Ground Healing Instead of Groundbreaking

The May 4, 2005 ceremony that marked the beginning of Rieth Village was called a ground-healing rather than a groundbreaking. Participants found themselves spreading compost rather than watching a shovel spear the earth.

“The word ‘groundbreaking’ suggests that human development must break the ground, but we hope that our project will help heal and renew the earth,” Luke Gascho, then Merry Lea’s Executive Director, observed at the time.

An osprey circled overhead during the proceedings and yellow warblers and a warbling vireo provided music.

Ground Healing Speech

John D. Yordy, then interim President of Goshen College, delivered the speech below:

We are here to celebrate the first phase of construction of new facilities at Merry Lea. This is indeed a wonderful day for the Merry Lea Environmental Center, for Goshen College, and for the cause of environmental education.  These facilities will become part of the 1,150 acres (note: now 1,189 acres) of natural preserves, several lakes, restored wetlands, forests, and other ecosystems, made possible because Lee and Mary Jane Reith entrusted their lifelong passion for preserving land to Goshen College, through the leadership and stewardship of the Merry Lea staff, guided by the Merry Lea Board.  Through the years, the Reiths have generously supported programs at Merry Lea.  In addition, their generosity – and that of others –  has made these new facilities and this day possible.

The Merry Lea Environmental Center with these new facilities will enhance innovative learning, research, and practice all centered in an understanding of the interdisciplinary nature of environmental studies. It is here that all can learn better how to sustain our needs today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

The roots for our commitment to sustainable, ecological understandings are found in the confession of faith from our founding denomination, where it is noted that:

We believe that God has created the heavens and the earth, and that God preserves and renews what has been made.

We believe that everything belongs to God who calls us to live as faithful stewards.

As stewards of God’s earth, we are called to care for the earth and to bring rest and renewal to the land.

Yet to become good stewards of God’s creation means that we must consider our attitudes and perspectives regarding God’s creation. Change may be required from us, for as O’Sullivan said, “What is needed is a radical change in perspective within educational institutions to deal with the magnitude of problems that we are currently facing at a planetary level.”

These new facilities can provide a place for a change of perspective for all participants – students, faculty, staff, administrators, visitors – through experiential pedagogy, which considers what it means to be good stewards of the natural environment that God has entrusted to us. Field laboratories, classrooms, library, faculty offices, and a place to meet and eat, are all part of creating a context for such learning. It is here that current students and future generations will more fully understand their responsibility to create a future that is ecological sound, socially just, and economically viable and humane. As all come to understand what it means to be good stewards of the natural environment, Goshen College will more completely achieve and actualize its core values: to be Christ-centered, passionate learners, servant leaders, compassionate peacemakers, and global citizens in the care of our world.

With these new facilities, a genuine learning community will be founded, with interdisciplinary characteristics and faculty and programs that integrate three components: academic subject matter, social interactions, and the physical space necessary for an intellectually stimulating environment to emerge. Shared learning activities will develop a sense of community among the participants, as well as, enhance their understandings of their professional, ethical, and civic responsibilities related to the environment. Here there is an opportunity to explore Merry Lea’s ecosystems together, to practice sustainability together, and to learn the value of being part of a community. Living and learning space will be integrated, just as it is in life.

These educational experiences can lead to transformation, for they will engage the learner in constructing and owning meaning as well as participating. It is a regenerative education based on understanding the interconnectedness of all systems and the need for renewal or reconstitution of life. Regeneration brings new life to systems, and as Stephen Sterling states, “a vision of continuous recreation, for both education and society are engaged in a relationship of mutual transformation.”

This is why we are here today, to be part of beginning to create, as David Orr has said, “that kind of knowledge and experience that students need in order to help make a world that is ecologically sustainable, compassionate and prosperous.”

We are also here today because of the generosity of Mary Jane Reith and others, the vision and leadership of Luke Gascho, Executive Director of Merry Lea, and the vision of his staff. They deserve special recognition for their work at bringing us and this project to this point. The support of the Merry Lea Board and the Goshen College administration and Board of Directors has been critical to the success of this project. Architects, consultants, contractors have participated and will help this vision to be fully realized. To all we who have contributed so much in so many ways, we say a deep “thank you.”

It is a privilege to be part of these groundbreaking activities here at Merry Lea, to be a member of the Merry Lea Board, and to represent Goshen College in this very special event.

May God bless the vision and planning that has made this day possible,

And bless the work yet to be done to fully realize this vision.