Grant to aid in strategic expansion of efforts focused on food, health, and ecology

Published: June 21, 2017

by C. Mark Batten, Office of Communications

The School of Divinity’s Food, Health, and Ecological Well-Being Program has received a one-year planning grant of $75,000 from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation to support a yearlong strategic planning initiative to build capacity among faith leaders working at the intersection of food, health, and ecology.

The grant will enable the program to expand its work in several important ways:

  • through the creation of an Advisory Board comprised of faith leaders working at the intersection of food systems, sustainability, and health;
  • the creation of an alumni network for the program’s Re:Generate Fellowship;
  • strengthening relationships with already established partner organizations in North Carolina; and
  • developing a strategic plan for the next five years.

To accomplish these tasks the program will convene three strategic planning sessions in Winston-Salem and in western NC over the course of 2017 and 2018.

Rev. Karen Richardson Dunn (MDiv ’11)

To assist with this project the program welcomes a new staff member, Rev. Karen Richardson Dunn, to serve in a one-year position as Program Coordinator. Dunn is a 2011 alumna of the Master of Divinity program.  She is an ordained minister with the United Church of Christ (UCC), and the founder and facilitator of the UCC Southern Conference’s Creation Justice Network. Dunn is also a member of the UCC’s national Council for Climate Justice Steering Committee, and serves on the steering committee of the “Faith in Solar” campaign, an initiative by NC Warn, a nonprofit organization tackling the accelerating crises posed in North Carolina by climate change. She has worked as a book editor, news editor, journalist, and writer.

Since 2012, the Food, Health, and Ecological Well-Being Program, led by program director Fred Bahnson, has become a national leader working to train religious leaders at the intersection of faith, food, and ecology. The program’s continuing education workshops and retreats have attracted hundreds of faith leaders from North Carolina and beyond, and more than a dozen Christian denominations.

This work has earned support from national foundations like Kalliopeia Foundation, the Byron Fellows Educational Foundation, the Shield-Ayres Foundation, and is a good fit for the goals of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation.

“Communities across North Carolina are coming together in new and collaborative ways to consider and address the root causes of their health challenges,” said Kathy Higgins, president of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation.  “We are pleased to support the School of Divinity in expanding their work to help prepare faith leaders to be part of these important efforts and position them as leaders in the growing food, health, and ecology movement.”

The program has convened four 5-day summer immersion courses in Food, Faith, and Ecology in the NC mountains and hosted continuing education events across Western NC, in addition to programs in Winston-Salem. In 2015 the program created the Re:Generate Fellowship for young faith leaders, annually convening a group of fellows from around the United States.

The school’s commitment to issues of food justice and health go beyond the Food, Health, and Ecological Well-Being Program. The Master of Divinity curriculum includes optional concentrated studies, including Religious Leadership in Food, Health, and Ecology. During its 2017 commencement exercises, the school recognized five students who completed the requirements for the track in Food and Faith.