Photo: Participants listen as farm manager Jesse Marchildon (center in plaid shirt) shares the history and current developments at the Rio Grande Farm Park. In the background is the MOKI, a mobile kitchen run by the Local Foods Coalition to promote local foods. Photo by Barry Bartel.
The river is flowing, flowing and growing,
the river is flowing, down to the sea.
This chant was among many music offerings during an event held Sept. 27-29 in Alamosa, Colorado, helping to weave together a flow of passion and commitment. Hosted by Anabaptist Fellowship of Alamosa, the weekend titled “Walking the Watershed Way: Going Deeper into Creation Care” drew about 40 people from around the Mountain States Mennonite Conference region. While featuring the Upper Rio Grande watershed, with its San Luis Valley headwaters a bit upstream from Alamosa, participants came from other watersheds throughout Colorado and New Mexico: the Alamosa and Arkansas rivers, Boulder Creek, Embudo Valley, Fountain Creek and Platte River.
Beginning with the call to build our capacity to respond courageously, locally and hopefully to the global climate crisis, four guiding questions were set out in advance of the gathering:
- As modern settlers, how might we humble and transform ourselves to live in right relationship to a place and its First Peoples?
- As uber-mobile people, what practices can we take on to root and re-place ourselves?
- How can we cultivate deep joy and a spirit of hope in the times ahead?
- How might local groups forge deep links and guilds with other Watershed Way groups in the Mountain States?
Within the limited time available, each of these questions was explored to some degree, through both immediate hands-on learning as well as a push toward identifying take-aways to drive “next step” possibilities for individuals, local communities and the larger gathered group. Much of the hands-on portion of the event pivoted around “Taste of Place” field experiences and local presenters that exposed folks to innovations in the San Luis Valley related to land and local foods production, access and related equity issues as well as collaborative river restoration efforts.
Todd Wynward, licensed by Mountain States Mennonite Conference for watershed discipleship ministry, and Daniel Herrera, his partner in the Taos Watershed Way, offered a model and challenged the audience with what walking the Watershed Way requires, from an overall life commitment to specific daily practices. Herrera highlighted fives practices that inspire the Taos group:
- Fall in love with place
- Protect place, practice abundance
- Celebrate and surrender to the season
- Practice active communion
- Treat your region as your Rabbi.
Large and small group discussions followed, undergirded by two simple yet powerful lenses: a nested paradigm shared by Alice M. Price, one of the local hosts, used a spiral to show the individual entry points and the inter-connections between intra-personal, interpersonal, group and larger systems work; and Joanna Macy’s three inter-connected circles of action – political action to reduce damage, constructive programs and personal shifts in perception – which Wynward shared and tied back to Gandhian principles.
Ideas were elicited as to where to go from here as a gathered group. These included monthly exchanges with perhaps a checklist for support and accountability, a shared social media site to post ideas and resources to stimulate further networking, and the possibility of having similar gatherings hosted annually by diverse sites throughout the Mountain States region.
Book-ending the event throughout the weekend were times for ritual and centering, led by Anita Amstutz. Friday evening included a walk to a restored river bend, with moving prayers to honor the indigenous, geologic and natural history of the San Luis Valley, and the sound of nearby thunder. Saturday morning opened with a time of song, poetry and an invitation for personal lament. On Sunday morning, the event closed with a windy gathering in the Rio Grande Farm Park for music and sharing locally sourced tortillas and apple juice. To the refrain of “Su su ru el Viento, Su su ru el Rio,” the group then walked by Guatemalan family gardens to gather stones and place them in the Rio Grande, to carry our blessings and celebrate our rich time together.
As larger church institutions struggle with declining numbers and dollars, it felt hopeful to be part of a grassroots, high-energy gathering of Mennonites joining with diverse community allies to address real, immediate concerns. I was heartened to see the wide age range of participants—from early 20’s up to 80’s—eagerly engaged with one another over three days. Coming on the cusp of young Greta Thunberg’s call to action, perhaps this is one vision of what church can be in this region, moving forward.
As someone who has coordinated a Mennonite Voluntary Service unit in the Alamosa area for 35 years, it was especially striking to see how closely connected our MVSers and our small Anabaptist Fellowship have been to the birthing and/or sustaining of key local initiatives such as the Rio Grande Farm Park, the Valley Roots Food Hub, Cooking Matters and the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project. This focus on local foods production, sustainable agriculture, equitable access to food and land, and environmental restoration resonates with our Anabaptist understandings and has enriched our lives in this rural setting.
Alice Price was a member of the event planning committee along with Anita Amstutz, Barry Bartel, Jen Dudenhefer, Ken Gingerich and Todd Wynward. The event received grant support from Mennonite Creation Care Network.