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Geographic Focus Areas

While national in scope, our program will focus on two main geographic areas: Winston-Salem and western North Carolina. The geographic, agricultural, and religious richness of central/western North Carolina creates a living laboratory for engaging the crucial issues of food insecurity, food deserts, and the attendant health disparities that confront our region.


The Food, Faith, and Religious Leadership Initiative equips faith leaders and congregations to become change agents in food security, community health, and resilient food economies. To that end, our academics and continuing education programs focus on a number of interrelated core competencies. Our programs teach faith leaders to:

  • Apply a theological frame to today’s pressing problems connected to food—hunger, obesity, diabetes, ecological devastation, energy, global warming—and draw on the core interdisciplinary areas of a theological education curriculum (spirituality, ethics, biblical, historical, and theological studies, ministry and missions) as essential resources for transforming the conversation and practices about food.
  • Expand their understanding of vocation to include church-supported agriculture projects, farmworker justice, and other food-related ministries.
  • Nurture their own spiritual growth and that of the communities they serve by adopting holistic faith practices that nourish mind, body, and soul.
  • Understand the problems with our current food system, while growing in knowledge of regenerative forms of agricultural such as permaculture, biointensive mini-farming, and other ecologically-sound agricultural practices.
  • Encourage a global perspective by applying a theological lens to food-related issues in diverse religious, cultural, and ethnic perspectives within both national and international contexts.
Seminary Stewardship Alliance

The School of Divinity is one of twelve founding seminaries in the Seminary Stewardship Alliance (SSA), “a consortium of schools dedicated to reconnecting Christians with the biblical call to care for God’s creation.” An initiative of Blessed Earth, the SSA helps member seminaries “to teach, preach, live, inspire, and hold each other accountable for good stewardship practices.”

The first SSA gathering will be held at Asbury Theological Seminary in Asbury, Kentucky September 27 through 29. Fred Bahnson, Director, and Mark Jensen, Associate Professor, will be representing the School of Divinity.

In Their Own Words: Faculty and Students

The food that most of us eat creates distance from our tables, distance from our farmers, and distance from our fields.  This is as much a crisis of the spirit as it is a crisis of practical insight and public resolve.  This is why future faith leaders have a vital role to play.  This distance cannot just be bridged it must be transfigured.  And this “transfiguration of distance,” according to John O’Donohue, sits at the very center of the spiritual life.

Caleb Pusey, Third Year MDiv and co-founder of Eco-Theo  


Gifts and challenges associated with food systems are related to religious beliefs and communities of faith. Religious leaders today need knowledge and skills for participating in and leading conversations about food, food systems, and justice. Students who are conversant about food and faith can work with congregations to raise awareness and find solutions for broken and unjust food systems. The call to this work is at the center of the Gospel. 

Jill Crainshaw, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Worship and Liturgical Theology


Working on an organic farm over the summer has given me the opportunity to reflect on my relationship with Creation – what it means to serve the earth and grow food sustainably. There have been times of frustration and challenge, but the labor has always brought with it a great sense of satisfaction.

Jamie Sims, Second Year MDiv 


My journey as believer, minister, and scholar has led me to the conviction that the paramount challenge for the Church and for the human species is stewardship of Creation.  Issues related to food touch on almost every other issue related to that stewardship. My theological education did not adequately prepare me to lead in this area. Now that I’m one of those charged with educating religious leaders, I want to equip them with what they need. 

Mark Jensen, Associate Professor of Pastoral Care and Pastoral Theology


In the Spirituality of Food course, I found myself in the midst of countless systemic injustices, corrupted markets, and human and animal rights abuses. It was a reminder that this world is indeed a broken and messy place; though wracked with death and pain, this Earth and its inhabitants are invited daily to participate in new life with one another and with their Creator. Transitioning from classroom discussions this Spring to working in a church community garden all Summer, I’ve been able to experience the beauty, struggles, and interconnectedness of life found in a successful harvest.

Baylee Smith, President of the Student Leadership Council and Third Year MDiv


In the Spirituality of Food course, I saw that I could help restore God’s kingdom on Earth simply in the kinds of food I ate.  However, I found positive, God-honoring food choices expensive, complicated, and sometimes deceptive.  In response, my brother and I are developing a web-company called ourcluster.com that makes buying organic, grass-fed beef more affordable, simple, and transparent.  The connections I made in my Spirituality of Food Faith proved absolutely invaluable. Although I’m preparing for a life of church ministry, I have found a concrete, self-sustaining way of making a difference for God’s kingdom by giving fuel, in my own small way, to a world that is more just, sustainable, and relational.

Skyler Daniel, Third Year MDiv


Fred Bahnson

Fred Bahnson, Director | bahnsoff@wfu.edu

BA, Montana State University
MTS, Duke Divinity School


Fred Bahnson directs the School of Divinity’s new Food, Faith, and Religious Leadership Initiative. He was the co-founder and director of Anathoth Community Garden, a church- supported agriculture ministry in Cedar Grove, North Carolina which he directed from 2005-2009. From 2009-2012 Bahnson pursued a full-time writing career. He is the author of “Soil & Sacrament: Four Seasons Among the Keepers of the Earth” (Free Press, 2013) and co-author, with Norman Wirzba, of “Making Peace With the Land: God’s Call to Reconcile With Creation” (InterVarsity Press, 2012).

His narrative journalism and essays have appeared widely including Christian Science Monitor, Orion, The Sun, Christian Century, and the anthologies Best American Spiritual Writing (Houghton Mifflin, 2007), Wendell Berry and Religion (University Press of Kentucky, 2009), and State of the World 2011—Innovations that Nourish the Planet (Norton, 2011).

His writing has received a number of grants and awards, including a 2006 Pilgrimage Essay Award, a 2007 Award of Excellence from the Associated Church Press, a 2008 William Raney scholarship in nonfiction at Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, a 2009-2010 Kellogg Food & Community fellowship at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, a 2011 Project Grant for Researchers from the Louisville Institute, and a 2012 North Carolina Artist fellowship in creative nonfiction from the North Carolina Arts Council.

Fred can be reached by email or by phone at 828.553.3564.

Below is a video of Fred speaking at TEDx Manhattan, Changing the Way We Eat, in February 2013.

News About the Initiative