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Living the 23rd Psalm in the fields of Kansas

By Cathleen Chittenden Bascom

Bishop Cathleen Chittenden Bascom

Why would Presiding Bishop Michael Curry send a virtual delegation of Episcopalians, including, a theologian, an architect, a state senator, climate scientists, students, priests, and three bishops to the recent U.N. Climate Summit (CoP26)?

And why would the bishop of Kansas agree to spend 10 days rising at 4 a.m. (9 a.m. Glasgow time) to participate? Perhaps Bishop Curry said it best when he told the anchor on ABC News, “If we love God, let us love the world God loves.”

For me, a central teaching of Jesus has always been Matthew 6:25: “Look at the birds of the air … Consider the lilies of the field.” And I now see the 23rd Psalm which we hold so dear as a portrayal of how God will lead and be an active companion with us in transformed earth stewardship: “The Lord is my shepherd … he makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters.”

Those gathered in Glasgow, either in person or virtually, represented every sector of human society from the far reaches of the globe.

But as leaders shared stories of concern, offered inspired solutions, and called for collaboration, I carried with me a softy rectangular lens, the shape of Kansas. I saw our birds and air, our flora, our water and pastures, asking:

What does this mean for our diocese? What is God calling us to do?

Episcopalians in Kansas hold various opinions about climate change and its causes. But changes in our natural environment are something we can all recognize.

My hometown of Denver experienced the longest, driest fall since they began keeping records in 1882. The woodlands near Estes Park in northern Colorado, which have long been a favorite place of respite for Kansans, are ablaze. Fires are currently more probable than snowflakes.

In Kansas, we have seen varying conditions of flood and drought, reservoirs filling with silt or algae blooms, aquifer levels diminishing, and duck hunters noticing a decrease in migrations to the state.

When I contemplate these changes, and the future they foretell, I am mindful of the children, youth, and young adults of our diocese. I believe that the Good Shepherd wants “green pastures and still waters” for them and has already begun to lead us in new directions!

The U.N. summit was dubbed by some as “The Nature CoP.” One significant outcome was the “Action on Forests and Land Use,” in which 137 countries pledged to conserve forests and other critical ecosystems.

Kansas is blessed with grasslands and woodlands which God so beautifully designed as part of nature’s way of creating clean water, maintaining biodiversity, and capturing carbon from the air.

For us, protecting and even expanding our woodlands is encouraged, and the health of the prairie is vital. Well-managed rangeland maintains the state’s watersheds and supports two major agricultural exports: cattle, and the wheat that becomes the nation’s bread.

Photo/Benjamin Davies-unsplash

We are an important agricultural state and at CoP26 the U.S. presented several initiatives that place agriculture, dairy and livestock, forestry, and rural communities front and center, as well as the creation of more vital local and regional markets.

As a child my family would travel from Denver to Topeka noting the “Kansas: Breadbasket of the World” road signs. My father and grandparents survived the dust bowl on a wheat farm near Norton, Kan. Talk about climate events and resilience!

Kansans are strong leaders with rich experience. Private land ownership and agriculture can work together for the good of all. I recall a wonderful visit to Deacon David Butler’s acreage, riding in his ATV to see his herd of cattle and new calves.

In the year ahead, it is my desire to include as part of my episcopal visitations what I am calling the “Green Pastures and Still Waters Tour.”

I would like to meet with Episcopalians who are farmers, ranchers, gardeners, deer and pheasant hunters, conservationists, oil and gas and cement leaders, and anyone who stewards “the world God loves.”

What environmental changes do they observe, if any? What concerns them? What age-old practices would they share? What innovations are they implementing? Above all I want to pray with them. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

Still Waters

In Genesis 1:6, interestingly God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” It is as if the ancient writer of Scripture understood the water cycle we must steward.

The Good Shepherd can guide us into better stewardship of water under the ground, on the ground, and in the atmosphere.

I also desire to visit streams, rivers, and bodies of water present in each minster [small groups of churches] and meet with fishermen, those who canoe or boat, those with lake-front property, duck hunters, and scientists.

What environmental changes do they observe, if any?

What concerns them? What age-old practices would they share? What innovations are they implementing?

Above all I want to pray with them. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

I have brushed off my Wellington boots and placed them in my car along with my traveling crozier — signs of a pilgrimage to continue to discover how the Good Shepherd will guide us in wise stewardship of the bounty of Kansas. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”   Bishop Cathleen Chittenden Bascom leads the Diocese of Kansas. The article originally appeared in The Harvest, the diocesan magazine.

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