Refugia Faith

An Evening with Debra Rienstra

Occurred on Thursday, February 16, 2023

In the midst of climate crises, it is difficult for us to find what feels like solid ground and steadiness as the world around us shifts and changes, sometimes at a pace too rapid to process properly. We seek spaces — both physical and spiritual — where we can fortify our resilience and connect with deep community, spaces that can hold us in the midst of uncertainty. 

In search of these spaces in her own life and in her Christian faith, author Debra Rienstra draws on the biological term refugia — meaning places of shelter that endure in times of crisis — to open a conversation on how people of faith can co-create these places of renewal and regeneration. Like pockets of flora and fauna that endure wildfires, droughts, and even volcanic eruptions, we can nurture our own small refugia as pockets of life even as climate change alters so much of how we have understood our world. 

Debra Rienstra’s book Refugia Faith: Seeking Hidden Shelters, Ordinary Wonders, and the Healing of the Earth, grounded in her own personal journey of place and healing, offers insight on the possibilities for identifying, tending, and nurturing the places in ourselves, our communities, and our cultures which have the capacity to become refugia for others.

We welcomed you to join us for an evening conversation with Debra Rienstra, as she discussed the book — how it came to be, and how it can be used in communities of faith and beyond. This special event also featured the music of Pax Ressler; a talk-back time with our Executive Director, Rev. Allen Ewing-Merrill; and a panel discussion featuring young(ish) adult spiritual leaders engaged in climate action. 

View the recording below:

Meet Debra Rienstra

Debra Rienstra is professor of English at Calvin University, where she has taught since 1996, specializing in early British literature and creative writing. She is the author of four books — on motherhood, spirituality, worship, and ecotheology/climate change — as well as numerous academic essays, literary essays, and poems. Her most recent book is Refugia Faith: Seeking Hidden Shelters, Ordinary Wonders, and the Healing of the Earth (Fortress 2022), a book that combines theology, nature writing, and biological principles to consider how Christians must adapt our faith and practice for a climate-altered planet. Rienstra is also the host of the Refugia Podcast and writes bi-weekly for The Twelve, a blog connected with The Reformed Journal, writing about spirituality, pop culture, the church, the arts, higher ed, and more.

Meet our Musician

Pax Ressler (they/she) is a non-binary performer, music director, and composer working at the intersections of theatre and music as well as arts and advocacy. They believe in the power of communal song to help articulate our shared values and stir us towards action. Pax is a passionate advocate and organizer of the non-binary and trans theatre community in Philly and a gardener of the Genderfunk Philly Instagram (@genderfunkphilly), featuring Philly’s trans and non-binary theatre talent. Pax recently wrote and released an album of non-binary love songs entitled “Change” ( and has written choral music for ensembles across the country since 2009. For the past five years, they have served as the Minister of Music at Tabernacle United Church in West Philadelphia.

Meet our Panel Respondents

Jenna VanDonselaar is a recent graduate of Yale Divinity School, where she holds a masters degree with a concentration in Religion and Ecology. She has spent the last few years thinking deeply about the connections between religion and ecology, looking at the ways we narrate the history of the environmental movement, and examining how this story telling shapes our environmental ethics. She currently works as an elementary school garden coordinator and food justice educator. Born and raised in Denver, Colorado, Jenna comes from a family that deeply values the natural world. As she got older, Jenna began to realize that not everyone had the same access to or positive experiences with nature, and she began to see the climate crisis as a vital social justice issue. She is eager to work with her local community in Connecticut to bring about positive social change for the good of her community and all of creation. In her free time, Jenna enjoys running slowly, cooking delicious meals, and watching television.

William Morris (he/him) is a 27-Year-old climate activist located in Torrance, CA. He holds his degree in environmental science with an emphasis on ecological restoration and a minor in watershed management from Humboldt State University. William is a Faith Organizer with GreenFaith working on the People vs. Fossil Fuels campaign. He also works with Young Evangelicals for Climate Action (YECA) serving first as a field organizer and is now Chair of the steering committee. He volunteers with The Climate Reality Project, is the founder and chair of the Los Angeles chapter’s Faith-based Communities Committee, sits on the steering committee of California Interfaith Power and Light, is founder and chair of the creation care committee at Faith United Methodist Church, is part of the leadership team with Faiths4Future, and a member of the board at Circle Faith Future. William also has worked with faith organizations abroad spending time in Kenya, Chad, and Indonesia. He spends his time engaging with faith communities, schools, universities, and organizations around the topics of faith-based climate justice and education. His work has been featured in Rolling Stone MagazineABC News, and the BBC.

Ben Yosua-Davis serves on The BTS Center staff team as Director of Applied Research. Over the past 18 months, Ben has been shepherding The BTS Center's Research Collaborative, a cross-sector cohort of leaders from organizations across northern New England and Quebec, together exploring the question, “How would organizations act differently today if they embodied an ecological imagination?” Ben also co-hosts The BTS Center's podcast, "Climate Changed," which features conversations about life, love, and leadership in a climate-changed world. For five seasons, Ben produced and hosted a podcast called “Reports from the Spiritual Frontier” which chronicled the day-to-day lives of leaders innovating new forms of spiritual community. Previously, he lived in Haverhill, MA, where he co-planted a new church called The Vine, one of the earliest mainline missional church expressions, which gathered in homes and coffee shops; hosted Free Markets, game nights, and block parties; and worked as a community partner to make its city a better place to live. Ben is a Maine native who now lives on Chebeague Island, Maine with his wife, Melissa, their son Michael, and their daughter, Genevieve, in a newly renovated island farmhouse.

Meet our Moderator

Rev. Allen Ewing-Merrill (he/him) serves as Executive Director of The BTS Center. Ordained in the Methodist tradition, Allen served local churches for 20 years, and as founding Executive Director of Hope Acts, a Portland, Maine nonprofit focusing on housing asylum seekers and helping immigrants succeed. A graduate of the University of Maine and of Boston University School of Theology, Allen is continuing his studies in a Doctor of Ministry program through Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. Allen has extensive experience in advocacy, direct action, and faith-based organizing around issues of justice and equity. Allen lives in Portland, Maine with his spouse, Sara, and they are the parents of three daughters.


Meet our Host

Rev. Nicole Diroff is ordained in the United Church of Christ and serves as Program Director at The BTS Center, where she coordinates the planning, implementation, and evaluation of the Center’s programmatic offerings. She holds expertise in facilitation, data management, and strategic planning. Nicole serves on the United Church of Christ Council for Climate Justice and is training to be a Maine Master Naturalist. She lives with her family in Scarborough, Maine.

Prior to her work with The BTS Center, Nicole served as the Associate Director at Interfaith Philadelphia, where she coordinated the Religious Leaders Council of Greater Philadelphia and directed the creation and expansion of the organization’s many Dare to Understand initiatives.

Nicole is a graduate of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia and Ohio Wesleyan University. When she’s not leading programs or facilitating meetings, she can be found exploring tide pools with her son, hiking with her dogs, or reading a memoir at a local coffee shop.