Written by Lauren Kabat
Deborah Streeter is authorized by the La Selva Beach United Church of Christ congregation in California to practice the ministry of Blue Theology. While becoming a guide at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, she learned how important the oceans are and what challenges they face. This information, paired with her longtime deep spiritual connection to the ocean, lead Deborah on a journey to link faith with the science of marine conservation, coining the phrase “Blue Theology.” Much like the rich and diverse coastal waters of California, Deborah’s ministry at the Blue Theology Mission Station seeks to be a place of “ocean spirit upwelling” for church members and visitors.
Please elaborate on your Blue Theology journey and how you continue to devote yourself to this ministry.
I had long been involved in the UCC’s Science and Technology Network, promoting science literacy in our churches and encouraging ministers to advocate for the teaching of evolution in public schools. While studying evolution I learned that our own blood, tears, sweat, and even amniotic fluid are all the same salinity as the sea because of our evolution from the sea. Our climate and weather come from the ocean, as does most of the air we breathe, created by marine plants. So I began to preach and teach in churches about both ocean stewardship and spirituality, and to encourage secular science and environmental folks to view the faith community as trusted partners in ocean conservation.
A few years ago, the Monterey Bay Aquarium funded me to organize a broadly interfaith “Living Ocean Initiative” in which we selected 150 local religious leaders to spend a day at the Aquarium alongside scientists and environmental activists. We held worship in front of the million-gallon Open Sea exhibit beginning with Buddhist meditation. Then, the rabbis blew the shofar and the Carmel Mission Choir sang. In the following year, 6,000 worshippers in our tri-county area heard about ocean conservation in the worship services led by these religious leaders.
You cofounded the Blue Theology Mission Station at a Disciples of Christ church in Pacific Grove, CA where you host adult and youth pilgrimage retreats. Can you explain to me what the retreats are like and how you see participants learning and growing?
For the past ten years, we have hosted over 300 people, youth and adults, who spend a day or two, or a week with us. The groups do service projects including beach cleanup, dune restoration, and citizen science, as well as worship, poetry walks, art projects, and educational visits to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, State Parks, and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. This past February, an intergenerational group from the Campbell, California UCC church spent the weekend at our church and participated in many of those activities, closing our time together with a Sunday morning worship focused around being thankful for, and caring for the gifts we receive. In this way, gratitude was shared for the gifts of the oceans and its creatures, and promises were made on how we could take care of these precious gifts.
Recently, a church member who has spent months of generous time chaperoning our youth group trips, confided to me in tears that she wanted to do something for the ocean as a way to make “living amends” for the legacy her great grandfather, a Portuguese whaler, left. “He didn’t know any better, but at least I can do something to bring some healing and hope for the whales, and for all of us,” she told me.
What current marine conservation concerns are you passionate about and would encourage the broader UCC to consider?
Carbon dioxide from fossil fuels is seriously changing the chemistry of the ocean, affecting the whole food web. Rising sea levels are already affecting over 80% of the world population that lives within 60 miles of the coast. We rely increasingly on the oceans for food but overfishing and pollution are huge problems. I encourage you to vote with your fork and only buy seafood that is sustainably farmed or caught. As the Holy Spirit continues to hover breath over the waters, may we seek to let the Holy Spirit fill us and inspire us to do God’s work of ocean care and protection.