Friday, January 28, 2022

An Eco-Theologian’s Journey

Rev. Dr. Neddy Astudillo


An Eco-Theologian’s Journey

 by Eric Diekhans

 Growing up in Venezuela and Argentina, Rev. Dr. Neddy Astudillo’s remembers experiencing the beauty of creation when she visited the ocean with her family. So it seemed only natural that dreams of the ocean would lead her on a life-long journey as an eco-theologian.


The dreams occurred when Astudillo was studying sociology at Universidad Central de Venezuela, struggling to figure out what to do with her life. Her parents were committed to the ministry in the Presbyterian church, and she longed to hear God calling for her, and to make a difference in the world.


“I would see myself under the water,” says Astudillo, “swimming with dolphins, unconcerned about having enough oxygen to breathe. I felt love. I felt something that I cannot compare in my awake life.”



 A short time later, Astudillo read an article about the killing of dolphins by the Venezuelan fishing industry. She attended a public forum on the issue, and asked the organizers how she could help. For more than a year, they had been searching for a sociologist to work with on a project. By the following day, Astudillo was volunteering with them.


“I was able to get my university to accept the work as one of my research projects,” says Astudillo, “and that's how my life was just turned around.”


Astudillo brought her new interest in environmental justice back to her church, where she was a youth leader. But she didn’t feel she had the theological background to fully share why God was calling people of faith to take care of creation.


After college, she moved to Chicago to pursue a temporary opportunity and learned about McCormick Theological Seminary. “Somebody gave me one of those booklets with all the courses and I realized they were teaching the theology of creation. I understood that the church here had already recognized this as a new ministry.”


While at McCormick, Astudillo met her future husband, Tom Spaulding. When she became seriously ill, she started reading about the healing properties of heathy foods. After earning an M.Div., she and Spaulding joined Angelic Organics, a community supported farm in Illinois, and helped start the Angelic Organics Learning Center, offering education and training for children and adults.


During her twenty years at Angelic Organics, Astudillo also became pastor of Parroquia San Jose, an ecumenical Lutheran and Presbyterian Latino ministry in Beloit, Wisconsin. While serving there, Astudillo started hearing more loudly about the climate crisis.


“My desire was always to go back to Venezuela,, where I had been very involved with the Latin American Council of Churches. I wanted to share the creation care tools I’d been learning in the United States. I was able, as part of my doctoral project, to teach in seminaries in Latin America. I really wanted to create a program that was sensitive and contextual to the Latin American experience. Three seminaries gave me an opportunity to test the course in Bolivia and Peru, and Guatemala.”


Astudillo’s next calling on her journey as an eco-theologian was to return to the United States as Director for Training and LatinioAmerica at Greenfaith, an interfaith environmental advocacy organization.


“Institutional changes are important. Personal changes are very important, but systemic changes are what the world needs most today to confront the climate crisis.”


Greenfaith opened up an opportunity to come to Florida, where her journey has, in many ways, come full circle.


“It not a coincidence that here I am in Tampa, Florida,” says Astudillo, “seeking the ocean as my place of finding peace and being centered in love and beauty.”


Eric Diekhans
is a writer, Editor of Earth News, Senior Producer at the Greater Chicago Broadcast Ministries and an Elder at Lake View Presbyterian Church in Chicago.

1 comment:

  1. It is a lovely testimony of how God guide his children, and how one of them listen and find her way. Thanks to God!