When Community Hurts the Earth

Learning to leave environmental judgements at the door to foster relationships

By Elisa Barkman, Manitoba Site Manager, Boreal Ecology Centre

Jan 4, 2024

Moving to small town (village, hamlet) Manitoba, has been an exercise in discerning community invitations and expectations. There are not many community events in Prawda, Manitoba, but as we form relationships with our neighbours we slowly learn what makes up the threadworn fabric of our community. Showing up to fall supper is one of those and this year Trick and Trunk, a rural version of trick or treat, was added to the list.

A map of South Eastern Manitoba with a close up of Prawda Manitoba

Prawda, Manitoba

We came to this little spot of land in a Sabbath move, at a time when we were needing space to re-evaluate and heal. Our intention was to stay one year. Eight years later I look out on the beauty of an early winter day; we have healed and grown, and in the process have fallen in love with this land and have chosen to stay.

Here our community is not the folks we have chosen, and they have not chosen us, and it is in this way that we learn a new path to relationship and fellowship. Some are brothers and sisters in our Christian faith, some are brothers and sisters in our journey to walk lighter on the earth, and with some we share very little in common, but when you’re stuck on the road, they are the first to stop. We have all come or been born to this place, and often it is the appreciation for the beauty and solitude of this space that we share most, the trees and rocks very literally share in the communion of this community.

As with so many things, our community is filled with paradox. So showing up to fall supper and taking a styrofoam plate and cup along with plastic utensils and sharing a meal of hand pinched perogies beside our neighbours with a posture of humility and gratitude has become an uncomfortable spiritual discipline. Walking with our children around the circle of vans, cars, and trucks, many left running, on a chilly halloween night collecting gobs of individually packaged candy and dollar store trinkets, I resist the urge to cringe. I allow the spirit of childhood excitement and appreciation to fill my being as the number of excruciatingly generous sweet-givers who know my children by name grows.

In our home we attempt to take a posture of intention in relation to the food we eat, the clothes we wear and to how much we drive. This last one we fail at miserably.  You will not find styrofoam or even paper plates or disposable napkins in our home. I am privileged to have the time and skill to prepare homemade snacks and meals for my family. So my challenge and calling as I form relationships in this community I have entered as a newcomer is to leave my judgment and environmental righteousness at the door. As our relationships deepen and I have the opportunity to invite our new friends into our home, they will know us as we are: we share local food and hand wash dishes. I will learn that despite a propensity for disposable table wear, most of our neighbours put away and preserve more homegrown food than the vast number of people I know. Many have not driven to Winnipeg in years, something we do almost weekly. I am humbled again and again.

If I cannot joyfully join in celebration with my neighbours, I cannot form relationships, and if I cannot form genuine relationships, all of my pretentious sacrifices matter little.  For it is in the strengthening of relationships with neighbour and creation that I see the movement of the Spirit in this place I now call home.

Featured photo: Zoe Matties

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Caring for the Earth in Your Community

Are you wondering how to care for the earth in your community or church? If you are in Manitoba come out to Consider the Lilies Collective, a meet-up for Christians interested in caring for the earth. Click the button to learn more.

If you’re not in Manitoba check out A Rocha’s monthly Earthkeepers Online Meet-Up on the last Tuesday of every month at 5 PM – 6 PM Pacific Time (8 PM – 9 PM Eastern Time)

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