Blogger Kristen Koch
April 8th, 2021
When I see a gorgeous sunrise or sunset, when I reach the top of a dune and catch sight of the vastness of the ocean, when I gaze at the night sky, and when I see the first Sycamore popping out of a tree tube in a riparian buffer, I unconsciously breathe deep and send up a prayer, “thank you God.” In moments like this, whether you pray or not, our souls find peace.
Trees and nature reduce stress, improve recovery, help us breathe easier, encourage us to exercise, and improve our mood. During this last year, this was more obvious than ever as we all escaped our homes to find refuge in parks, countryside AirBNBs, or our backyard Victory Gardens. For me, nature has always been where I find happiness, purpose, and faith.
I believe that I have been called to care for creation. When I was in 8th grade and being guided through my Presbyterian Church’s confirmation process, my fellow confirmands and I were asked to leverage some seed money (perhaps divine homework for the grant leveraging I do now) and support a cause of our choosing. While everyone else chose to support people-focused causes like the local homeless shelter and providing school supplies for low-income families, I chose to raise the money needed to protect several acres of rainforest and educate my church congregation on the importance of trees. Nature has always been something I was drawn to, both to enjoy and to care for.
But there have also been so many signs in my path leading me to where I am. Maybe the first being the Noah’s Ark decorations my parents chose for my childhood bedroom. But the sign that seemed completely of God’s doing came almost immediately after attending a new church during my senior year at Penn State. I sat next to a woman during the after-service lunch who would tell me about the Penn State Agriculture & Environment Center and their summer internship, an internship that I was hired for and where MANY details came together to form the job that I still have. I feel very blessed for my position and know in my heart that I am where I am supposed to be. I get to use my strengths to educate, guide, and assist homeowners, municipalities, farmers, and partners to do their part to care for local streams and the Chesapeake Bay.
I am not alone in feeling called to care for creation. Faith based environmental initiatives are growing. I was so excited to learn that the Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake (IPC) have expanded and started One Water Partnership collaborations in Lancaster County, the focus area of most of my work. In just the past year, multiple congregations have signed IPC’s Partner Congregation Pledge and “answered the call to honor, restore, and protect the sacred blessings of creation and our shared waterways that sustain and nurture us”.
Houses of worship are abundant (over 700 in Lancaster and York Counties alone!) and each one has regular members who have the power to make decisions for their own households and properties but also for the religious property itself. What opportunity!!
Whether you join me in praying or simply hope for the best, let us all support efforts like Green Faith, National Wildlife Federation’s Sacred Grounds program, Green Muslims, the Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake and others as they strive to reach this huge audience. In the meantime, I will practice what I preach and do my best to have a Watershed Friendly Property– adding my drop of improvement to the collective bucket.
Kristen Koch is the Program Manager for the Penn State Agriculture & Environment Center. She coordinates watershed partnership initiatives such as the Conewago Initiative and the Chiques Reenvisioned project. She is a co-coordinator of the Greening the Lower Susquehanna Volunteer Corps, a group of 500+ volunteers that help plant riparian buffers and other water quality BMPs. She also develops and leads educational programming as part of the Penn State Extension Water Resources Team and is an instructor for the Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professional level 1 training. She has a B.S. in Environment Resource Management and has a Master’s in Public Administration from Penn State.