This fall, I had the opportunity to join the San Juan Presbytery in a new mission to establish a program for the stewardship of creation across all its churches. The event took place in Guacio, the only remaining Presbyterian camp in Puerto Rico. Adults became like children, remembering their younger camp years; young people became teachers reminding us of their need for a better future.
Together everyone shared memories of hurricane Maria, and the presbytery provided new means for its members to lead the way towards healing, preparedness, and building a new Green Puerto Rico. Two thirds of San Juan Presbytery were represented among the 25 participants.
What would an eco-reformation look like for Puerto Rico? We found ourselves guided by the history of the Reformation, the tragic events of hurricane Maria, the recent migration of almost a million Puerto Ricans, and the love for this land against all odds. A land full or grace, many described it as. In less than two years, its green stands out and perches on their wounds, providing support to hope and healing. Alongside our Christian faith, these became the tools to find answers during the weekend.
San Juan Presbytery has not been wasting time: in May 2019 they voted to establish a program to educate all their congregations about their responsibility to care for creation. This weekend meeting became the first of many to come. The effort began with the fun challenge of minimizing the event’s footprint; by encouraging us to carpool, following the program on our cell phones, instead of printing programs on paper, providing reusable bags, bottles and silverware to all participants, making everyone responsible for washing them and continuing to bring them to each meal. Our presence became an opportunity for the camp’s director to consider how else it could become a Green Presbyterian Camp.
And although we had several pastors among us, putting together Sunday’s service was a task for everyone. The base was Genesis 1, one of Scripture’s Creation stories. Every person joined a small group to reflect and later speak about one of the seven days of creation. My group’s day was the Sabbath, the last day when God rested from all that God had made. If God needs to rest, and let nature rest from its need to produce life, how much don’t we? We noticed Genesis emphasis on God’s rest, Exodus (20) emphasis on the people of God’s need to keep the Sabbath for the Lord; Leviticus (25) emphasis on the land, and all its creatures, to rest.
If we never allow the land to rest, it can never regenerate and continue providing life as it should. We found climate change, soil erosion, water pollution, extinction of species, all to be the result of our own struggle against the Sabbath, and God’s wisdom showing us how to rest, to allow the land and the animals to rest from our human demands, a much needed remedy to allow Earth flourish.
The Presbytery of San Juan is paving the way for a Sabbath in Puerto Rico. Their vulnerability before climate change is fueling their resolve to putting solar panels in their churches and schools, staying off the grid, connecting with sustainable farmers to start community gardens, advocating for a political system that could support sustainable living practices, speaking in favor of the Divestment overture that will be presented to the 2020 PCUSA General Assembly, requesting our denomination to have resources available in Spanish, and seeking to learn from other denominations, how they are also responding to climate change and Island’s environmental crisis.
May the promises of the rainbow continue inspiring and surround Puerto Rico with divine grace.
The Rev. Dr. Neddy Astudillo is GreenFaith's Director for Training and LatinoAmerica. Neddy is a Venezuelan-American and eco-theologian as well as a Presbyterian pastor. Neddy has taught eco-theology courses at theological seminaries in Guatemala, Bolivia, Peru, Mexico and the USA. Neddy is a member of the Presbyterian Hunger Program Advisory Committee, and co-founder of the Angelic Organic’s Learning Center in Northern Illinois.
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