“The complexity, beauty and connectivity of creation are often inviting us to respond. First with a hike, a paddle, a tilt of our ear to the bird song, a climb of a tree or with a hammock embraced rest. Second with the words ‘wow,’ ‘thank you,’ and, perhaps, ‘I am sorry.’ Third with creatively inspired action intentionally designed to preserve and amplify all of life.” ~Scott Hardin-Nieri
It’s one of the defining characteristics of a God-experience—and one many of us share in our nature-encounters. The intersection of Creator and Created.
I met Scott Hardin-Nieri at a clergy gathering in Black Mountain last September, and immediately wanted to know his story. He’s a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) minister in Asheville whose calling has led him to environmental work.
He grew up in South Texas, camping with the Boy Scouts, went to Texas A&M, and although climate and the environment weren’t an early part of his training, he found himself regularly integrating an outdoor component into youth ministry trips.
“At the time, though,” he says, “the environment was one item on a long list of other ministry tasks, below prepping sermons, planning youth meetings, visiting the sick, leading retreats, prayer, and Bible study.”
But an epiphany came as he was designing his internship in Contemplative Youth Ministry at San Francisco Theological Seminary and Pacific School of Religion. It combined youth ministry, business, and the wilderness around spirituality, and culminated in a solo, 4-day, water-only fast in the Southern California desert of Anza Borrego State Park, in his role as a guide-participant with a university student group.
In the desert, he experienced a personal identification with the planet, bearing witness in the desert to creation for its own self—not for what we can get from it—a relationship the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber described as “I-Thou.” And in that identification, he says, he came to a place of self-acceptance.
He returns to that time of deepening again and again, as well as other epiphany moments in nature along the way.
While at Heart of the Rockies Christian Church in Ft. Collins, CO, for nine years, he and his wife Becca started a family, went through several life-stages, and eventually served a volunteer mission stint with the Quakers in Costa Rica’s vulnerable Cloud Forest.
That time on mission clarified their commitment to their children’s needs over career, and to caring for the environment in which those children would be growing up. They moved to Western North Carolina in 2015 with no jobs but a lot of faith, powered by the simplicity and clarity of that calling.
Now, Scott divides his time between being primary parent, Associate Director of Green Chalice, the Disciples Creation Care organization, and Director of the Creation Care Alliance of Western NC, part of MountainTrue, an environmental action organization that’s taken a bold step in hiring a Christian minister.
But, as Scott told me, the need now is greater than ever for people of faith who are willing to let their love for God in creation power action to save it in the face of climate-change and environmental destruction.
It’s a love stronger than death, a love affirming and preserving all of life.