Friday, February 23 , 2018, 4:54 pm | Fair 60º


A Rocha Nurtures Faith through Environmental Stewardship

Fledgling Christian organization's green mission includes community garden, plant restoration and children's camp

When conjuring up thoughts about modern-day Christianity, a gleaming record of environmentalism may not be the first thing one thinks of.

Despite the Genesis 1 command to be a responsible steward of the Earth, a political agenda of environmentalism — whether real or perceived — has kept many Christians from engaging in that biblical mandate.

It’s an image Rich Dixon is trying to change.

Dixon is the director of Santa Barbara A Rocha, an organization of 250 people who are engaging the church and community with caring for the environment.

The group recently finished a weekend-long conference, the Creation Care Symposium, in which more than 80 people attended sessions with titles like “Why should churches get involved with conservation and creation care?” Worship sessions were on the same itinerary as bird watching and star gazing.

Dixon said the symposium was an awareness-raising event for the group, which just started full time in Santa Barbara in August.

“This is, in effect, our coming-out party,” he said of the symposium. “Our mission is to mobilize Christians to education and action and to be stewards of our natural resources.”

The Santa Barbara chapter is part of a larger, global A Rocha movement that began as a field study in Portugal in 1983.

While some church members may be hesitant to get involved on environmental issues, Dixon said Christianity “actually has a long history of stewarding what we believe God has created.” He said he hadn’t considered himself an environmentalist until he and his wife and their two children traveled to Mexico five years ago to visit Dixon’s sister, who was teaching at an international school in Oaxaca.

Dixon credits the trip for his realization that environmental issues affected more that just the earth, and also had implications of justice for the poor.

Plants spring up in the raised bed gardens planted by the congregation of Turnpike Road Church of Christ and A Rocha.
Plants spring up in the raised bed gardens planted by the congregation of Turnpike Road Church of Christ and A Rocha. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

“Generally, the poor are more likely to be affected negatively by environmental degradation,” he said.

He and his family began to notice the environmental degradation around rural agricultural communities, he said. The slash-and-burn technique of farming throughout many of the coffee plantations lined the pockets of locals for a while, he noted, but future generations were no longer left with viable farmland.

“Families were starting to get broken up,” he said. “Grandparents were left with kids while parents sought out work in other communities.”

Dixon and his family took their next trip to China, which presented even more of an environmental wake-up call.

“There were some images that we were confronted with, and felt like, morally, we had to make a choice between pretending it wasn’t there or trying to solve the problem,” he said.

Choosing to simplify as a family has been one option they’ve taken in response to a global problem. Taking small steps — like how often they use single-use, throw-way items, cutting back on bottled water and choosing to buy fair-trade items that back fair labor practices — has become a part of their lifestyle. Making sure their coffee comes from farms that promote sustainable practices was also a starting point.

“We started with coffee because we had been confronted with that in Mexico,” Dixon said.

“It can feel very depressing and overwhelming,” he said, but added that “it’s important not to try to take on everything all at once. ... This is going to be a process.”

Back in Santa Barbara, Dixon has been working with several congregations, including Ocean Hills Covenant Church, Turnpike Road Church of Christ and Aqueous Church in Isla Vista. They’re also working in partnership with the Eden Reforestation Project. 

People who aren’t professing Christians are welcomed as part of the group, too, and Dixon said they encourage participation from anyone.

“I often find that people outside of the church are much more willing to dialogue about these issues,” he said. Faith and the environment are sometimes those “two subjects that haven’t felt like they’ve come together,” he said.

But from St. Francis of Assisi in the 12th century to Francis Schaeffer in the 1970s, history is laced with Christians embracing environmental issues.

“If you look back at old hymns from the reformation, a lot of them reflected upon the majesty of creation,” said Dixon, who added that only recently has the issue fallen by the wayside.

“As the church started to gain a reputation of being aligned with a particular party, those issues got shoved aside,” he said, emphasizing that Christians are called to look beyond the political framework and toward the biblical.

A Rocha has also conducted a children’s camp, the Creation Care Camp, and is working on a project for college students to take part in field work and lectures.

“We’re really excited about having an opportunity to provide education,” Dixon said.

So how does the group’s mission translate to the practical?

The group is just beginning a project to cultivate a five-acre organic garden on the property of Santa Barbara Community Church, 1002 Cieneguitas Road, and all of the produce will be donated to local, low-income families.

A Rocha is also working on a native plant restoration project on the property to study native pollinators. About 80 percent of all food humans consume requires pollination, Dixon said, and recent years have shown a significant decrease in the reptiles, bats, birds, mammals and insects that keep plants pollinating.

To get involved with A Rocha, e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) to be put on the group’s mailing list. Click here for more information.

Dixon also said those wanting to get involved are invited to join the group from 9 a.m. to noon Nov. 14 on the corner of Cieneguitas and Calle Caridad as A Rocha works on a set of raised-bed gardens. The produce grown will provide food for homeless individuals and families in Santa Barbara.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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