Eco-theology at work at Lyon College

Maggie Alsup, the chaplain at Lyon College, shares what she learns from college students as they celebrate Earth Day each year.

cleaning up litter

Photo by OCG Saving The Ocean on Unsplash

The first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 1970. It was as a call for young people to promote ecological care. It has grown over the years through classrooms, various environmental organizations and even in churches.

We celebrate Earth Day every year on our campus through worship and action. It is a time for us to put aside the regularly scheduled weekly chaos of college life and to turn to God in worship to acknowledge and address our connection. Then we go out to a project, one in which we work at bettering our relationship with creation. It is a day that we remind ourselves that we too are made from dirt, made from the soil, so we turn to the soil to dig and get messy — reminding ourselves of the interconnectedness.

This year was like most, in that we had a lot of ways to get messy, to reconnect with creation. Our lake cleaning had to be postponed due to heavy rains, but the following week we gathered to clean and revive our community lake. And while cleanup was delayed, that day we began by gathering to listen to students give presentations about what they have learned through their semester course on recycling and conservation. Students in attendance were amazed to learn about water usage, what can actually be recycled and ways to reduce their carbon footprint.

They were then challenged to take a bag home for the week and try to fill it with recyclables, to see how much they can make an impact. At the end of the week, we had bags upon bags collected — it was a great visual for students to see the impact of what recycling can do instead of just throwing things in the trash and creating unnecessary waste. This simple task has sparked the conversation to partner with the local recycling center to set up trailers and access for our campus on a larger scale to have access to recycling resources.

After the presentations, our Garden Club in partnership with our Campus Ministry built a pollinator-friendly garden for our campus. It was a laborious task of digging, preparing the soil, planting the seeds, and watering it all. Over the next few weeks, we waited impatiently for the garden to come to life. And it was exciting when we saw that first green sprout emerging from the soil.

The best part of my job is watching students make the connections between their beliefs, practices and the world around them. And Earth Day is a great reminder for us as a community to reconnect and renew our relationship with creation. It is just the spark that students need to enliven them to take up the challenges of eco-justice.

Every year, every project, every worship service, reminds us of our connection to creation, to God, to one another. It is always a great day of learning, action and hope for creation. In a time when society seems to be ignoring our crisis, these young people get it. They get that we cannot survive without the survival of all creation. And this gives me hope for our future, for they get just how much our interconnectedness matters, in a world that tries to deny or reject it.