Photo by Dave Schumaker, http://www.flickr.com/photos/rockbandit/8266391791/
Just recently, I had the privilege of being invited to my Levias family church, St. Paul Church of God in Christ, to speak on the topic of community health. I was raised in the sanctified COGIC tradition, where I learned how and was encouraged to become a public speaker. That girl sure can talk, I would hear the saints say, and felt then a sense of pride in a skill that serves me well in my work today.
While my traditional church participation has fallen off considerably as an adult for many reasons; like most African Americans, I still consider the church an important, sacred space and source of support.
It felt great to share the work of Outdoor Afro as a native daughter of the community, but it was even more energizing to exchange ideas about how people can begin to re-activate their connections to the outdoors. We talked about memory - historic traditions from the South to easy things to do today in the city, such as noticing birds, or investigating local parks, and getting to know neighbors better. The reception of this discussion was warm, punctuated by many Amens! that reinforced the fact that people are already engaged with the topic, and it led me to imagine what is possible if we deliberately included the church more in the quest to connect more people to nature in ways that mattered to them.
For many, the church is not only a place of worship, but also our town hall. There we receive the most relevant and discerning messages from the larger community. Thus, the church can be a key influencer of African American social structure and behavior.
In this work of connecting more people to nature, I find myself in many rooms, advisory meetings, and email threads with the discussion of relevancy of the outdoors for African Americans (and other less represented populations) in the center. How can we connect the outdoors to more audiences people ask. With 87% of African Americans who associate themselves with a church (Pew Center for Research), the church must play a key part in our planning and partnerships.
While some mainstream environmental organizations and programs shy away from the topic of religion, other non-profits are connecting the church to environmental concerns and nature as a part of congregational values and activities - and we can learn from their success. For example, Chicago's Faith in Place, an important partner of Outdoor Afro, works across several denominations to inspire and support environmental education within the common value of stewardship. From their website:
Our mission is to help people of faith understand that issues of ecology and economy—of care for Creation—are at the forefront of social justice. At Faith in Place we believe in housing the homeless, feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. But even if we do all those things, and love our brothers and sisters with our whole heart, it will not matter if we neglect the ecological conditions of our beautiful and fragile planet.
In Oakland, California, Memorial Tabernacle Church has built a ministry dedicated to organizing activities in the community through their Health and Garden Ministries. “We focus on improving several aspects of congregant life,” says Tiffany Grant (33), who leads this effort that includes church hikes, and a productive church vegetable garden.
Most in the outdoor related fields agree that a key way to connect more people to nature starts with being relevant to the intended communities. Therefore, we are remiss if we exclude the black church from the table of discussion to support connections to the natural environment that ultimately benefit us all.
Does your church have a ministry that connects members to nature? Do you need support to make this happen? Let us know in the comments below!
Rue Mapp is the founder of Outdoor Afro, a community that reconnects African-Americans with natural spaces and one another through recreational activities such as camping, hiking, biking, fishing, gardening, skiing — and more! Outdoor Afro uses social media to create interest communities, events, and to partner with regional and national organizations that support diverse participation in the Great Outdoors.
Originally published on Outdoor Afro