Tagging Turtles and Eco-Justice

Brad McFall, the Stewardship of Creation Enabler in the Presbytery of Susquehanna Valley submitted the following article and picture about a recent eco-justice oriented youth trip.  You can find out more at the Tagging Turtles website.

Presbyterian youth in New York traveled to South Carolina this spring to study eco-justice through the "Tagging Turtles for Jesus" program of  Restoring Creation Enabler,  Dr. Lehr Brisbin.


Ten youth from four different Presbytery of Susquehanna Valley (PSV) churches stayed at Camp Fellowship in Trinity Presbytery in South Carolina from April 14-18 2011, to learn about restoring creation for ecology and justice and worship the creator and redeemer God under the leadership of former Presbyterians for Earth Care steering committee member,  Rev. Dr. Janet  Adair Hansen who has an MDiv. in wilderness spirituality.  Brad McFall, Stewardship of Creation Enabler for PSV, introduced a unique way to combine the norms of eco-justice (participation, solidarity, sufficiency, and sustainability) in a study of box turtle ecology as a lead-in to a conversation about humanity’s role in keeping and healing the creation.

Camp Director Kevin Cartee assisted Lehr Brisbin in showing the students how to track turtles tagged with radio-transmitters.  Dr. Brisbin discussed the role of the church and the environment and displayed the largest snapping turtle in South Carolina and some baby alligators.  Turtles were located in three different environments:  Trinity Presbytery Office Building, Camp Fellowship, and Hitchcock Woods in Aiken, South Carolina.  Trinity Presbytery staff and church members described and displayed the garden and history of tagged turtles at the office.

The turtle Emma was found still hibernating.  Lucy and Skippy were released and then tracked down a day later and after much searching Woody was also found.  This activity of using a radio-receiver enabled the youth to get very physically close to nature.  Soil temperature, moisture and ph were recorded and the GPS coordinates of turtles’ present and past locations were recorded. Plants in the home range of the turtles were collected and identified and a few lizards and snakes were kept for observation during the stay at the camp.

The group visited Lake Forest Presbyterian Church, the only Earth Care Congregation in South Carolina. Extensive earth care activities were witnessed, including a habitat garden, a food producing garden for the local food pantry, with composting, rain water collection, and water fountain areas in addition to various kinds of planting regions. Lake Forest also has a wonderful Earth Care bulletin board and a large variety of items for recycling.

Morning and evening worship was supplemented with various kinds of prayers for different creatures and the National Geographic program “Great Migrations” was shown. Fun was had by all on the lake, in the lake, in the woods and in the gym.

On Sunday the youth presented what the trip meant to them in their faith, at an adult education class at Aiken Presbyterian Church, and the group was introduced to the congregation during worship with everyone wearing “Turtle Trip” T-shirts.  A TV show detailing the trip is being planned to air on the program “How to Spell Presbyterian” on the local public access station in Ithaca, NY.  The PC(USA) Eco-Justice DVD was also shown and it is hoped that the students will be able to convey a sense of adventurous faithfulness when they report back to their churches and at the next Susquehanna Valley Presbytery Assembly meeting.  Everyone would like to do it again and plans are underway to tag turtles in NY so that box turtle ecological data can be compared between New York and South Carolina.


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