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Faith groups build community with conservation in mind

May 16, 2023 by Aaron

Local events highlight how faith and environmental concerns are not mutually exclusive


(VISALIA, CA) - A variety of local faith groups are engaged with environmental concerns, despite common misperceptions that they may not be receptive to the message of environmental stewardship.

   Episcopalians in the Diocese of San Joaquin embarked April 22 on a 22-day tour of points within the Central California diocese including Kaweah Oaks Preserve. The pilgrimage sought to draw awareness to the intersections of environmental disaster, racial discrimination and migrant exploitation and to reckon with the diocese’s own complicity in unjust systems.

The 1,100-mile pilgrimage – El Camino de la Pascua, or the Way of Easter – was be led by Bishop David Rice. He and the diocese’s group of pilgrims traveled by carpool and on foot to a wide range of sites that represent what the diocese describes as contemporary places of crucifixion and resurrection, from a homeless shelter to the Sequoia National Forest.

   “Being out there engaging with partners and networks and becoming familiar with our larger context, it needs to be synonymous with the air that we breathe,” Rice said in a phone interview with Episcopal News Service. “That is the road map and will continue to be the road map for this diocese for years to come.”

   Former SRT staffer Teri Van Huss, now an Episcopalian deacon, was instrumental in including Kaweah Oaks as a destination for the trek.

   Another Visalia-based faith group, Eagle's NEST US, has a mission of "providing quality creation education leading to better environmental integrity and conservation," said the nonprofit's founder Todd Slinde, also a former SRT staff member. Eagle's NEST is a Christian nonprofit that educates churches from Bakersfield to Sacramento on environmental and conservation issues from a faith perspective, among other good works in the community.

Eagle's Nest recently chose Kaweah Oaks for its fundraising dinner "A Decade of Good!" The event was a 10th anniversary celebration held on Earth Day, April 22.
"The evening was really much more of a celebration than a fundraiser, " Slinde said. "It was a time to celebrate and very importantly, give thanks to all those who have walked with us over this decade."
   Eagle's Nest offers curriculum titled Expedition for dozens of churches throughout Central California as well as organic gardening with youth at local Boys and Girls Clubs, ProYouth / HEART as well as beach, river and lake cleanups, and tree plantings among its many activities.
   Slinde cites Genesis 2:15 as the basis for his teaching: God asking humans to protect his creation. "At Eagle's NEST we believe that this is the first calling of humanity as it is the first command found in the Bible that God gave to humans, to be protectors of the natural world."
The event was sponsored by Visalia's Lake Bottom Brewery. One highlight of the evening breaking with expected norms of faith events: Lake Bottom created a new beer for Eagle's Nest's 10th anniversary calling it Eagle's Nest Blood Orange IPA, now on tap at Lake Bottom.
The evening also honored "Raptor Partner of the Year Award" recipient, Bob Line, longtime superintendent of Visalia Unified School District. Bob has also been a faithful Eagle's NEST supporter for the duration of our organization. Bob has many family members in attendance as he received his award.
   Music was provided by popular San Luis Obispo musician, Aaron Russel, with attendees coming to Kaweah Oaks from as far away as Bakersfield, Fresno and San Luis Obispo.
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