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Fr. Rob's April Sabbatical Update

April 3, 2024

 

Dear St. Paul’s Community,

 

Happy Easter! I missed you all terribly during Holy Week and felt bereft not being there with you. You’ve been in my heart more than you can imagine, and I really look forward to seeing you when I return on June 1st. Here’s an update on my sabbatical project, which has been focused upon reconnecting with the ocean and learning as much as possible about the current state and health of our oceans.


Sonia and I just finished the eight-session Sacred Water: Water & Ecosystems program (similar to the Sacred Ground program we did at St. Paul’s last year). We were part of a virtual group with members from CA, CO, NM, TX, NC, GA, FL, and MA, and it was fun to hear stories and perspectives from around the country.

 

Sonia and I attended the Boston Sea Rovers 2024 International Ocean Symposium in mid-March. We reconnected with Fabien Cousteau who Sonia had known when she worked for his grandfather Jacques Cousteau at the Cousteau Society Headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia while I was stationed at the Naval Amphibious Base in Little Creek, and we showed him pictures of our diving expedition to Fiji with his father Jean-Michel and the Cousteau team during that time. We also met Dr. Brian Helmuth, Fabien’s Chief Scientific Officer at the Proteus Ocean Group and Dr. Mark Patterson, one of his science advisors, both professors at Northeastern University. Brian and Mark have since proposed ideas for collaboration going forward as we hope to help in the Church’s future efforts in Creation Care. And they’ve connected us with some of their colleagues who are looking at the role of faith in nature perceptions. 

 

And we enjoyed speaking with Kirk Krack, the Human Diver Performance Lead at DEEP, after his Symposium presentation. Check this site out; it’ll blow your mind.

 

We attended presentations about everything from underwater habitats to breakthroughs in marine species research to citizen science and ecosystem monitoring. It was a wonderful weekend!

 

I recently returned from eight days in Florida with Dr. Robert Sluka, the Lead Scientist for A Rocha’s Marine Conservation Program. We did a lot of diving and met with a bunch of fascinating people. One of our dives, for example, was with the Rev. Brian Sauder, President and CEO of Faith in Place and John Richert, Program & Sustainability Officer at Plant with Purpose. We explored a variety of habitats and nature preserves along the Atlantic coast, the Gulf coast, and in freshwater springs in the central part of the state. We saw an amazing variety of fish and marine life in the saltwater areas and alligators in the freshwater spots. We also got to help record scientific data during a large-scale horseshoe crab spawning event near Cape Canaveral, and we even got to see a SpaceX rocket launch. I also had the cool experience of finding two Megalodon teeth on a dive in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Venice, Florida. As you may know, this was the largest shark to have ever lived (they were about 60’ long), and they dominated the oceans from 23 million years ago until going extinct about 3.6 million years ago. The highlight of the trip was having an Atlantic Longarm Octopus reach out one arm to wrap the tip around my index finger as we looked into each other’s eyes and said hello in a prolonged and deeply spiritual gaze. I was over the moon with gratitude and delight!

 

As I’d said in last month’s letter, my main sabbatical project is to design and implement a detailed template for leading trips to National Marine Sanctuaries, Marine Protected Areas, and Hope Spots around the country for faith and civic leaders, and other citizens who want to dive, learn more about ocean health issues, and get involved. This will include several paths to scuba certification. We want to increase ways to get people involved in marine awareness and conservation, starting with providing ways for people see for themselves what life is like beneath the surface of our seas. This strategy is based upon the Blue Theology model of providing experiential learning and serving experiences in ocean conservation while fostering personal connections to the seas. I’m doing this with Dr. Bob Sluka as my main science partner, for Creation Justice Ministries (CJM) so that the template can be used nationally with their partner agencies. In the process, we’re building an ever-expanding network of relationships and teams who are invested in ocean health issues.

 

During May 13-18, Bob and I will go to Georgia to dive with local marine experts at the Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary and to meet with leaders of Georgia Interfaith Power & Light and other organizations working to keep our oceans healthy.

 

In the meantime, Sonia and I will attend the Climate Reality Project leadership training event in NYC April 12-14.

 

Our family will all go out to Austin, Texas April 25-29 for Sonia’s cousin’s wedding.  It will be a large, fun family reunion for her mother’s side of the family.

 

Additionally, I’m in conversation with the Conservation Law Foundation’s Vice President of Ocean Conservation about a number of projects, including diving out at Cashes Ledge, an underwater mountain range off the New England coast which is home to a great diversity of life. It’s an exceedingly difficult place to dive because of its location (85 miles offshore) and the intense currents that make it such a productive and biodiverse place. But it’s a gem of a spot that I’d love to experience for myself. For more on Cashes Ledge, see information from the Mission Blue website and the Divers Alert Network. We’re also talking about dives and projects at and around the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.

 

Additionally, I’m playing with ideas with a very close friend of mine, Fr. Jack Butler, SJ, Vice President for the Division of Mission and Ministry at Boston College. The offices under Jack’s purview work together to help foster a culture of formation among the faculty, administration, staff, and students at BC. We see some intriguing possibilities for introducing the BC community to the wonders of the seas.

 

Where is all this leading? Our vision is to create faith-focused service and learning trips around the country to increase the number of people who want to take reverential care of God’s magnificent creation.  We’d offer a progressive three-tier model:


  • Beginner - Phase One. Exploring the basics of creation care, enjoying being in the water, and learning how things work.

  • Intermediate - Phase Two. Gaining more proficiency in diving and Blue Theology.  Going deeper into the community of creation, biodiversity and science.

  • Advanced - Phase Three. Doing mission, relief and development, and restoration.

 

This is a ton of fun and we're meeting fabulous people along the way as we seek to build leadership teams up and down our coasts.


On June 20-22 I’ll take a team of four people from St. Paul’s to the three-day Retreat and Community of Practice for Teams from Northern New England Congregations event sponsored by Creation Justice Ministries at the Schoodic Institute in Winter Harbor, Maine.

 

And lastly, just for fun, I’m doing an Extended Range Trimix technical diving course which is a fun way to get back into the physics and physiology of breathing varying combinations of gasses at varying depths for varying lengths of time.  This is what I used to do in the Navy, and what I did a fair amount of recreationally before starting at St. Paul’s.

 

My major takeaway so far is noticing how much being immersed in nature – becoming part of nature – changes one’s views on such things as theology, sociology, and what’s going on in the world. If only we could all truly follow the ways of our Risen Lord!

 

I carry you with me in my heart everywhere I go and I think of you all the time.

 

Much Love,

Rob+

 

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