2018 SLS Student
Co-Pastor at Mennonite Congregation of Frankfurt in Frankfurt, Germany
What does your position entail?
“My wife Rianna and I are both co-pastors and the sole staff of our small congregation. We lead worship, preach, administrative tasks and logistics. We’re experimenting a bit with wild church, which we got to know in the context of Merry Lea a bit; not directly, but in that ecosystem. Wild church works best to invite not only people from the congregation, but other people not from the church as well. [When we do wild church, I hope] to include a contemplative sermon, observation time, reflection from the text and time to respond to the surrounding nature and to what the creatures are telling us. It gives concrete spiritual practice to these environmental concerns and climate change concerns.
How did your SLS experience help shape your understanding about sustainability or community?
“My wife and I went to SLS through Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. We were coming at it from this theological question of: we believe God created the world and, in some sense, charged us to take care of it, so why are we doing such a bad job of it? I had read a bunch about sustainability, but not in a systematic way, just whatever came across my path. SLS is a good curriculum, integrating many different sectors – natural sciences, social sciences, humanities – and the teachers were helpful at putting all these puzzle pieces I had together in a single framework.
“Not only was I learning new things, but the SLS legitimized the questions, concerns and bits of information I had, pointing me to what reputable people say and legitimize what I already knew. SLS really set me free to incorporate ecological concerns into my ministry by introducing me to concepts and ways to bridge ecology and theology, but also simply by giving me time and permission to explore these concepts myself. And it helped to be able to say: I actually studied this a bit, so this is serious stuff. After SLS, we were able to continue the conversation around ecology at the seminary and promote climate consciousness in the Mennonite church.”
Describe a meaningful experience you remember from SLS.
“Our watershed canoe trip down the Elkhart and St. Joe all the way to Great Lake Michigan will forever stay etched in my mind as an initiation ritual into a place I thought I knew but got to know newly again. I’m German and not from that place, but I had been living in Elkhart for two years at that point. I knew my way around and knew of some community projects that were going on, but being on the river for such a long time and going at that pace – going the speed of how fast the river takes you and the speed of your paddle – it’s much slower. It showed us the actual place and that it has a lot more life than just the human life. It brought me into communities I hadn’t interacted with before, and brought us as a group together in connection with that watershed.
“It was a concrete touchpoint as a ritual. Baptism or graduating from school are rituals, but this was much longer, so it felt really strong. Even how we started each day of the canoe trip was carefully crafted and well thought-through.”
What’s something from SLS that you incorporate in your life today?
“I make space for regular time outside in wild spaces or those reclaimed by creation, worship in wild church style with creation, and gather people for group meals promoting the watershed as meaningful site for climate action.
“We have been trying to promote watershed-framing as a locus of action here [in Germany] and have conversations with people around that. I like the framing that [a watershed] is an ecological scale where meaningful action is possible, but larger than individual action. It brings us together as individuals and preachers. It’s not a common ecological framework in Germany, but I find it really useful. In our congregation, lots of people feel overwhelmed with having another thing to do [regarding climate action]. Part of my job is to make them see what they are already doing and then seeing what we can do together; to help people see what the scales of action are and what the scale of appropriate action is.”