Tuesday was our new director’s first day! We are so excited to welcome Sarah Ogletree back to CCA. Sarah served as an intern with CCA during her time as a student at Wake Forest School of Divinity, where she focused her studies in religious leadership and ecology. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Sustainable Development from Appalachian State University. Since then, Sarah has worked at the intersection of faith, ecology, and Creation Care at United Methodist Churches in Cullowhee and Winston-Salem, Parkway United Church of Christ in Winston-Salem, First Baptist Church in Sylva, and here with the Creation Care Alliance back in 2017. Her dedication to seeking justice for both people and planet shines through in all aspects of her life, and she has consistently been recognized with awards for her leadership, dedication and excellence. Notably, she was the recipient of the national 2018 Emerging Earth Care Leader Award from Presbyterians for Earth Care and was named a 2019 Re:Generate Fellow. She has been committed to the work of creation care for many years and is incredibly grateful to be returning to CCA in this new capacity!
In her free time, Sarah enjoys planting flowers, singing, and playing the fiddle with her husband, William. She is a fan of snuggling up on the couch to read southern Appalachian novels and also loves exploring with her small but mighty dog, Bo. Be on the lookout for more from Sarah in this week’s newsletter—coming to an inbox near you soon!
Typically, in January or early February, our community of Creation Care Alliance leaders comes together to host a clergy and community gathering called the Winter Symposium. This event has proved again and again to be a wonderful time of learning together and growing in our shared vocation of creation care.
This fall, as we began to think about our symposium, it became clear that given the realities of COVID-19, we would be unable to gather in person. Last year, we had a beautiful virtual gathering, and we considered hosting another Zoom conference. However, as we discerned, we continued to feel that what we need right now is something that a Zoom conference cannot give us.We need connection. We need rest. We need rejuvenation. We need laughter. We need to be with each other. For these reasons, we have decided to cancel the 2022 Winter Symposium with the hope that when we gather, it can be in person.
But what about this need to laugh and rest and connect and rejuvenate and find joy? We wanted to attempt to meet these needs. And so, the idea for the “January Jubilee” was born.
On Thursday, January 20th, we will gather on Zoom from 6-7 pm for a time of song and celebration. During this “happy hour” of sorts, Sarah and her husband William Ritter will offer fiddle tunes and lead all who attend in a few favorite singalongs. Rev. Anna Shine of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Boone and Rev. Kevin Bates of Way in the Wilderness in Black Mountain will offer songs of hope. Emma Childs of Christmount Retreat Center will also lead us in a time of reflection. We will consider seeds: what we’ve sown, what we’re sorting through, and what we hope to grow, through patient watering, in 2022.
Our fervent desire is that this time of song and contemplation will provide a small balm to the ache many of us feel after nearly two years of pandemic. We may not be able to safely gather in large numbers, particularly during the cold of winter, but we are able to sing. And there is both joy and hope in that.
Please join us. Bring a snack, warm beverage, and cozy blanket. We look forward to being with you. Register here.
The holiday season, unfortunately, is often one ridden with waste. Dumpsters quickly fill, and we know it’s a problem. The waste we see and create is not in the spirit of our gatherings meant to sow love and hope. Still, it’s hard to know what to do about it. Here are some tips that we hope will help you create and enjoy a more sustainable season of giving:
December is here. As a practicing Christian, this season is special to me because of Advent and the upcoming Christmas holiday. Advent, the beginning of the Christian liturgical year, is when we wait with joyful anticipation for the birth of the Christ child. On Christmas day, we celebrate that birth as well as the incarnation—God’s becoming human as Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God sent to Earth.
We witness manger scenes, and nativity plays with children clad in bathrobes during these weeks of waiting for Christmas. We sing songs like “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” We light candles during our worship services that helps us recount the story of Jesus’ birth—what it means in our lives and the life of the world. This is also a season of reflection for me and many others.
As the natural world becomes barren, the energy of the tree returning to the soil until spring, we also turn inward. It might seem difficult given the frenzy of the secular season, but Advent is a time for Christians to consider their hearts and how they might prepare for the coming of Christ in ways that allow compassion and justice to blossom. Those of other faith traditions also look inside themselves to be reconnected to hope, love, and religious identity.
There are at least a dozen religious holidays during the month of December (such as Rohatsu or Bodhi Day in Buddhist tradition and Hanukkah within Judaism). These holy days often share in emphasizing times of introspection—becoming quiet like the natural world during winter. Through this quiet, we often find the Holy and are reminded of why we are here on this planet.
In recognition of the sacred stillness of this season, we will not be having meetings or events during the month of December. It is our wish, and my prayer, that you find the Divine in quiet moments and feel God’s love surround you and yours during the days and weeks to come. We hope the meditations listed on this page will serve to help you find God in the quiet. Additionally, we hope that these resources from our Guide to Creation Care will be helpful in sustainably celebrating with your loved ones.
We are immensely grateful for your presence in our community. And we hope that like the trees in winter, you will find time to be nourished by stillness this month.
May there be Peace,
Sarah Ogletree, Director
This reflection was written by CCA Director Sarah Ogletree on Oct. 24th for the national Presbyterians for Earth Day newsletter.
In my work, I often speak to congregations about the importance of creation care. The beginning of the talk I give is the beginning of my story. Before I get into what creation care is and ways we can practice love for all beings, I talk a bit about why I do what I do and how I came to feel called to environmental ministry. That story is centered in place.
Growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains, I understood the world as sacred from a young age. How could I not? My pastors and Sunday School teachers taught me about God’s love, and I felt God’s love outdoors. The sun, rain, and wind offered me the sense of wonder associated with my experience of the Divine. My backyard wildflower garden, and the woods behind my neighbor’s house, provided space for me to connect with God and the deep well of love that’s available to us when we are present. I found God with the birds singing outside my window and under rocks where my brother and I looked for salamanders… God was all around me in the mountains of my upbringing. But no place served as such a conduit for God’s presence as Waterrock Knob. Waterrock Knob was, and continues to be, my “thin place.”
Frequently referenced in Celtic spirituality, “thin places” are locations where the veil between this world and the eternal is thin. Waterrock Knob, the highest peak in the Plott Balsams and 16th highest in the eastern United States, has long been that for me. It’s hard to say precisely why, but that craggy mountaintop with its stunning views and steep trail has always caused me to feel as though my eyes were newly opened. There in that place, I feel simultaneously small and connected to all of life’s largeness. I feel like the world just began and like it is the most ancient thing in the universe. The strangeness of living is put into perspective, and I am free to breathe and be. God is with me.
I have many special memories at Waterrock Knob. It is a place I often visited with my family as a child, and it’s a place I continue to go with my husband and our friends. I know it well. For instance, I know that if you go off the trail to the left about a third of the way up, there is a tree with a knot in it where I once found a bouncy ball. The ball had a smiley face on it, and underneath it, there was a note that said, “have a great day.” I know that when you reach the summit, you can go through the trees to the right and find the perfect rocky perch to watch cars twist up the parkway. I know that the mountain oscillates between smelling of evergreens and skunk—due to an unknown-by-me high elevation plant that I’ve come to associate with this place and this place only.
I know the mountain. I am also surprised by it. Every time I’m there, something “new” shows its face: a flower I’ve never seen before, a mammoth tree I hadn’t noticed in visits past, or light playing off fragments of mica along the forest floor. Perhaps this is a part of Waterrock Knob’s “thinness.” In this place, I am comforted by the familiar and gifted with mystery. I am shown that there is more than I can know, and I get to marvel at all I can see. The opportunity to experience the love I’ve known for years while glimpsing the love that exists beyond all I could ever imagine—it feels like God.
What “thin place” has touched your spirit? How does that place offer you inspiration? Hope? How might that place aid you in your Earth care? This coming week, I will go to Waterrock Knob with members of the Creation Care Alliance community to contemplate our callings to creation care. I hope you will also sojourn to a sacred place and consider how God is speaking in your life. May we all find strength, joy, mystery, connection, and conviction in the world that God made and calls good.
On Sunday, October 17th, people of faith from around the world will hang banners from their congregational buildings and homes declaring that now is the time for climate action. We’re inviting you to take part in this global action organized by our friends at GreenFaith by decorating your buildings with courageous messages regarding the importance of caring for this world, and acting on climate change, as a means of loving our human and non-human neighbors. If your congregation meets on Sunday, we also encourage you to name the need for climate action during your service and include prayers for the Earth and all species during your time of prayer.
On Monday, October 18th, we invite you to join with countless other people of faith in calling your senators, member of congress, and President Biden. Name the importance of taking bold action on climate change, divesting (stopping the funding of) fossil fuel projects like pipelines, and investing in renewable energy and sustainable infrastructure. You can also call your bank—asking if they invest in fossil fuels and discussing the necessity of divestment as a moral imperative.
These actions are happening two weeks before the UN climate talks, as a way of coming together in global community to make it clear that governments and financial institutions must do more, and they must do it faster. Learn more here, and let us know how you take action!
Today marks the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi. The feast commemorates the life of St. Francis, who was born in the 12th century and is the Catholic Church’s patron saint of animals and the environment.
Many congregations in our region and around the world celebrate this day through blessings of animals and other environmentally themed worship services. To help you share in this day and the knowledge of one of our faith traditions most dedicated ecological leaders, we are highlighting an incredible children’s book, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, by Katherine Patterson.
This beautiful book is a re-imagining of St. Francis’ famous Canticle of the Creation. The pictures and words serve to inspire the young, and young at heart, in loving the world fully and in coming to know the Earth as our relative. We hope this can be a cherished addition to your congregational (or home) library. The Canticle of Creation is pasted below:
O Most High, all-powerful, good Lord God,
to you belong praise, glory,
honor and all blessing.
Be praised, my Lord, for all your creation
and especially for our Brother Sun,
who brings us the day and the light;
he is strong and shines magnificently.
O Lord, we think of you when we look at him.
Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Moon,
and for the stars
which you have set shining and lovely
in the heavens.
Be praised, my Lord,
for our Brothers Wind and Air
and every kind of weather
by which you, Lord,
uphold life in all your creatures.
Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Water,
who is very useful to us,
and humble and precious and pure.
Be praised, my Lord, for Brother Fire,
through whom you give us light in the darkness:
he is bright and lively and strong.
Be praised, my Lord,
for Sister Earth, our Mother,
who nourishes us and sustains us,
fruits and vegetables of many kinds
and flowers of many colours.
Be praised, my Lord,
for those who forgive for love of you;
and for those
who bear sickness and weakness
in peace and patience
– you will grant them a crown.
Be praised, my Lord, for our Sister Death,
whom we must all face.
I praise and bless you, Lord,
and I give thanks to you,
and I will serve you in all humility.
— St. Francis of Assisi