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New worshiping community is rooted in reverence for the Earth

New Way podcast features the Rev. Chantilly Mers discussing communal connections to the land

by Beth Waltemath | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Jack Cohen via Unsplash

DECATUR, Georgia — “Are you in deep relationship? Do you notice the multitude of relationships that are happening right beneath our feet, and how they are interacting and cooperating in this complex web of life?” These are the questions that the Rev. Chantilly Mers asks of herself and others looking to reconnect to the land in Brooklyn, New York.

Mers is co-organizer of Common Ground NYC, founder of Kin-dom Collective in Brooklyn, New York, and practitioner of The Circle Way. In two new episodes of the podcast New Way that debuted January 5, the Rev. Sara Hayden, associate for Apprenticeships and Residencies for 1001 New Worshiping Communities, talks with Mers about spiritual frameworks and communal practices centered on reverence and connections to the Earth.

“I grew up really close to the land. I would literally call myself an ocean baby,” Mers says. In Episode 9, she describes her Hawaiian childhood in a family descended from people who migrated from Palau, an island between Guam and the Philippines. It wasn’t until adulthood when she moved away from Hawaii that she started to notice the dislocation and disconnection that affected her spiritually. Mers identified the ocean as her playground where she fished and surfed, but also her church where she bobbed upon waves and felt a part of something greater every time she was on the water.

The Rev. Chantilly Mers

“There’s this feeling of being held … to feel like I was floating there, the ocean was holding me and there was this life below me. You can just see it: the fish, the turtle, the reef. There’s a real connection and humility out there,” Mers says.

Mers’ professional life as a minister started in an urban environment. For 18 years of living on the mainland, she treated the place where she was as a temporary stopping point and recognized a tendency to see it “not as a place that I was going to cultivate deeper relationships.” Like many New Yorkers, Mers embraced transience as a posture even as her years in the city increased. She moved between boroughs and neighborhoods never noticing the contours of the landscape or learning the names of the foliage. One day, she realized her springtime pollen allergies had to do with an urban planning strategy of planting only male trees to prevent fruit.

Mers realized she wanted to learn the names in her community starting with the plants. This led to her developing a personal spiritual practice and programs on Earth spirituality for a new worshiping community, Kin-dom Collective.

“Somehow my Western Christianity had very little to do with my relationship with other nonhuman members of the community, but everything to do with my relationship with Jesus and where I was gonna go when I died,” Mers says. She embraced the work of Christian liberation theologian Ivone Gebara, who saw “God as relatedness, as the force that connects all things in life.” Mers took her community to meet with permaculturalists and to visit a family farm, where they learned about what nutrients are needed in soil to grow various plants. She reflected on Jesus’ Parable of the Sower and how it related to the difference between a model of doing church using good programing and the desire to cultivate reverence through deeper awareness and relatedness to human and nonhuman community.

The Rev. Sara Hayden

In Episode 10, Mers discusses how the church, where she had always turned before to seek reverence, would need to change to address our urgent planetary state. Mers admits that she used to believe if people only knew “how devasting the data is, that we would get the political will to change.” Now, she wonders if it is not the programs with the end goal to educate, but the reverent practices that connect us to the land that are the “nutrients that allow us to grow in different ways.”

“Fundamentally what needs to change is our relationship” says Mers, adding, “I think that is to me like the soil.”

Episodes 9 and 10 are available on Apple, Google, Spotify, Stitcher or through the web resource, New Church New Way.

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