Pastor Bates’ passion for connecting faith with care for the environment is clear, and for him, the effort began with preaching. He did a six-part sermon series on creation care through the lens of Biblical passages – from the Genesis creation story to the Book of John, Job, and Revelations, Bates points out that the Bible is full of references to our connection to the earth and the image of God as a gardener. “Other times, my sermons were more focused on the justice elements of what it means when we don’t care for the land,” he says. “There are plenty of places in the Minor Prophets where people are abusing the land and the prophets speak out against it because it’s hurting people, especially the poor. We know that’s the case now, and my congregation responds, ‘we’re farmers too – we get what’s happening.’”
Bates adds that the deep connection to the land felt by many parishioners allows them to feel and respond to climate change on an emotional level. “My people have noticed that they have changed when they plant in the ground, and they have even changed the way they fertilize because of changing snow patterns,” Bates says.
Piney Mountain offered free public classes last fall on home energy savings, composting and canning to keep fostering creation care, and used local knowledge to teach the classes. “I think canning was the best class that we had. I don’t know how many older grandmothers have said ‘I wish my grandchildren and kids knew how to can, but they just bring their tomatoes over here and make me do it,’” Bates laughs.
Many residents of the Hominy Valley make lifestyle choices that, while sometimes considered part of a recent wave of trendy “green” practices, are actually long-standing traditions in rural communities that just make sense economically. In the home energy savings class, Bates realized that most of the participants still used clotheslines and didn’t need to convert back to them to save energy like they might in more urban areas.
Bates serves on the Steering Committee for the Creation Care Alliance, and hopes Piney Mountain will offer more classes in the spring. Piney Mountain also plans to work more closely with the Energy Savers Network and to help make Buncombe County’s recently adopted resolution for 100% renewable energy by 2042 a reality.
Fittingly, Bates’ personal call to this work also connects to an agricultural vision. He speaks of the Koinonia Farm in Georgia that was founded in the early Civil Rights Movement by Clarence Jordan, who believed that black and white people need to live and work together in order for true reconciliation to occur.
“Now obviously there’s a lot of hard work that goes into living together with people,” Bates says. “But with Koinonia Farm, Clarence Jordan spoke about creating a demonstration plot for the kingdom of God, because it demonstrated to the world a different way, the way of the Beloved community. And it was also a protest against the way the world works now. So I turned that language to my congregation and said ‘let’s turn our community into a demonstration plot. Demonstrating to the world a different way: a way of reconciliation with people and land.’”