U-C: What I See

Thursday, March 23, 2006

A Presbyterian Creation Conservation Corps?

An open letter to Presbyterians for Restoring Creation and the Presbyterian Church Camp and Conference Association:


I would like to challenge you to consider an idea that has been rolling around in my head for some time. After being with the PRC gathering at Silver Lake last summer, and visiting many of our Camp and Conference Centers over the last two years, I am convinced that there is an opportunity to fill a significant void in leadership development in our churches, and possibly to provide renewed energy in both the PRC and the PCCCA.

I’d like to see us develop a “Presbyterian Creation Conservation Corps” for juniors and seniors in high school. The idea would be to recruit the PCC members from among students who have distinguished themselves in our camping programs and/or as strong advocates for restoring creation. I would gather them together regionally or nationally (depending on the number of participants) for two weeks at the beginning of the summer for intensive training (Biblical study, analysis of environmental protection concerns, skill-building for alternative technologies, land reclamation, organizing skills, etc.).

Following the training, the participants would fan out to our participating Camp and Conference Centers across the country for an eight-week, intensive, volunteer experience. Each Camp would have a focus for a particular project of land conservation that particular year (e.g. land erosion projects, wetlands protection, home-made solar hot water heaters, water purification, composting toilets, etc.), and they would go to work. In addition to the projects they’re given, Their tasks might include educating campers and coordinating events that would be open to other adults who want to come and work on the project.

The PRC would need to help us to design a curriculum of study (theological, academic, spiritual, and practical) that the students would begin during their orientation week together, and then continue during the summer (we might even have a weekly internet chat or a yahoo group for the PCC interns to remain in touch with one another throughout the summer.)

Following the summer, the students would be expected to commit to some agreed upon number of educational events or even a demonstration project at churches or in their presbytery.

Over time, I wonder if our camps could begin to design camping opportunities starting with elementary or Junior High students that would prepare them for (and entice them into) this opportunity. For instance, our camps could design curriculum to start preparing our kids with a basic, foundational eco-theology and a way to get their hands dirty by the time they are ten or eleven. By Junior High, they could be coming to a camp that has a particular theme and project – like building a composting toilet, for instance. By early high school, they could be mentored by the older high school kids who are already experienced PCC member/campers.

The Rationale:

During my moderatorial term, I have met many high school students who are anxious to serve God in some active way. They are too young for our Young Adult Volunteer programs, and certainly too young for some of the higher risk, accompaniment work that we are doing in places like Colombia, but they are still anxious to “do mission.”

There is a huge need for a camping renaissance that will engage the next generation, and there is currently little that distinguishes Presbyterian camping from the myriad other camping opportunities available to kids today. Perhaps a Presbyterian Conservation Corps could provide a unifying theme for that renaissance in Presbyterian camping, while allowing each individual camp to show great creativity in how it designs its own program around the a clear Presbyterian commitment to eco-theology. Sure would be nice for Presbyterian camps as a whole to be known for something distinctive, wouldn’t it?

Further, I would name four major challenges that the church confronts in the world today: 1) captivation by secular culture that corrupts our faith or causes many people to ignore the church entirely as a way to be faithful to God, 2) the destruction of our environment and God’s good creation that sustains us, 3) overwhelming violence, and 4) endemic poverty. This project would be designed to disciple a new generation of church leaders to respond directly to the first two of those concerns, and it would potentially create a fair possibility for raising awareness in that new generation of leaders about the second two.

I also wonder what the synergy might be for evangelizing/discipling kids who are unchurched (kind of Young Life style) into this program? It seems like this could be a way to reach out to kids who are disaffected with church, but who really want to make a difference in the world.

How would we pay for it? There are lots of questions, but here are a few ideas to get the juices flowing.

I would think we could ask the camps to put up the cost of room and board for the campers, and many camps could probably afford a small stipend of $500 or so for the summer. I would ask PCCCA to coordinate a rotation of camp facilities for the orientation, and ask each camp to take a turn at subsidizing the program by providing room and board for the orientation. (up to twenty or twenty-five students – if it got bigger than that, I would recommend regional gatherings to keep costs low and the setting more intimate for group building.) I would ask the students to raise any transportation costs for the orientation and the summer experience, and possibly to help raise the stipend itself. (I would keep the stipend pretty low the first year, and then double it if they come back the second year.)

How would we get it off the ground?

What if we formed a task force of college-aged young adults and asked them to work with a couple of reps from PCCCA and PRC to meet by phone and email to work out the kinks and design the program. It might need at least one coordinator (depending on the number of PCC Interns) to coordinate the project. Perhaps we could look to ten presbyteries to put up $300 a piece to pay a stipend, and asked the coordinator to match it through his or her own fundraising. That would probably create enough money for travel, a tiny administrative budget, and a reasonable stipend for the summer.

It is probably too late to begin even a small program for this summer, but there is plenty of time for a task force to put a program together to begin the summer of 2007. I’ve tried to give enough detail here to capture folks imaginations, but I expect that many of my ideas would be modified as the planning task force put it together. My point is that we probably don’t need to go raise a whole bunch of money if we’re willing to talk about in-kind contributions and asking our potential PCCC members to step up and help with the fundraising from their own churches. I’m pretty confident we could get ten students in a heartbeat, and that it would grow like crazy from there.

Anyway, just to prove I’m not sleeping when long periods of time go by without word on the blog.

What do you think PCCCA and PRC?

For the next generation that wants to serve God,