God’s Good Earth

Seattle's Interfaith Creation Festival connects spirituality and concern for the earth

Seattle has never been known as the epicenter of faith, religion or spirituality in the U.S., but for four days from May 31 to June 3 faith and spirituality will be at the center of the Emerald City as Seattle-based Earth Ministry will host its first annual Interfaith Creation Festival.

The festival will also mark Earth Ministry’s 15th anniversary since its founding in 1991 by Carla Pryne, an Episcopalian priest and a Presbyterian minister Jim Mulligan and his wife Ruth, who is the chair of the festival’s steering committee.

“It speaks to their commitment and vision to still be involved 15 years later,” says LeeAnne Beres, executive director of Earth Ministry. “There was a need for a theological organization to be dedicated to caring for creation and at the time nothing was available to clergy and lay leaders. A lot of social justice issues such as homelessness and poverty had been addressed, but there was nothing faith-based for the environment.”

Filling the Void

Earth Ministry quickly gained popularity in the Seattle metro area in the 1990s through word of mouth, filling a void that connected faith, spirituality and caring for the earth. Earth Ministry has served as a clearing house for information as well as an outlet for networking in the Christian community for interested parties to share with their church and general public.

The first Interfaith Creation Festival will likely be Earth Ministry’s signature event that could potentially draw a national audience that transcends faith and religious sectors. The festival’s multiple locations at Town Hall, Seattle First Baptist Church, Tempe De Hirsch Sinai and Saint Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral are as diverse as the religious and faith backgrounds of festival attendees, who will convene to celebrate the richness of sacred traditions of Creation. The Interfaith Creation Festival will launch a year of interfaith dialogue and action hosted by Earth Ministry in an attempt to unite the efforts of individuals, faith communities, civic organizations, businesses and government to bring healing to the Earth.

Earth Ministry is working with Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities to host smaller events, ranging from a possible book club to potluck dinners to a lecture series to create better interfaith understanding. The goal is to get to the heart of religious intolerance by having different faiths working together. Festival participants also have a key role in determining the next steps as an entire session on Sunday, June 3 is scheduled for the planning and participation of upcoming events.

Children of Abraham

“The key is translating core faith beliefs about integrity, equality, the dignity of humans and social justice, into everyday examples that people can understand. The environment is a perfect opportunity to do this.”

“The Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths all have strong beliefs in protecting the environment,” says Beres. “The festival is a watershed moment as all of the children of Abraham bridge political and cultural gaps to celebrate our differences and see how we can learn from each other. We use the term ‘caring for creation’ instead of environmental protection because we believe the earth is truly a gift from God. We want those who come to the festival to experience it, celebrate and together plan what the next steps will be.”

The Festival will feature internationally-recognized keynote speakers; including Imam W.D. Mohammed, the head of The Mosque Cares and president of the World Conference on Religion and Peace. Mohammed has over 2 million followers and standing room only is expected for his keynote address. Dr. Karen Baker-Fletcher, Associate Professor of Theology at Perkins School of Theology, will speak Friday, June 1. Dr. Baker-Fletcher is a nationally recognized leading African-American eco-justice theologian.

In addition to the keynote speakers, numerous workshops will complement the inspirational presence of the keynote speakers. Topics of some of the workshops include: Sacred Waters: The meaning of water and its importance in the world’s religions; Beyond Food as Fuel: Reclaiming Food as Communion.

Translating Core Faith Beliefs

“There is not a single major social movement in U.S. history that has not had religious beliefs central to their mobilization,” says David Domke, associate professor at the University of Washington and presenter of the workshop entitled, Turning Faith Values into Transformative Influential Messages. “The key is translating core faith beliefs about integrity, equality, the dignity of humans and social justice, into everyday examples that people can understand. The environment is a perfect opportunity to do this and the earth is a gift that people need to treat with reverence and to steward with care.”

The three goals of the festival are to inspire attendees, celebrate faith and to take action individually and as separate groups. Joint worship services are offered as well as arts and celebrations. African drumming and a recital of poet James Weldon Johnson’s “Creation Story” by a professional liturgical dancer highlight the Friday night festivities. After a festive procession from the Seattle First Baptist Church to Temple De Hirsch Sinai in the afternoon, Saturday night will be filled with another evening of gathering into sacred space for sharing stories, music, poetry and new and old expressions of different spiritual traditions.

“We build upon focusing on hope and ways for people to come together for a common cause we all share in faith,” says Beres. “We want the end result to be people taking action on a community level and in their personal lifestyle choices. As people of faith we have the right to speak up on public policy that effects us and the earth where we live.”

“A lot of people who attend our events consider themselves spiritual, but not religious, and we are all in this together,” says Beres. “It can be so easy at times to get discouraged, but when you see a community of believers trying to live out God’s will for the planet you know there is hope for future generations.”