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Vocations link faith, environment, action, science, technology
FEAST: Faith, Environment, Action, Science and Technology

By Phina Borgeson
5/8/2006
[Episcopal News Service]  When John Kunz was a child involved in the life of Emmanuel Church on the Northside of Pittsburgh, the warmth of that small urban congregation helped him form attitudes of humility and generosity and the foundational value of helping one's neighbor. Now John's neighbors are near and far, as he uses his mechanical engineering degree and his sense of Christian responsibility on renewable energy projects both here and in Africa.

Kunz has been an analyst in the Eco-Power program at the Environmental Resources Trust Inc. for about a year. There he works to certify renewable energy projects, and also consults with other for profit and non-profit companies. "We are a non-profit functioning on an unusual business model," he says, "so we often work on contracts with other organizations."

One of his principle clients is Solar Light for Africa, a program he first became involved with as a volunteer. Founded by retired bishop Alden Hathaway, the program brings renewable energy to poor communities in East Africa.

On last year's annual mission trip about 15 young people from the USA joined an equal number of local youth to electrify 100 homes in Kyabashenyi, a village in southern Uganda. They "really had no access at all to any electricity, with the exception of batteries, until we got there and installed a small solar panel, one light bulb, and all the necessary wiring and controls in each house."

Kunz earned a B.S. degree in mechanical engineering from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where he focused on robotics and mechatronics. "But I realized I was interested in working on the environment, or working to help developing countries develop sustainably," he says.

And he urges the church that nurtured him to do more in the stewardship of creation. All Episcopal congregations could be taking small steps toward lowering their energy usage. "And I hate to use the phrase," he adds, "but the church could be using its 'bully pulpit' to articulate a position on the challenges facing us and the global community related to energy. Let's say that this is important to our faith, and let's say that we can do this!" When asked what the church could do to support his work, Kunz said, "Making it an issue is the key."

Sarah Fredericks, working on her doctoral dissertation at Boston University, applying theologically grounded environmental ethics to sustainable energy development, would agree that support from the church is crucial to her work in the Science, Philosophy, and Religion program.

Active in both the Alliance for Faith, Science and Technology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Lutheran Environmental Network for the Synods, she has addressed the Sunday Scientist program. This summer she will be leading a session on why Lutherans should be concerned about global warming and what can be done about it at the Global Mission Event.

"I had a lot of questions about faith, and science and faith, when I was growing up [in Fairfield, Iowa] and didn't find satisfactory answers, or even satisfactory discussions," she said. "This made me frustrated and wanting to do something to make life in the church richer for others."

When Fredericks went to Gustavus Adolphus College she thought she would need to choose between a major in physics and one in religion. Now in her fifth year of the program at BU, she comments, "I kept expecting to choose between my majors, but was able to continue with both, and eventually decided that giving either up entirely wasn't going to be satisfactory to me."

Fredericks explored the idea of becoming an ELCA pastor, attending a vocation conference and serving in summer and campus ministry internships, but she realized "that any one church wouldn't want to focus on these [science and religion] issues as much as I do, and that both myself and any one potential congregation would be better served if I didn't go down that road."

Fredericks looks toward being a professor at either a liberal arts college or seminary. But she hopes to do applied work as well, through encouraging her students in hands-on engagement with environmental ethics issues, and by consulting with government or industry. And she plans to continue serving as a resource to the church.

Christine Hoekenga, who recently left her post as Western Lands Specialist at the National Council of Churches (NCC) eco-justice unit, also sees value in being a resource to others. She will be pursuing a master's in Science Writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
beginning this fall.

Recognizing the importance of good writing to science literacy, she reflects that she sees her "writing as a way to contribute to the public understanding of a range of topics -- from medical breakthroughs to the environment -- and to combine my interests in science and communications." She graduated three years ago from Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, with a double major in Environmental Science and Rhetoric and Media Studies.

Having worked for several secular non-profits in the environmental arena, Hoekenga sought a way to combine her passion for environmental protection and faith more actively, which led to her work at NCC. "My concern was always rooted in my faith, though" she says.

Hoekenga, who grew up in Nevada, had a particular attachment to the work on issues of Western public lands. "I found it hard to leave the NCC after only one year, but I do think my life work might be in science writing, " she adds. St. Christopher's in Boulder City, Nevada, was Hoekenga's home parish, a small parish where all were urged to consider what gifts they had to offer. "I think writing is one of mine," she adds.

She attends St. George's Church in Arlington, Virginia, where she is living now, and has confirmed there that "the Episcopal Church is the right place for me. It's allowed me to explore, ask questions, and wrestle with difficult issues." There has been spiritual guidance from church leaders, and program resources like the Episcopal Ecological Network and the Network for Science, Technology and Faith. Hoekenga sums up: "I have found the right balance of challenge and support."
 
Resources for follow-up:

This year's mission trip is full, but you can learn more at http://www.solarlightforafrica.org and travel vicariously via John Kunz's photos at http://www.johnkunz.net.

For more about the Global Mission Event, July 27-30, at the University of Massachusetts http://www.elca.org/gme/index.html.

Read Sarah Fredericks' presentation to the 2005 meeting of Sunday Scientists: "A Brief History of Science and Religion in the West" http://www.elca.org/faithandscience/covalence/story/content/05-04-16-fredericks.pdf

Information on the NCC Western Lands project can be found at http://www.nccecojustice.org/landhome.htm.