December 5, 2016


Luce grant of $425,000 will fund seminary environmental initiative

The Henry Luce Foundation has awarded a three-year, $425,000 grant to Methodist Theological School in Ohio to support the establishment of the Seminary Environmental Leadership Initiative. The grant will be shared by MTSO, the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, and the Green Seminary Initiative, a project of Drew Theological School and GreenFaith.

A growing number of seminary leaders in diverse settings recognize the moral imperative to play a role in the care of God’s creation, but they face significant challenges in addressing environmental issues on their own. The Seminary Environmental Leadership Initiative aims to establish best practices and offer resources for seminaries that wish to engage in environmental issues academically and institutionally.

Funds from the grant will be used to advance seminary environmental engagement through two lines of action.

The Green Seminary Initiative, under the leadership of Rev. Fletcher Harper and Dr. Laurel Kearns, will enroll up to 10 seminaries nationwide in the Seminary Environmental Certification Program, a three-year process through which the schools will integrate environmental protection and care into the areas of education, worship and spiritual formation, facility and grounds maintenance, community leadership, and governance. GSI will provide extensive support and guidance for participating schools and will create a community of practice among faculty, administrators, facility staff, trustees and students.

In addition, GSI and MTSO will join with Rabbi Yonatan Neril and the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development to lead six Seminary Faith and Ecology Conferences at locations throughout the United States. Each conference is expected to involve 50-75 seminary faculty and staff, focusing on emerging pedagogical approaches to faith and ecology.

MTSO will administer the grant through the leadership of Dr. Timothy Van Meter, associate professor in the Alford Chair of Christian Education and Youth Ministry, and will coordinate research related to the Seminary Environmental Leadership Initiative, developing evaluative tools and convening writing groups to produce materials arising from the initiative. Van Meter and Dr. Elaine Nogueira-Godsey, MTSO assistant professor of theology, ecology and race, will serve as research coordinators.

In a letter to MTSO President Jay Rundell, Luce Foundation President Michael Gilligan said, “We congratulate you and your colleagues for producing a proposal that rose to the top of a highly competitive pool of applicants for the first grants from the new Luce Fund for Theological Education.”

The executive summary of the Seminary Environmental Leadership Initiative appears at the bottom of this page.

The Green Seminary Initiative, a joint program of GreenFaith and Drew Theological School, encourages schools of theology to become centers of education for religiously-based environmental leadership. By sharing examples of seminary environmental action, providing resources and programs, and building a community of practice, GSI helps infuse care for creation into all aspects of theological education.

The Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development works to catalyze a transition to a sustainable, thriving and spiritually aware society through the leadership of faith communities. Its work focuses on engaging seminaries on religion and ecology by holding conferences for deans and faculty, publishing reports on faith and ecology courses in graduate theological education, and promoting online resource-sharing of course syllabi.

Methodist Theological School in Ohio prepares leaders of many faith traditions for lives of lasting significance in service to the church and the world. In addition to the Master of Divinity degree, the school offers master’s degrees in counseling, theological studies and practical theology, along with a Doctor of Ministry degree. 

Engage with MTSO through Facebook and Twitter (@MTSOedu).


Danny Russell, communications director, 740-362-3322

Dr. Timothy Van Meter, associate professor in the Alford Chair of Christian Education and Youth Ministry


Executive Summary: Seminary Environmental Leadership Initiative

Beginning with Theological Education to Meet the Environmental Challenge (1993-1999) and continuing with the Forum on Religion and Ecology (founded 1998), seminaries have begun to engage the moral imperative to care for God’s creation. In recent years, there has been a marked increase in attention paid to these concerns. Over the past two years, the Green Seminary Initiative (GSI, a joint program of GreenFaith and Drew Theological School), the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development (ICSD), and the Methodist Theological School in Ohio have researched seminary environmental efforts, revealing an accelerating level of ecological activity within seminaries from all denominations. Many seminary faculty and administrators recognize the moral significance of the environmental crisis and see that they must respond.

Seminaries, however, face serious challenges in addressing these issues. Most face pressure related to curricular demands, finances or declining enrollment. Faculty need assistance in integrating care for God's creation into their courses, while other seminary staff lack relevant experience. Though aware of these challenges, seminaries lack the knowledge, resources and support that would enable them to respond. All those we interviewed - faculty, administrators and students - made it clear that marshaling these resources on their own is near-impossible.

MTSO, in partnership with ICSD and GSI, requests a $425,000 Luce Foundation grant to support a three-year field-shaping initiative to advance seminary environmental engagement, implemented through two primary lines of action. First, GSI will work in-depth with up to 10 seminaries through the Seminary Environmental Certification Program. Participating schools will undergo a commitment process involving trustees, administration, faculty, staff, students, create a leadership team, conduct audits to assess their current environmental efforts, develop an action plan in the areas of education, worship and spiritual formation, facility/grounds maintenance, community leadership, and governance, and submit progress reports twice yearly. GSI will offer participants extensive support. At the end of the grant period, these seminaries will have undergone a measurable transformation in relation to the environment, with related materials shared with the Association of Theological Schools and publicly available.

ICSD, in cooperation with GSI, proposes to hold six regional gatherings for seminary faculty on faith and ecology. The gatherings will be held in different regions of the United States. Seminaries undergoing the GSI Certification process will be encouraged to host conferences, to leverage synergies with the Certification process and showcase the seminary’s accomplishments. Each Seminary Faith and Ecology Conference would:

  • Involve 50-75 seminary faculty and staff, targeting those within several hours’ drive of the host school (for a total of 300-450 seminary faculty and staff for all six events).
  • Be conducted as a two-day professional development workshop that further empowers seminary faculty and staff to teach on faith and ecology.
  • Focus on emerging pedagogical approaches in this field, and sharing of best practices. 

MTSO will coordinate research for the grant, developing evaluative tools and convening writing groups to produce research and articles arising from participation in this grant. MTSO will invite seminaries participating in the Certification Program and hosting Conferences to develop articles for peer-reviewed journals, aiming to publish 4-6 articles during the grant period.