WACO—Baylor University’s Truett Theological Seminary named adjunct professor Jennifer Howell as the inaugural director of the Theology, Ecology and Food Justice Program.
The program, which is expected to begin in fall 2021, is a grant-funded initiative by World Hunger Relief Inc. and the Baugh Family Foundation.
The Theology, Ecology, and Food Justice Program will offer a holistic approach to educating students, ministers and community leaders on the church’s role in matters related to ecology, sustainability and food justice, seminary leaders said.
Program initiatives will include:
- Seminary courses hosted at the World Hunger Relief farm exploring theological principles, biblical passages and best practices related to ecology, creation care and food justice in conversation with leading scholars and practitioners
- The opportunity for seminary students to complete their mentorship or field education at the World Hunger Relief Farm, between Waco and Elm Mott.
- Research and advocacy for creation care
- Collaboration with other organizations to address larger systemic issues related to ecology, food justice and faith formation
- Engagement opportunities for pastors and community leaders
“I think there has been confusion—particularly in Protestant circles—about the relationship between creation and our faith. We tend to think of those as separate things,” Howell said. “But if you look at the Bible and the story of creation, you see that God invites us into a relationship with God, with our neighbors and even with the land itself.
“The hope in doing this program is to re-orient students’ understandings about creation and help them understand that how we care for creation, how we live in and as part of creation, is itself a theological issue.”
Howell holds a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Texas A&M University; a Master of Divinity degree from Duke Divinity School; and a Ph.D. in theology from Baylor University. Her dissertation focused on German theologian/author Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s understanding of the doctrine of creation.
Since 2017, she has taught courses as an adjunct professor in Christian theology at Truett Seminary and the Baylor Honors College.
“Dr. Howell has a well-established network, both here on campus and beyond, of individuals who are engaged in conversations about ecology, agrarianism and food justice,” said Dennis Tucker, associate dean for academic affairs and professor of Christian Scriptures at Truett Seminary, who helped secure the grant for the program and chaired the search committee for the inaugural director.
Howell has a “passion for this work at the intersection of the church and creation,” he added.
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“She understands ecology and food justice as biblical and theological issues that should be central to the life of the church,” Tucker said.
Strong partnerships key to program
Strong partnerships between Truett, World Hunger Relief and the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty will be key for the program. In addition to the courses and retreats being held at the World Hunger Relief farm, the three partners will work together on research and initiatives related to theology, ecology and food justice.
“I am thrilled for the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty to partner with Truett Seminary and World Hunger Relief Inc. to launch the new Theology, Ecology and Food Justice Program,” said Jeremy Everett, executive director of the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty.
“As people of faith, we are called to provide food for the hungry and to do so in ways that honor God’s creation. This program, under the leadership of Dr. Jenny Howell, will breathe life into that calling both practically—making healthy food available for children in families living in impoverished communities in the Greater Waco area—and educationally, teaching students how to replicate similar faith-informed food justice initiatives around the world.”
Jonathan Grant, executive director of World Hunger Relief Inc., expressed gratitude to the Baugh Foundation for providing the seed money to bring Truett’s Theology, Ecology and Food Justice program to life.
Grant voiced confidence Howell’s leadership will guide Truett Seminary and World Hunger Relief “into a new era of forward-thinking theological vision that includes collaborative partnerships with institutions, foundations, churches and other farms that will strengthen and nourish the work of both entities, while together creating a thriving site of Christian hospitality, community and healing relief for the world.”
Over the next year, Howell will work to develop the curriculum and programming for the initiative, with opportunities available to students beginning in the fall of 2021, while also exploring funding for the program’s future.
“Creation care and neighbor care are part and parcel of Christian thought and discipleship; human flourishing and ethics are among the signature initiatives of Baylor University’s strategic academic plan Illuminate,” said Todd D. Still, dean of Truett Seminary.
“That (future) ministers, congregations and faith-based organizations will be able to join the psalmist in declaring more robustly that ‘The earth is the LORD’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it…’ and will become increasingly committed to being an answer to the prayer that our Lord taught us to pray—‘Give us this day our daily bread’—is a source of encouragement and hope in a season when we stand in need of both.”