Alumni in Action: Nicholas Detweiler-Stoddard

Long before Nicholas Detweiler-Stoddard graduated from EMU in 2009, most folks on campus knew he would be a leader in peacemaking, creation care, and sustainability.

We didn’t know exactly what he would do – he could have been successful in almost any profession – but we knew he had changed the face of EMU and would likely do the same wherever he went.

Peacebuilding and sustainability

“My passion is helping live the call of Jesus faithfully, being active in the community, and being an agent of God’s care for creation and peacebuilding,” Nicholas says.

That calling to community involvement led to:

  • a thriving campus vegetable garden run largely by students. When the EMU cafeteria needs fresh produce or prepares its annual harvest meal in October, the veggies are harvested from the campus garden
  • a campus Creation Care Council with sustainability principles to guide the university in decision-making
  • a student-run Peace Fellowship well-known throughout Harrisonburg for organizing activities, meals, and special speakers to spark discussion and actions.

All are projects traceable to Nicholas, now a third-year student in Eastern Mennonite Seminary.

The birth of “Locavores”

“The basis of the Creation Care Council was to influence students and the community to look at how your food is produced and to turn the focus to growing, preserving and eating out of your backyard.”

Nicholas Detweiler-Stoddard, 2009 biblical studies graduate

With a growing interest on local and organic food, Nicholas and a handful of EMU students and professors began sharing potluck meals in 2007. They called themselves “locavores.”

The informal group proved a springboard for some of the most successful campus sustainability intiatives, such as the student-led Sustainable Food Initiative, the annual harvest meal, and the campus garden.

Nicholas worked under Peter Dula, assistant professor of Bible and religion and fellow locavore, on developing food and agriculture initiatives on campus, like the campus garden, which had but a few plants in it at the time.

As the garden grew so did the concept of Creation Care Council, a task force that would oversee the garden and provide a forum for coordinating campus-wide interest in sustainable living.

Connecting the dots

Nicholas’ passion for creation care began spilling over into other facets of his life, notably peace fellowship. During his senior year, Detweiler-Stoddard became co-leader of the Peace Fellowship, a student organization that began as a response to violent conflicts around the world.

During a year-long initiative called Raising Awareness on Iraq Now! (RAIN!), the group held a prayer vigil, erected a prayer tent and invited the community to pray in half-hour time blocks from midnight to midnight. “We wanted to raise our prayers for the Iraqi people and coalition soldiers while also issuing a public plea for a withdrawal of troops and a shift of budget resources to provide for humanitarian assistance,” says Nicholas.

In January 2009 the group responded to the violence in the Gaza Strip with an interfaith service of lament followed by a candle lighting and prayer vigil at Court Square in downtown Harrisonburg.

Alerted to the C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical contest through his work in Peace Fellowship, he composed a speech that connected justice and peacebuilding, the church, the EMU community, and sustainability.

His oration, “Connect the Dots,” focused on how each person’s actions have a direct effect on others, locally and abroad. Stoddard received first place in the bi-national contest.

Seminary and remembering Sept. 11

“My goal is to continue creation work and empower my congregation to be part of a peace community. My time at EMU has helped sew my experiences together and given me a greater understanding of what it means to live as a faithful member of a diverse community.”

Feeling a pull towards the church and pastoral ministry, Nicholas enrolled in the seminary in the summer of 2009.

Community Mennonite Church, where he and his wife Erica, another EMU alum, are members, recognized his talent and nominated him for the Fund for Theological Education award, an accolade that helps students with seminary tuition and living expenses.

Picked out of a pool of candidates from across the U.S. and Canada, Nicholas was selected as a “young leader who demonstrates exceptional gifts for ministry,” the Fund said in a release.

Nicholas’s time at seminary gave him a “fresh perspective” when it came to interfaith dialogue and responding to the 10th Anniversary of Sept. 11. He helped organize a city-wide interfaith gathering that focused on peaceful responses to violence.

“Most of the focus of Sept. 11 would be about the victims of families here in the U.S., but we wanted to have an alternative vigil and a critical reflection to look at ways we responded [to the attacks],” says Nicholas. “The vigil was a culmination of interfaith dialogue and a call to live out Christ’s peacebuilding message.”

Learn more about campus sustainability and peacebuilding