Deep Green Faith: Holy Forest Kinship

A joint conference of the Beecken Center and the Center for Religion and Environment

Trees have a surprising degree of significance within the Christian tradition. According to Dr. Matthew Sleeth, former physician and carpenter, and author of Reforesting Faith: What Trees Teach Us About the Nature of God and His Love for Us, "The Bible talks about trees more than any living creation other than people. When we subtract trees from Scripture, we miss lessons of faith necessary for our growth." Meanwhile, new ecological research reveals astonishing levels of communication happening beneath the bark of our forest-based neighbors. What can such science tell us about the nature of forests, their multi-dimensional impacts on humans, and our own relationships with each other and with the ecosystems within which we live? And how might a more soulful view of the web of creation affect not only the choices we make, but the way we view our non-human kin?

Join us September 6–7, 2019 on the campus of the University of the South―a certified Tennessee arboretum, with more than 120 different species of trees on campus—in beautiful Sewanee, Tennessee as we explore these and other themes in an organic interweaving of religion, science, and the arts, with contemplative and embodied experience.

In addition to keynote speaker Dr. Sleeth, Dr. Karen Kuers, professor of forestry at the University of the South, will also speak. The main conference will begin Friday evening, Sept. 6 at 7 p.m. with a keynote presentation and discussion. Saturday the 7th will be devoted to presentations, discussion, experience, contemplation, and celebration, and will end at approximately 9 p.m. with a closing ceremony.

For those who have completed the Certificate Program in Contemplation and Care for Creation offered by the Center for Religion and Environment (CRE), there will be a separate alumni gathering and symposium prior to the main conference. Alumni should register for this meeting at the same time as they register for the public conference.

At this conference, you’ll experience:

  • Lectures by leading thinkers on forest and faith and the interconnectedness of the earth and its inhabitants,
  • A focus on embodied spirituality with built-in contemplative experiences,
  • Time for engaged dialogue and discussion,
  • Community-building and networking over common meals (included in the tuition),
  • A closing celebration with liturgical elements.

Alumni of the Center for Religion and the Environment who plan to participate in the alumni pre-conference gathering and symposium should indicate by checking the appropriate box in the registration form, and will receive detailed information directly from CRE.

$175, includes materials and breakfast, lunch, and dinner on Saturday the 7th.
Faculty & staff of the University of the South: $50 (meals not included)
Students of the University of the South (incl. seminarians): $25 (meals not included)

CEUs are available. For the public conference, 1 CEU is available. Additional CEUs may be available to CRE alumni who register for and attend the pre-conference alumni gathering.

Lodging not included. For accommodations, please see our travel & accommodations page.

Deep Green Faith is a collaborative endeavor of the Beecken Center of the School of Theology at the University of the South (Sewanee) and the Center for Religion and the Environment (CRE), and is designed to explore the connections between faith and ecology. This first Deep Green Faith conference is open to the public and will also include a gathering of alumni of CRE’s curricular and co-curricular offerings, including the certificate in contemplation and care for creation, a master of arts concentration in Religion and the Environment at the School of Theology, a minor in Religion and the Environment at Sewanee's College of Arts and Sciences, and courses and projects associated with the doctor of ministry program in the School of Theology’s Advanced Degrees Program.


Matthew Sleeth, MD, a former emergency room physician and chief of the hospital medical staff, resigned from his position to teach, preach, and write about faith and stewardship issues. Dr. Sleeth has spoken at more than one thousand churches, campuses, and events, including serving as a monthly guest preacher at the Washington National Cathedral. Recognized by Newsweek as one of the nation’s most influential Christian leaders, Dr. Sleeth is the executive director of Blessed Earth and author of numerous articles and books, including Reforesting Faith: What Trees Teach Us About the Nature of God and His Love for Us. He lives in Lexington, Kentucky, with Nancy, his wife of nearly forty years. Their grown children serve with their spouses in full-time parish ministry and as medical missionaries in Africa.  All of the author's proceeds from Reforesting Faith are being donated to plant trees around the world through Plant with Purpose.

Karen Kuers, Ph.D. is the Annie B. Snowden Professor of Forestry in the Department of Earth and Environmental Systems at The University of the South, where she has been teaching since 1994. Karen earned her PhD in Forest Resources at the University of Georgia in 1994, after teaching middle school and high school sciences and serving as Head of the Middle School at Bayside Academy in Daphne, AL. Prior to working at Bayside, she obtained her MS in Developmental Biology at Texas A&M University, and BS degrees in Biology and Philosophy from Spring Hill College. Her academic and research interests focus on the ecology and management of upland hardwood forests and forested urban ecosystems, and she has a special interest in traditional uses of forest and urban plant species for food and medicine.

Connie Keetle, artist-in-residence for the 2019 Deep Green Faith Conference, is a painter and a trained guide with the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy. As a guide, Connie practices the art of cultivating relationships with nature through sensory connections. Her guided walks are an open invitation to slow down, become fully present in the moment, and listen to the voice of the forest, or what voice the forest inspires in you. Connie grew up primarily in Vermont where she enjoyed countless hours of freedom exploring and loving the land around her. A lifetime of observing and creatively responding to nature continue to inspire and inform her passions in art and life. She earned a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute and her work has been shown throughout Vermont, Missouri, Virginia, and Tennessee. Connie currently lives on the Cumberland Plateau in Sewanee where she paints full time at her home studio. Her artwork can be viewed at

Robert (Robin) Gottfried, Ph.D. directs the Center for Religion and Environment. For twenty years he has introduced people to the Christian practice of nature contemplation through the Opening the Book of Nature program. Long known for his passion for environmental economics and sustainable development, he has published extensively on land use change, forest policy, and the impacts of economic development in the U.S., Costa Rica, and elsewhere. The author of Economics, Ecology, and the Roots of Western Faith: Perspectives from the Garden, he also has published numerous articles and spoken extensively on the interplay between economics, ecology, and theology.  His new book (co-authored with Frederick Krueger), Living in an Icon: A Program for Growing Closer to Creation and to God, will be available in August, 2019.

John Gatta, Ph.D. is the William B. Kenan Jr. professor of English at the University of the South. His teaching and research have largely been concerned with American literary and cultural history before 1900—particularly Hawthorne, Whitman, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. He has also taught and written about topics related to American environmental literature, as well as the interplay between religious faith and literary imagination. In addition to more than 50 academic articles in book collections and journals, he has published five books, including Making Nature Sacred: Literature, Religion, and Environment in America from the Puritans to the Present (Oxford, 2004), and Spirits of Place in American Literary Culture (Oxford, 2018).

Sheri D. Kling, Ph.D. is associate dean and executive director of the Beecken Center of the School of Theology at the University of the South. She is also a singer-songwriter and guitarist turned public theologian who interweaves spirituality, psychology, and theology for transformation and common flourishing.

Collin Cornell, Ph.D. is visiting assistant professor in biblical studies at the School of Theology. His interests include racial and ecological justice as well as theological exegesis, and his classes, on both testaments of the Christian Bible, reflect these foci. His monograph, Lest He Be Angry: Divine Aggression in Royal Psalms and Inscriptions, is forthcoming from Cambridge University Press. 

The Rev. Jerry Cappel is an ordained Episcopal priest currently serving at St. James Episcopal Church in Shelbyville, Kentucky. He also serves as the Environmental Network Coordinator for Province IV of The Episcopal Church and as a fellow with the Center for Religion and the Environment at the University of the South and with GreenFaith. He is a graduate of Harding Graduate School of Religion (M.Div.) in Memphis, TN, and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY (Ph.D.). He has worked as an author and editor of youth and adult education materials for Smyth & Helwys Publishing in Macon, GA and Church Publishing in New York.

The Center for Religion and Environment (CRE)

Affiliated with The School of Theology at The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennesee, the Center for Religion and Environment at Sewanee is interdisciplinary and pluralist, interested in all religious traditions and a wide variety of academic disciplines. Three connected areas of focus shape CRE’s approach: spirituality of nature, ecotheology, and environmental ethics. CRE’s threefold mission is to help students and the broader community integrate religious belief with care for the environment, to prepare students across the curriculum for environmentally conscientious work and ministry, and to serve as a focal point for University-wide initiatives related to religion and the environment.


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