University of Dubuque Seminary and Wartburg Seminary
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
"I am convinced that food and eating practices are a major avenue into environmental concerns -- an avenue that connects all manner of other spiritual, moral, and church issues," says Shannon Jung, Director of the Center for Theology and Land. Many urban and suburban churches may have little or no connection to agriculture at all (though urban community gardens are becoming part of some churches' creation care programs). In Dubuque, Iowa, food, farmers and faith go together.
Being in pastoral ministry in rural communities means knowing the land, knowing the people who live and work on the land, and learning what connection exists between the two. At the Center for Theology of Land, a seminary-based agency in Iowa, this means that rural concerns overlap with environmental concerns. Issues about which seminary students learn include farming practices, the economics of agriculture (and the pressure on conventional growers), Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA), and the local foods movement. As seminarians witness the importance of supporting farm families and local agriculture, they often find their grocery lists and meal planning begin to change to reflect their new discoveries. Meanwhile, they learn to live and minister in rural communities with wisdom, humility, respect, and compassion.
With a mission "to strengthen rural congregations and their communities," the Center each year sponsors two immersion courses into rural America. Students spend time on farms and with farm families, with pastors, and in the communities where many of them will lead churches in the future.
Environmental and economic issues are a major part of life in those places. Students in the program discuss such issues theologically, practically, and ecologically. Seminarian Susan Bahleda reports that, "I had no idea what rural ministry might entail. The immersion experience helped me see how complex rural culture is and how ministry there involves learning about the context."
The Center plants seeds in these students, by hands-on involvement in land and agriculture. The harvest is not easily quantifiable. Yet Jung believes, "the environment becomes us when we discover that we are ingesting it at every meal. Suddenly those who grow our food and those who distribute, sell, package, and stock food are involved in the environment. Rural people know food and have a great gift to give when they realize that eating is a spiritual practice."
In order to continue planting seeds, Jung in his capacity as Director at the Center, has written Food for Life: The Spirituality and Ethics of Eating, and is hard at work on an even more practical book on Sharing Food: Christian Practices for Enjoyment, alternately titled, How to Eat Well. Though the Center primarily serves seminarians, it exists to educate the whole church about land and theology. Thus, Jung uses these texts in order to help a wider audience connect their food choices with a healthy creation-people, animals, and land.
In addition, the Center hosts continuing education courses for area clergy and lay leaders. Recognizing that embedded in the care of God's creation is the proper tilling and care of the earth, it is important to cultivate sensitivity to agriculture in current and future pastors. Thus, to bring the issues to church, the Center also makes available worship resources for an Earth Day Service, Harvest Service, and a Rogation Service.