of global climate change were already being observed.
He subsequently predicted that it would be difficult to convince politicians and the public to respond in an appropriate manner. That insight proved accurate over two administrations as his insights were distorted and denied during both the Clinton and Bush Administrations. He continued to speak out, despite official efforts to censor and silence his observations on the seriousness of climate change.
Hansen has also been outspoken regarding the serious long term effects of continued burning of coal because of the greenhouse gases that result. In West Virginia he protested the practice of mountaintop removal coal mining. Even after he was arrested, he still emphasized to those present, “We have to phase out coal emissions in the next 20 years.”
As Dr. Hansen has pushed far beyond the boundaries of the conventional role of scientists, he has placed his reputation and convictions on the line, even though it has brought him scorn, criticism and arrest. For his outspokenness, for his courage and perseverance in defense of the common good and a stable climate into the future, we are proud to present Dr. Hansen with our 2010 Steward of God’s Creation award.
Ms. Lisa Jackson serves as the Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Under her leadership the EPA has taken measures to enforce the Clean Water Act in areas affected by Mountaintop Mining. This form of mining decapitates hundreds of vertical feet from mountaintops to remove thin seams of coal, with the remaining debris shoved down into valleys. The process typically releases high concentrations of toxic heavy metals into the streams that headwater in these valley fills.
Additionally, Ms. Jackson is enforcing scientifically accepted standards for mercury and heavy metal concentration. The coal industry and its supporters have opposed these health standards, and resisted the EPA's lawful enforcement which protects the health and life of citizens.
Perhaps most significantly, Lisa Jackson has determined that carbon dioxide is a harmful pollutant that must be regulated under the statutes of the Clean Air Act. To fail to do so, she has declared, represents and endangerment to the nation and the planet from global climate change.
For her prudence in issuing this endangerment finding, for her courage in defending it in the face of relentless industry opposition, and for her unwavering advocacy for ordinary citizens despite lawsuits, criticisms and personal attacks, we are proud to award Ms. Lisa Jackson with a 2011 Steward of God’s Creation award.
Lane’s Landing, Kentucky
Wendell Berry has served people of all faiths by providing a practical, down-to-earth vision of how to live harmoniously and sustainably with the world so that we might integrate our lives into the ecosystem of the planet. His vision has provided insightful perspective as he has critiqued the behavior of seminaries and pointed us toward a simpler and slower way of living. For example, in his commentary on learning from the land, he writes: “And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our feet, and learn to be at home.”
He has given us a prophetic message as he rejected the corporate mentality that abuses the land and leaves devastation and poverty in its wake. He has been firm in upholding the principles that underpin his message and emphasized that we can do better. When the University of Kentucky named its basketball players’ dorm “Wildcat Coal Lodge” with financial support from the coal industry, as a statement of public protest, he pulled his personal papers from the school’s library. In this action he reminded us of our moral and spiritual responsibility to “choose life” in all its implications, and to turn away from every action that is destructive.
He has presented his message with a lyrical and engaging poetic voice. In a remarkably relaxing and soothing way, he has encouraged us to slow down and appreciate the goodness of the earth; to recall the ripples of consequences that fill our every action, and to maintain hope through the witness of nature when the pollution of the world seems overwhelming. He writes, “When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”
For his vision, his prophetic message, and for his poetic way of communicating, and most of all, for serving as a universal “theologian of the land,” we are proud to extend our 2012 Steward of God’s Creation award to Wendell Berry.
In 1970 Dr. Tom English attended the first Earth Day celebration. From that experience he felt called to a career in creation care. The inspiration of that event led him to quit his job, and return to graduate school to obtain a post-doctoral degree in Environmental Engineering.
Since that time he has led a variety of efforts to solve major environmental problems. These include serving as director of the world's first Regional Air Pollution Study, as the founder of Cal Tech's High Level Nuclear Waste Management program, and as the leader of an effort in California’s Silicon Valley to reduce toxic releases by 21 major companies – which led to an 86% reduction in discharges.
More recently he has served as "Creation Care Educator" for the Presbyterian Church's Synod of Southern California. In that capacity he led an effort to have the Presbyterian Church USA adopt a policy to preserve biodiversity and halt the trend toward mass extinction. He currently focuses his attention on education about the implications of climate change and extinction of species on national security.
Over the past decade he has actively worked with the National Religious Coalition on Creation Care, and in 2010 he co-authored its book, Witness For The Earth: Coalescing the Religious Environmental Movement. In 2012 he organized and chaired the 2012 Washington DC Conference on "Scientific, Religious and Cultural Implications of Global Warming."
For his long legacy of work on behalf of God’s good earth, he was presented with a 2012 "Steward of God's Creation" award at the NRCCC’s conference at Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Church.
Lise Van Susteren, M.D., works as a forensic psychiatrist and serves as an activist on climate change issues. Since 2006 she has delivered over 100 presentations regarding the scientific data on global warming to educational, religious, political, environmental and business audiences, including the US Department of Treasury and the US Secret Service. As a clinical psychiatrist, her profession requires full disclosure of a diagnosis, no matter how painful the news might be. By bringing this same professional integrity to diagnosis of the climate problem, she has developed an acute awareness of its seriousness. This initially caused her to develop a slide show on the health effects of global warming, which she presented to medical professionals, educational institutions, and foundations.
In 2008 she organized scientists, medical professionals and military leaders to develop a report on the mental health and psychological impacts of climate change. Her report, “The Psychological Effects of Global Warming on the United States,” finally released in March, 2012, summarizes in graphic terms the deadly seriousness of the climate problem.
Not content with teaching alone, Lise simultaneously sought to place climate change firmly in our national consciousness. She organized the Interfaith Moral Action on Climate coalition (IMAC) and began to enlist activists who would teach the implications of climate change and advocate for meaningful action to address this global problem.
For her courage, leadership, and eloquent discourse in increasing public consciousness about these urgent environmental concerns, the NRCCC was please to award Dr. Lisa Van Susteren, MD, with its Steward of God’s Creation award at its April 23rd Conference on the Religious, Scientific and Cultural Implications of Climate Change at Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Washington, DC.
Bill McKibben is the founder and director of the grassroots climate campaign 350.org, which has mobilized millions of people, especially young people, into awareness and action on behalf of citizen advocacy for personal and government action on global climate change. In addition McKibben is the author of over a dozen books on human ecological responsibility, including one of the world’s earliest texts documenting the seriousness of climate change, The End of Nature, published in 1989.
Through these ventures, McKibben has helped awaken Americans and young people worldwide to the seriousness of global climate disruption. He has led marches, spoken at hundreds of meetings and conferences, and worked relentlessly to seek a level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere no greater than 350 parts per million, a level that would allow a stable climate to continue on earth. This action was necessary because fossil fuel corporations and many others with financial interests in business as usual have sought to confuse citizens and even deny the validity of science reports about climate change. McKibben has responded by organizing student rallies, demonstrations and protests, all the while galvanizing young people into activism and popularizing awareness of the seriousness of global climate change.
McKibben has deplored the lack of popular awareness of the clear scientific basis for recognizing climate change as one of the greatest threats facing civilization. He declares that we are facing “one of the biggest transitions in human history; the scale of the challenge is enormous.” We are enmeshed “in structural sin,” he observes, and if we are not willing to challenge the structures of sin, we cannot achieve the goals of a stable climate or a stable society. “This fight,” he declares, “will become harder before it gets easier,” and yet we don’t have the luxury of time.
In acknowledgment of his prophetic vision, inspired leadership, service on behalf of God’s Good Earth, but especially for his development of the 350.org organization, we are pleased to extend to Bill McKibben our 2013 steward of God’s creation award.
Kayford Mountain, West Virginia
Larry Gibson grew up on Kayford Mountain in the heart of coal country. That once thriving community folded up as the mines played out, so at age 10 Gibson's family moved to northern Ohio. There Gibson worked as a custodian in an automobile factory for several decades. He had a 5th grade education. Upon an early retirement due to disability, Gibson moved back to his Kayford homeplace and discovered that his beloved mountains were being blown up by massive explosives for the coal. Gibson was one of the first persons to actively oppose mountaintop removal (MTR).Gibson walked the state of West Virginia to draw attention to the destruction of the mountains. He founded a foundation to protect the 57 acres left of his family's historic homeplace, now surrounded by the moonscapes of mountaintop removal. Many thousands of people have come to Kayford Mountain where they can see firsthand the destruction caused by ravenous MTR. Gibson has led many tours of MTR, spoken at hundreds of churches, universities, and gatherings all over the USA, and has participated in many rallies and actions of civil disobedience including numerous arrests. Gibson has been in numerous films, movies, radio programs, books, and publications.
Gibson suffered over 130 acts of vandalism and violent actions toward him and his property for his stand against MTR. Gibson's extraordinary courage, resolute conviction for justice, his love for people, and his respect for the heritage of land and people have been life-changing for many people. While Gibson was short of stature, education, and work prominence, his influence and legacy will continue to ripple outward for many generations to come.
Larry Gibson held several family festivals every year on Kayford Mountain. The last one was a Gospel Festival Sept. 1, 2, 2013. Gibson died of a heart attack a week later at his home on Kayford Mountain.
West Hartford, Connecticut
The Reverend Tom Carr serves as the pastor of the First Baptist Church in West Hartford, Connecticut. For more than a dozen years he has tirelessly advocated that Christians, especially clergy, address the moral and spiritual urgency of global climate change, lead the way in consuming less fossil fuel, and inspire others to tackle the most pressing issue of our time.
Reverend Tom founded and became the first executive director of the pioneering and widely respected Interreligious EcoJustice Network of Connecticut (IREJN). Through this network and through his relationships with clergy statewide, Rev. Tom has educated clergy about the responsibility of religious leaders to teach the urgency of addressing global climate change and to set positive examples for society. For example, he bluntly asks, “I am urging all of us to speak about the moral, ethical and spiritual reasons for addressing climate change.”
For the past several years, he has hosted an annual Connecticut Climate Stewardship Summit for people of faith. He has established liaisons between churches and labor unions, which led him to form the Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs. Every year on the weekend closest to Valentine’s Day, he encourages a global warming “Preach In” and urges clergy of all faiths to participate.
In addition to developing and leading IREJN, Reverend Tom Carr has mobilized churches and synagogues to protest new coal-fired power plants. Thanks in part to his efforts, no new coal-fired power plants have been built in New England.
For his prophetic warnings to clergy, for his tireless commitment to addressing global climate change, and for his service to God and country, especially Connecticut, we are pleased to extend our 2014 Steward of God’s Creation award to Reverend Tom Carr.
His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew serves as the Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch and the first among equals of the fourteen churches that make up the Eastern Orthodox Church. He is the spiritual leader of 350 million Orthodox Christians worldwide, the 270th successor of Saint Andrew the Apostle, and is commonly called “the Green Patriarch” for his ecological work.
During his award ceremony, Baptist minister Rev. Tom Carr said, “For almost three decades, yours has been an unwavering voice calling us to open our eyes, particularly the eyes of our hearts, to the fate of Earth and all her creatures.... Your words and actions have been a message of Love... and a call to action to Christians and people of all religious traditions.... You have repeatedly reminded us of “the Christocentric reality of the cosmos and nature.” As a Christian, your words make my heart sing for they mean that because of the sacred nature of all life, to care for people and all life is primarily a spiritual and moral task.
Psychiatrist Lise Van Susteren MD added, “We are deeply grateful for the vision which you have given us and the insights on how to address the problems of the natural world. Because of the power and force for goodness which you represent, we are kept working when we might otherwise become tired and despondent over so many challenges and assaults on our world. Your efforts to uplift the natural world are an inspiration to all of us, and help us carry on our efforts for the protection of the environment.
Carlos Agnesi, from Guadalajara, Mexico, is from the Catholic Church and is the past president of Mexico’s Interreligious Council. His message arrived by email. “Thank you very much, Your All-Holiness, for the wonderful work you have done on behalf of all humanity and for your vision of divine order within our world, to redirect our awareness toward an ascetic way of life and an inner transformation towards God, following the example of Christ’s transfiguration.”
Dr. Thomas English, from the Presbyterian Church USA, emphasized that your All-Holiness has pointed out that: “How we treat the earth and all of creation defines the relationship that each of us has with God.”
As you have stated “For humans to cause species to become extinct and to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation… for humans to degrade the integrity of Earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the Earth of its forests, or destroying its wet lands… for humans to contaminate the Earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life with poisonous substances… these are sins against God.”
As a gesture of our appreciation for your many decades of guidance, the National Religious Coalition for Creation Care is privileged to present you with the 2015 “Steward of God’s Creation Award.”
The Reverend Margaret Bullitt-Jonas serves as a missioner for creation care for the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Conference United Church of Christ.
Her work is to make sure the voice of the faithful can be heard in public discourse related to climate change and to inspire individual congregations to see climate justice as a significant issue—one that requires human intervention and spiritual resolve. She has written prolifically about issues related to climate justice and participated in advocacy at the national level and civil disobedience.
Margaret is a preacher, teacher and activist who annually rallies 55 plus Episcopal congregations to observe "Creation Season" from the Feast of Saint Francis (Oct. 4) until Christ the King Sunday (Nov. 20) She is the diocese's first dedicated missioner for creation care, appointed by Bishop Doug Fisher in 2013. More information about her ministry is available on her website, Reviving Creation.
One of her nominators, Rev. Tom Carr, said that Margaret is a contemplative activist. "Margaret goes deep within her own soul, her spirit, to understand the sacred, the holy, what God is doing. Then she acts."
Another nominator, Connie Hanson, extolled Margaret's patience. Connie cited the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:23 to describe Margaret. "Because you have been faithful in few things, I will put you in charge of many things. Well done, my faithful servant."
Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb compared Margaret's humility to that of Moses. Dobb concluded by saying, "Let it be the Jew who says, 'Preach the Gospel, and when necessary, use words.'"
Margaret's husband, Robert, and some friends of Margaret, attended the award ceremony. Margaret gave an inspiring and instructive acceptance talk.
The Sioux Nation galvanized the moral imagination of millions of people because of its prayerful, non-violent resistance to the routing of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) through its sacred lands and water source in Standing Rock, North Dakota. What began as a small, youth-led prayer camp grew into several large prayer encampments. An extraordinary wave of solidarity swept the world as hundreds of once-estranged tribal nations and jurisdictions stood with the Standing Rock Sioux and proclaimed with one voice that water is sacred; water is life. Despite bitter winter weather and brutal treatment by police who wielded pepper spray, tear gas, dogs, rubber bullets and even water cannons in below-freezing temperatures, thousands of Native and non-Native people visited the camps near the Missouri River to resist construction of a pipeline that would endanger the river, Native lands, and the whole of Mother Earth.
The Standing Rock encampment has been called the largest gathering of Indigenous Americans in modern history, and one of the most memorable and significant non-violent campaigns in U.S. history. Today, though the encampments have closed and oil flows through the pipeline, the spiritual energies released at Standing Rock continue to transform and sustain activism to protect God’s creation. From Canada to Louisiana and New Jersey, local movements against pipelines and other threats to water sources have cited Standing Rock as their inspiration.
Chief Arvol Looking Horse accepted the NRCCC award on behalf of the Sioux Nation in the presence of hundreds of people, including leaders and elders of Native American tribes from across the U.S., as part of an event that was held on October 7, 2017, and entitled “Listening to Native Voices: Standing Rock is Everywhere.” The celebration marked the 35th commemoration of St. Francis Day at Agape Community, a Christian community that is located in Hardwick, Massachusetts, and dedicated to social justice, non-violence, and sustainable living.
The NRCCC was represented by the Rev. Dr. Doug Fisher (Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts), Robert A. Jonas (founder of the Christian-Buddhist prayer sanctuary, The Empty Bell), and the Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas (Missioner for Creation Care, Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, and Mass. Conference, United Church of Christ). Margaret had last seen Chief Arvol Looking Horse in North Dakota, when she traveled to Standing Rock for an interfaith day of prayer on December 4, 2016.
The crowd erupted in applause when Robert A. Jonas announced, “This year, for the first time, NRCCC wishes to give its award not to a single person but to an entire people. In recognition of the spiritual and moral leadership of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota Nations, the National Religious Coalition on Creation Care would like to present its 2017 Steward of God’s Creation award to the Sioux Nation.”
Bishop Fisher delivered his remarks with clarity and conviction: “We are painfully aware of the history of Christian participation in the oppression, marginalization, and murder of First Nations peoples. We recognize the tragic consequences of the Doctrine of Discovery, which gave the Church’s blessing when colonialists claimed the lands of indigenous peoples as their own. The Episcopal Church has formally repudiated and renounced the Doctrine of Discovery, as have several other Christian groups. Like Pope Francis, we grieve the ‘grave sins’ and ‘crimes’ of colonialism that were ‘committed against the Native people of America in the name of God.’”
He went on to say, “Today the members of NRCCC come to you in humility, wanting you to know that we see your steadfast courage and that we cherish your spiritual vision of an earth-centered, earth-honoring life. Yours is a vision that we want to lift up across this country and around the world. It is an honor to give you this award.”
Margaret Bullitt-Jonas then presented Chief Looking Horse with the 2017 Steward of God’s Creation Award, which is being given to the Sioux Nation and which reads: “Presented in acknowledgment of your inspired courage, leadership and non-violence in protecting God’s sacred land and water.”
For a 10-minute slideshow of “Listening to Native Voices: Standing Rock is Everywhere” produced by David Legg and accompanied by flute music of a local Native friend, Standing Bear, visit here.
For a blog post about the NRCCC award and a ceremony that followed it, a ritual burning of the Doctrine of Discovery, visit here. For a 12-minute video of the burning of the Doctrine of Discovery, visit here.