In 2009, Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker’s theme for the Florida Annual Conference focused on “Transforming the World by Cherishing the Creation.” Pastors and lay leaders were inspired, and many returned to their congregations bursting with plans for creation-friendly change.
|Rev. Andy Bell|
But inspiration can be short-lived in the face of economic reality, points out the Rev. Andy Bell, director of the Lakewood Methodist Counseling Center in St. Petersburg. Bell, an eloquent voice in the Creation Care movement, believes environmental concerns can be understood theologically as well as ecologically, a perspective that calls for courageous and informed leadership from faith-based communities.
“Too often, fear keeps the church from being prophetic,” Bell said. “So many pastors get on board, then return to their churches and people shoot them down. There’s tremendous pressure to continue the status quo. But we are the leaders who have the responsibility to speak truth to power. As people of faith it’s our responsibility.”
Bell, who grew up in an unchurched family but enjoyed his first spiritual experiences in the mountains of North Georgia, sees Creation Care as a foundational concept in both faith and psychotherapy.
“We are of Adam, earth people,” he said. “But we have moved further and further from the planet that gives us life and sustains us. Research has identified microbes in the earth that literally work with our brain chemistry. When we’re engaged with earth we feel better.”
Ecology and Faith
Bell’s juxtaposition of ecology and theology led to his appointment to the executive committee of the nascent Sunshine State Interfaith Power & light initiative (www.SunshinestateIPL.org). The organization, affiliated with Interfaith Power and Light, is committed to mobilizing Florida’s faith communities to practice stewardship of Creation.
Then, at the end of 2010, Bell was named a “GreenFaith Fellow.” GreenFaith, founded in 1992, is an interfaith alliance committed to educating and mobilizing religious communities for environmental leadership. Bell’s fellowship was made possible by monies from a faith-based environmental scholarship, the Florida Annual Conference and a GreenFaith stipend.
“I was able to apply and was accepted to the 18-month program,” Bell said.
“We’re thrilled to welcome Andy to the Program,” said Rabbi Lawrence Troster, the Fellowship program director. “We look forward to working with him to support his growth as a religious-environmental leader.”
Bell, who earned his master of divinity degree from Candler Theological Seminary in 1992 and moved to Tampa to pursue his Clinical Social Work degree in the late 1990s, has worked as director at the Lakewood Methodist Counseling Center for seven years. He transferred to the Florida Conference in 2008.
Bell said that in his counseling practice he’s noted “a subliminal awareness people have regarding ecological devastation.” He believes that both in faith-based and secular counseling the idea inevitably comes up.
“It’s a question of how do we take care of ourselves, how do we keep ourselves grounded,” he said, “And we use the word ground for a good reason. Kids especially these days have no contact with Mother Earth. It’s a nature deficit disorder.”
Advocate for Creation
Bell’s affiliation with GreenFaith dovetails well with his vision and purpose as a leader in the faith community.
“Business as usual is not where we need to be,” he said. “We don’t want to go back. Not if we want a livable, sustainable planet; for the two-legged children, the four-legged children, the winged children, the finned children, the crawling children. … My Creation Care sermon is based on John 3:16. The word isn’t ‘world,’ it translates ‘For God so loved the ‘cosmos.’”
Bell’s workshop, “How Harming the Earth Harms Mind, Body and Spirit,” is being presented at the 2011 Lake Junaluska Creation Care Conference, March 31 to April 3.
“I’m torn between my (counseling) practice and creation care,” he said. “I love what I do, and yet part of my hope is that I’ll be able to spend much more of my time advocating for God’s creation.”
He’s also confident that the opportunity to become a GreenFaith Fellow will further equip him to help more faith-based organizations become effective stewards of the environment.
“My hope is that in doing the fellowship work and getting the stuff I need, that I’ll be seen as someone friendly to advocating for care of God’s creation and looked to as a resource.”
Bell’s the bottom line is the future.
“This isn’t about me,” he said. “I’m almost 50 years old. If I’m not here tomorrow, that’s OK. But my wife and I have nieces and nephews and future generations. In a sense all of the children are ours. Scientists say the next 50 generations of human beings are at risk because of what we’re doing to the planet.
“We have to stand on our faith and put our faith into action.”
News media contact: Cary McMullen, 800-282-8011, firstname.lastname@example.org, Lakeland
*McMullen is managing editor of the e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Maul is an author and freelance writer based in Valrico, Fla.