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Innovation Stories

Eco-Education into Action

Meet Innovative Leader Heidi Ferris
by Timothy Bowman | June 28, 2022

Heidi Ferris is a scientist, author, and environmental educator whose ministry is at the intersection of climate change and racial justice. She works with both congregations and secular community groups such as libraries, schools, watershed districts, artists and other non-profits. “Social systems and church systems in ministry are really about that power of connection, how people are connected to each other and to place.” She describes how Genesis through Revelation encourage us to be in relationship with Christ and with Creation, “all in God’s love, building community and understanding that interconnectedness.”

Secular or religious, it’s all faithful

Heidi had this story to share: “Since March I have been working with a local middle school in partnership with the local library. 300 students in their math classes saved seeds from 15 native prairie plants, grew them, transplanted them into hand-made compostable pots, then planted the native plants into a shoreline at the local library. Students defined native in a 2022 context, discussed land acknowledgement, and tied all of this learning to math lessons too. They used critical thinking connected to culture, climate, geometry, data collection and data analysis. The deep-rooted plants clean water, clean air (sink carbon), build soil, provide habitat for pollinators and wildlife all while building sense-of-place connections for the neighborhood. Most importantly, students have been lifted up as leaders in the community. While this was a secular event where religion was not discussed, I feel vocationally this was a ministry success because seeds of many kinds were planted including youth empowerment, climate hope, love of neighbor, and connection to Creation.”

Her vocation has called Heidi in a variety of directions: first a science educator teaching middle school and high school. In the late 90’s she became concerned with how climate science was becoming something debatable. At the same time, as a clergy spouse, she saw how science and climate were and were not being taught in the church, which led her into environmental education curriculum development and consulting work. She earned a Masters degree in environmental education and is currently working on her doctorate in educational leadership, researching the intersectionality of ecological systems and social systems.

EnviroSTEM for churches

A 2022 project includes 10 different churches in the St. Paul area using grants funds and community partnerships to plant prairie plants that improve water quality, provide habitat and clean air by sinking carbon. The project also addresses land acknowledgement and connects people with the hard but true story of colonization and harm to indigenous people and cultures in Minnesota. She builds cohorts of 3-5 churches to go through an eco-theology curriculum training together where they learn enviroSTEM (environment, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). Congregations do 4-6 hours of training learning about ecology, theology connections and empowering people in moving that knowledge to action. 

Throughout the process Heidi walks with youth groups, intergenerational teams, and church committees through different steps from education to action projects like solar panels, energy saving initiatives, or water emphasis, although not always science focused. “Sometimes projects are embedding a new liturgy or a new water-focused piece of music into worship, or an art piece.” Her main goal is to empower people in using their gifts to move environmental knowledge into action in ways that benefit the community. Doesn’t that sound like grace and vocation in ministry?

Intergenerational

Heidi also places a large emphasis on intergenerational ministry and helps congregations dream of ways that people of all ages, preschool to centenarian, can work together to do a project like a rain garden. Her curriculum series includes the topics energy conservation, climate justice, water justice, land acknowledgement, watershed discipleship, recycling, soil health all under the titles of: Connect the Drops: Faith, Science & Youth Leadership, Connect the Dots: Faith, Science & Youth Leadership, and Connect the Rocks: Faith, Science, & Youth Leadership.  Heidi sees that one of the beautiful aspects of the church is that it is one of the last places in society to have truly intergenerational experiences. In fact, she requires that at least 3 adults go through the curriculum to make the experience intergenerational.

Her advice to a congregation looking to tackle environmental questions would be for them to build a “sense of place”. She finds it vital to connect congregations to where they physically are in their environment. Ask questions like, “Where does our water come from, and where does it go?” Questions like these also help people build connections to the place they live and occupy. She also recommends naming that people are in ecological and social systems and we’re in this climate change situation together. “We have separated ourselves from Creation. I want to build a sense of place, reconnecting people and their stories to land, air, living things and water.” Heidi also recommends that congregations just take the first step in becoming more green. You can start small. “It’s an incremental process; it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. We’re in this together so let’s keep growing greener as a global church. This looks like congregations that are working to connect generations in talking about climate justice and social justice, and how those issues are rooted in the love of Jesus.”

In addition to her work as an environmental consultant, Heidi has also written a series of 6 books for children 1,2,3 Earth Air & Me; 4 S’s for Noticing Nature; 5 R’s for Environment; 6 C’s for Creation Care; 7 Water Wonderings: All About the Cycle of Water; and 8 Butterfly Questions for Gardening that are “simple, scientifically, accurate, and sometimes faith-based.” These books are designed to help educate children (and their caring adults) about how to talk about faith and science in an accurate way. If you are interested in learning more or contacting Heidi you can find her website here: http://growinggreenhearts.com/

About the Author

Timothy Bowman

Timothy is a Luther Seminary graduate, a co-pastor with his wife at Zion Lutheran Church in Stewartville, MN, and a member of the Seeds Project.

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