Following Jesus, Advocating for Animals
We tracked down Bonnie Ambrosi, who has been advocating for animals in her church and community, to hear about how she heard, answered, and is living out God's calling on her life. She also offers encouragement to those who feel as though they are alone in their congregations and offers tips to those who want to start speaking up on behalf of all God's creation.
Tell us a little bit about your faith journey and how you came to animal advocacy.
I have been speaking and writing about factory farm animals just since January of 2014. It was my new year's resolution, the result of a conversation many months before. A woman I barely knew had asked me to meet her for coffee to talk about vegan diet. She was used to eating a lot of animal products, but had just seen a video about factory farming that horrified her. We talked and I went home and couldn't forget about it. I had never in my life been an activist about anything, but now I felt called to speak up, to reach out to other kind-hearted people who were unknowingly supporting a profoundly cruel system. Months went by as I tried to evade this calling, but the feeling grew more and more insistent. When I finally gave in and resolved to do it, it was a great relief!
Describe some of the ways you've been active for animals in your church, or encouraged conversations about animal issues.
I began with my own church, St. Paul's Episcopal here in Duluth, Minnesota. The rector was sympathetic and scheduled me for two church-night talks on the subject. Then with the help of a wonderful HSUS mentor, I planned a screening of "Eating Mercifully" at St. Paul's. Rather than offer it for our church only, I made it a community event and personally invited more than twenty faith communities to participate. Seven were represented at the screening, which is actually a pretty good result.
Since then, I've spoken at several other churches, including Congregational, Unitarian Universalist, Quaker, and at a Jewish Temple, and have taught a Sunday School class about choosing cruelty-free cosmetics. I've given a workshop at a local spiritual retreat center (and will be reprising that workshop this fall). I've spoken to the staff at our local animal shelter and have presented at a meeting of Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light. I've leafletted at our Harvest Fest and tabled at a Wellness Fair. I've had several opinion pieces in the Duluth News Tribune, the Duluth Budgeteer and our food co-op newsletter. Coming up, I'll have a resource table at the state convention of the Episcopal Church of Minnesota, and several other church speaking engagements.
As you can see, my modus operandi has been to look for any opportunities to speak or write on the subject of factory farming and living more mercifully. I follow lots of leads. Some pan out, and some don't, but by casting a broad net I have found many receptive audiences. My objective is to change the culture by simply increasing awareness of the issues of factory farming and cosmetics testing, and to do that by continually putting the word out, again and again, wherever I can. And even in instances where a meeting or phone call does not lead to a speaking opportunity, I've still planted a seed, which may just need more time to germinate.
How can someone get started advocating for animals?
For advice, I'd say keep your eyes open for opportunities — they are everywhere! Choose your words carefully. Inspire change by calling out the best in people and by showing them that change can begin with easy steps. Convince them that their choices matter.
What would you say to someone who was thinking about leaving their congregation because of how they felt about animal issues?
Someone who would consider leaving their congregation over animal welfare issues obviously feels the call to serve animals very strongly. It might be that sticking it out and being the lone voice for animals in that setting, perhaps for a long time, would be valuable, but it is very hard to work for justice all by yourself. I don't think it's necessarily wrong to leave and find another faith community where you can join an animal welfare movement that has already started. You'd be sure to find a welcome there. But remember that historically, prophets and reformers have often felt led to do God's work in places that were not especially encouraging! Look for leadings, listen for guidance, and then just do your best.