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A river flows through Presbyterians for Earth Care conference opening


Group takes its conference to like-minded New York conference center

by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

At the conclusion of the opening service for the Presbyterians for Earth Care conference, the Rev. Lindsey Altvater-Clifton splashed participants with water. (Photo by Rich Copley)

STONY POINT, New York — A river flowed through the auditorium of Stony Point Center Tuesday night, rippling, cascading, and fanning out into a valley.

“It seems no small coincidence to me that the stories of our faith tradition begin and end with rivers,” the Rev. Lindsey Altvater-Clifton said to the crowd gathering for the opening night of the 2019 Presbyterians for Earth Care National Conference. “In a similar way, we are people who in body and spirit are made from earth dust and wind breath and will return to earth dust and wind breath.

“There is no untangling ourselves from the stories or the substance of the land and the waters of creation that surround us. We are part and parcel of it all, and we must remember to remember.”

The river that the Earth Care conference attendees gathered around was not a result of flash flooding in Stony Point Center or any other H2O disaster. Rather it was an artistic representation in fabric, plants, rocks, and even some actual water of the geological formation that quickly became a central theme of the opening worship and the conference.

The Rev. Cindy Kohlmann, co-moderator of the 223rd General Assembly, brought greetings and will participate in the conference. (Photo by Rich Copley)

The Rev. Cindy Kohlmann, co-moderator of the 223rd General Assembly, brought greetings to the conference, reiterating the Matthew 25 invitation to engage in “dismantling structural racism and eradicating systemic poverty.

“We don’t dream small in the Presbyterian Church,” Kohlmann continued, “because we have a God who dreams much bigger than we would ever dare.”

She went on to intertwine the fate of the Earth with its people.

“As you gather to talk about environmental issues and caring for this Earth, it must be directly related to caring for the people of this Earth,” Kohlmann said. “As long as there is systemic racism, the Earth will suffer. As long as there are systems of poverty that keep people in places where they do not have the privilege to make different choices, the Earth will suffer.”

Chief Perry of the Ramapough Lenape Nation brough greetings to participants. It is a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) tradition to recognize whose land events are being held on. (Photo by Rich Copley)

As the four-day conference unfolds, participants will have the opportunity to hear from a variety of environmental and theological experts as well as participate in activities from daily early morning farming and kayaking to artistic and ecological activities Thursday afternoon, including a meditative walk through Stony Point’s newly restored labyrinth.

Worship opened with remarks from Chief Perry of the Ramapough Lenape Nation, whose land Stony Point Center is set on. He thanked the center and the group for their continued care of the land.

In his opening remarks, Earth Care moderator Dennis Testerman highlighted the like-mindedness of the Earth Care group and Stony Point, which works to deepen its connection to the land it sits on northwest of New York City and actively engages in sustainable practices.

While the coming days will bring more earnest activity, Altvater-Clifton allowed Tuesday to simply be a night to gather and dream — concluding with a bonfire and s’mores after the service.

“It is a gift to be together, friends,” she said, “to pause and sit on the riverbank.”

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