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Stephanie Blumhagen hopes care of creation might permeate churches

By Julie Lauterbach

Stephanie Blumhagen’s mother taught her names of native grasses and plants in North Dakota on long walks through pastures and forests collecting wild berries and plums.  Her father reserved a plot of his farmland for a family field garden where Stephanie helped plant long rows of potatoes and squash.  A hunter, he taught her animal tracks and markings.

Stephanie Blumhagen
Stephanie Blumhagen

Growing up close to the land, she has had insights to share in the planning process for the Presbytery of the Inland Northwest Peacemaking Network’s annual retreat focusing on conservation care.

 “Keeping the Garden, Restoring the Creation” is the theme for the retreat, set for 5 p.m., Friday to 4 p.m., Saturday, April 18 and 19, at St. Joseph’s Family Center, 1016 N. Superior.

Presentations include “Slow Food Spokane,” “Eating Locally in the Inland Northwest” and “Caring for Creation in Your Congregation.”

Stephanie, who graduated in music and piano in 2004 from Minot State University, volunteered summers as a counselor at a Lutheran Bible camp.  She worked on its staff for a year before coming to Spokane as a missioner to live at Westminster House and serve in West Central Spokane.

She now works with AmeriCorps VISTA as coordinator for Spokane County’s United Way CASH (Creating Assets, Savings and Hope) Coalition, where she helps low-income persons with financial assets, bank accounts and financial education.

Since arriving in Spokane, she has been working with the Presbyterian Peacemaking Network. 

She attended its 2006 retreat on peace between Israelis and Palestinians and helped with the 2007 retreat worship.  This year, she is helping coordinate the overall event.

The peacemaking network is a response to God’s call for peacemaking through advocacy, education and human connections, she said.

“Our network is trying to connect people committed to issues of peace and justice,” Stephanie said, and this year, it will use eco-justice as the root of conversations.

Care of creation is logical to Stephanie, who grew up with a “conservation ethic.” Faith was integral to her family, which attended a United Methodist Church.  They were dedicated to live simply and care for the environment.

These influences shaped Stephanie’s ethic that, “If you love God and understand that God created the earth we live in, it makes sense that you would care for that earth.”

For the faith community, Stephanie sees the environmental crisis as fundamentally a crisis of values.

She pointed out that the phrase, “dominion over all the earth” has become misconstrued, giving humans a sense that the earth is only for their use and enjoyment, without a responsibility for its care and conservation.

Stephanie would replace that phrase with the word, “stewardship,” which is about caring for something that belongs to someone else.

“From this word we can emphasize that the earth is not ours, but God’s,” she said.

The workshop will delve into stewardship and spiritual themes to help participants gain “understanding of tangible things they can do to care for creation” and start to see conservation as a spiritual issue.

Care of creation for Stephanie extends into the moral realm.

“If you have concern for your fellow human being, you should have concern for the earth,” she said.

Stephanie said that the idea of change, especially related to eco-stewardship, can be daunting and overwhelming. 

When people go to the grocery store, however, she said that they can make a decision about whether to buy organic.

“There are simple changes you can do in your daily living,” said Stephanie.

She noted that she refuses to buy bottled water as a simple way to cut down on energy and material waste.

For communities, specifically church communities, there are abundant conservation ideas:

• Replacing styrofoam cups with ceramic mugs for coffee hour to reduce waste.

• Providing recycle bins where churchgoers can place bulletins after worship.

Stephanie advocates for consuming less as a suggestion spanning local to global commitments. 

As a video to be shown at the retreat, “The Story of Stuff,” says, with consumption comes more waste—shoeboxes, tissue paper and boxes, silicon gel packets, cardboard insoles and more.

“Learn that it’s okay to do without the latest, greatest thing,” Stephanie said. “We need to readjust our thinking to value people for who they are, and not what they have.”

Because conversations on eco-justice leave Stephanie hopeful, she believes the April retreat is one way to expand the existing dialogue.

For information, call 216-1072 or email sblumhagen@gmail.com