December 2015: Meet Will Stehl
If not for the Center for Environmental Transformation, I may never have met my wife!
More on that later, but this is just one of the reasons that CFET means so much to me.
It has been a great privilege to have just completed my first year on the Board of CFET, but my relationship with the organization goes back to the Fall of 2010. It was then that I first found out about CFET through Dr. Mark Doorley (Co-Founder and soon-to-be Board Chair Emeritus in 2016), whom I work with at Villanova University. As the Campus Minister in VU’s Center for Peace & Justice Education I brought a group of my student leaders to CFET for a one-day environmental justice retreat. My students and I were deeply moved by seeing and learning more about the complex history of Camden and the unjust realities playing out on a daily basis. We were inspired by the resilience of the Waterfront South community, as well as the bold mission and integrated vision of CFET — which I believe embodies that best of what it means to think globally and act locally. It was then that I fell in love with CFET, as well as the spiritual community at Sacred Heart Church that originally created this now independent non-profit.
In CFET, I have found a community organization that aligns with my own personal and professional vocation better than any I have ever encountered. The roots of that vocation go back to my childhood. My father would always take my brother and I for walks in the forest near our home, and after he passed away when I was 7 years old I found myself drawn to the natural world. I had powerful and formative experiences of prayer, solace and connectedness there. Nature became something much more than “that stuff outside,” it became sacred; a space that revealed something deeper about the heart of reality… about what is good, what is true, and what is beautiful… what life — and more specifically, my life — should be about. I love that CFET’s vision wisely recognizes that access to a healthy environment is not only fundamental to our physical wellbeing, but our social, psychological and spiritual wellbeing.
I believe one of the most significant elements of CFET is that it is inspired by the vision of Thomas Berry. Berry is one of my heroes. Well before my connection to CFET, Berry’s writings offered me a language to understand, in a much deeper and profound way, what I found to be most true about those early experiences with nature. Each Spring, I teach a class called “Ethical Issues in Peace & Justice,” and I use Berry’s book “The Great Work” (1999) as the climax of the course. As a priest and cultural historian, Berry contends that various civilizations in human history have had a Great Work that has moved humanity forward, and it is now our Great Work to create a mutually beneficial relationship with the natural world by recognizing that we are not separate individuals, but inextricably part of an infinitely larger, living, evolving, and integrated whole. He believes that most critical place where this Great Work must begin is in our educational institutions. This is a vital dimension of CFET’s mission. CFET not only seeks to help promote greater equity, opportunity, and food justice in Camden by employing local youth and training them to be entrepreneurial urban farmers, but CFET also seeks to foster greater environmental and social consciousness by educating those living outside Camden through service-retreat programing – engaging their minds, hearts, and hands in hopes that they leave with a deeper understanding of and commitment to The Great Work.
In July of 2011, I volunteered for two weeks as an “intern” with CFET to learn more about urban farming and the community in Camden. I resided at CFET for two weeks to help facilitate two visiting high school groups from Loyola Blakefield near Baltimore, MD. A few weeks later I was at a gathering and talking with a few people about my time at CFET, when an enthusiastic shout came from a rather beautiful but previously stoic woman across the room, “Sacred Heart ROCKS!” Four years, two months and roughly two weeks later that not-so-stoic, beautiful, strong, loving and brilliant woman and I were married at Sacred Heart Church. Connections to CFET can transform life in unexpected ways 😉
I wholeheartedly encourage any-and-all to get connected to the Center for Environmental Transformation, and to support the great work happening there!
Vice Chair Elect