I met Leeann Drabenstott Culbreath my freshman year in college. She was the one in Birkenstocks and glasses, with a guitar, protest signs, and lots of ideas most people weren’t ready for. We’re way older now, and she hasn’t changed! She and her husband live in southern Georgia raising Zeke and Abe and as much awareness as they can.
Leeann has extended love and grace to me in recent years, listening to stories of my dark college days, visiting me when I first moved to Georgia, serving me communion in my living room while I cried, and arranging lunch for us at the Whistle Stop Cafe in Juliette, Georgia, where Fried Green Tomatoes was filmed.
A few weeks ago Leeann was in town for her new job. We spent a sunny afternoon in my office talking about Creation Care. Below is only a taste of the passion and vision Leeann carries. I hope you’ll be inspired to think about the big picture and spiritual impact of stewarding creation in new ways.
Leeann, what is your ministry?
One way I summarize my ministry is “Church, Birth, and Earth.” As an Episcopal Deacon my primary role is to bring the pain of the world to the church and the church to the pain of the world. Others say it more provocatively as “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” This is the umbrella over all I do.
I’m also a certified doula and childbirth educator. I care for whole families through wellness projects, child abuse and neglect prevention, and perinatal bereavement support. I helped found and now support the local Tift Area Mother’s Center through Momentum. It is a national organization providing peer support for moms in all walks of life. Please check it out.
I’ve been on a journey with Creation since childhood. I’m deeply connected to and advocate for “Nature” though my understanding has grown and developed, including humans as a part of the created world. We are all connected to each other through creation. We are all deeply connected to God through creation. That comes from incarnational theology, a strong belief that God is present in matter. Matter Matters. What we do with matter matters to us, God, and others.
Creation Care is about healing a broken world and bringing the kingdom by increasingly restoring the world toward what God wills for his kingdom. A world of health, “enough,” beauty, life, and systems that work perfectly and beautifully – like the water cycle and the body – they were designed so well. When we intervene/interrupt them, we don’t respect the perfect system God has given us.
How did you get started?
This is my lifelong call. I saved my paper route money to save the endangered the California Condor I read about in Ranger Rick. I had my own nature club with friends growing up. In college, I wrangled the Earth Keepers – recycling, promoting no-shower days for water conservation, giving chapel messages. At that time the college didn’t recycle, so we were their only recycling program.
I spent time in Oregon in college and after college, where I connected deeply to the natural world and experienced God’s presence while hiking, chopping firewood, and exploring the Oregon coast. Then I went to Montana for graduate school for my masters work in Environmental Literature. I spent my free time there flyfishing, hiking, and skiing. Then I began working for outdoor recreation publishers and the Montana Wilderness Association.
In Georgia the landscape and work is different. I began to working from the angle of agriculture. I helped build the local food movement, launching 2 farmers markets, and started a Green Team at our church.
A defining moment in my life was reading about river pollution in West Virginia after a tank used in the coal industry had leaked into the water supply. My church uses coal-fired energy, so I felt connected to the problem and the people who were hurting. It struck such a deep chord. I had to do something. It provoked me to write my Bishop: What are we going to do? What can I do? How can we start this? He encouraged me to start finding others who were interested in and have energy for this kind of ministry. And I did!
I was ordained as a Deacon in 2013. One of my main ministries is environmental stewardship. Within a year, I founded our discoese’s Creation Care Commission to start building a movement in our diocese to be a healing force in the brokenness of the created world.
In all good ministry, there is a spiritual grounding. As you do it, it is unto Jesus. It is a part of your relationship with him. The work I do, I feel like I participate in life and growth and healing in the world. When I’m picking up litter, composting, planting a garden, or speaking at a hearing or protest, I’m a part of bringing the reign of Light, Life, and Growth into the dark world.
I have shifted away from fear and guilt-based environmental work. I’m trying to find a way to lead the church’s Creation Care in a joyful, life-giving, and connected way. I see my new job with Georgia Interfaith Power and Light (GIPL) as an opportunity to do that, to make a bigger difference in the healing of the world.
What is your favorite part of Creation Care?
I feel deep joy when somebody starts to make connections. When someone starts to connect the dots that people, creation, and God are all connected. That leads to them connecting more deeply with God. I love coming together around the gifts of the earth outside in Creation. I love the fellowship and community that grows when we share food around a table. It’s life giving. It’s exponential.
What is the hardest part?
Resistence and apathy. I’m not sure which is worse.
What advice would you have for families?
We explore with our kids. Children have a connection and curiosity around the created world. We can let them lead us on so much of this. We are raising kids without any connection to the outside world – you don’t protect what you don’t love. No Child Left Inside!
- Listen, nurture, and encourage opportunities for children to connect with creation.
- Together your family can garden, pick up litter, turn of lights, ask a blessing, talk about where your food comes from.
- Spend time together outdoors. Spend time worshipping in creation together. Look for God out there in non-structured ways – go for walks, get on a river.
- Earth Day is coming up April 22nd. Maybe that would be a good time to try something new with your faith community to care for Creation.
How can we join you?
Interfaith Power & Light is a national network bringing together faith communities of all kinds to care for creation. There are affiliates in many states (40 states, 18,000 congregations participate). On their website (here) are resources there for church and home, with tons of information and curricula. You can search current creation issues by state, and learn different ways to respond.
Remember, a faithful connection with what you have is a small faithful action. When we believe the truth of the gospel we know the mustard seed will grow. None of us can live a zero waste, zero impact life – we are part of the system. But we can do something. What small acts of faith can you do? One of my favorite college professors, Dr. Roger Lundin would say “every single thing we do leads to life or death.” That applies to Creation Care. Ask questions about your big and small decisions – like choosing the paper cup over the styrofoam. What you choose to do will be important and unique to you. This is how the world changes.
Thank you, Leeann!
Christians don’t have a great track record with Creation Care. Lots of people have different ideas about climate change and what the Earth needs. Let’s choose to put that aside and start fresh.
I want my kids to grow in familiarity and wonder over the amazing things God created on our great planet!
I want them to explore tall trees, tiny snails, huge vistas, and cells under microscopes.
Every time they are delighted I want them to think, “Wow. God made that. Thank you, God.”
And then I hope we’ll learn together new aspects of God’s character as he reveals it in every facet of what he made. They will get to know him.
Then they’ll see that enjoying Creation reveals the Creator, and their hearts will be transformed in new ways.
You are loved.
- Creation Care Commission – Episcopal Diocese of Georgia
- Interfaith Power and Light – a religious response to global warming
- GIPL – connecting faith, community, and the planet
- Mom-mentum – engaging, enriching, and empowering women
- Running Away – one story of finding God in the woods
- World Changers – a collection of the World Changers we’ve featured on Family Compassion Focus (we’d love to hear what you’re doing, too!)
© Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2016