Susan Emmerich

by Executive Producer, Susan Emmerich

Jeffrey Pohorski and I worked together for 11 years filming the implementation of the faith-based stewardship approach among different communities. It all began when I returned to Madison, Wisconsin, from Tangier Island for a brief break in December 1998. During this time, I was introduced to Jeffrey through a mutual friend who served with Jeff at 2100 Productions at Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. Jeffrey had just launched his new production company, Skunkfilms Productions. His mission was to find stories that needed to be told and to tell them in ways that cannot be forgotten.

After hearing about the Tangier watermen, their plight and the biblically based stewardship initiative, he flew down to Tangier Island in May 1999 and caught on tape dramatic testimonies of leaders and opponents of the Tangier Watermen’s Stewardship Initiative. This led to a 10-minute production in 1999 titled Tangier Island: Faith-Based Stewardship supported by Au Sable Institute. Tensions ran very high during and after the stewardship initiative and it was no small task for us to interview many of the opponents who had fostered a “witch-trial-like” atmosphere. Not only had I received death threats placed over watermen’s CB radios, but I was also accused of being a “beguiler” at a final public meeting, answering questions by suspicious islanders. Later, with Jeffrey as producer and me as the interviewer and fundraiser, we told the story in more detail in a 25-minute Between Heaven and Earth (2001) film for Wisconsin Public Television supported by the Sumner T. McKnight Foundation and the Debley Foundation. Wisconsin PBS was at first very skeptical of being associated with a faith-based showing, especially a Christian-based effort, but we convinced them otherwise by asking the question, “If the University of Wisconsin’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies supported the doctoral research, why wouldn’t PBS?” Between Heaven and Earth continues to be shown after 10 years on Maryland PBS and Wisconsin PBS stations. It may well be one of the longest running PBS documentaries in PBS’s history.

In 2002 the Tangier Stewardship leaders and I decided to reach out to Pennsylvania and Maryland farmers with their faith-based stewardship story. Kara Unger Ball was already beginning a faith-based stewardship outreach effort to farmers and landowners in Clearville, Pennsylvania, under the auspices of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, led by Larry Schweiger. Jeffrey and I decided to film the watermen-to-farmer outreach event. Jeffrey met with the Hallmark Channel officials who said they would like to see a 50-minute film combining the Tangier watermen and Pennsylvania farmer stewardship efforts. When Heaven Meets Earth was produced in 2007 under the new auspices of the Center for Law and Culture with support from the Debley Foundation and the Bradshaw-Knight Foundation. By the time the film was produced, however, leadership had changed at Hallmark Channel and lack of support caused the film to lie dormant. In 2008 and 2009, the Bradshaw-Knight Foundation provided grants for marketing of the film leading to the creation of this website, copies of the DVDs and the educational user guide.

In 2005, I was asked by the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, in conjunction with EPA, the Blacks of the Chesapeake and NAACP, to develop a third faith-based stewardship initiative in Berlin, Maryland. This effort involved bringing together federal, state and local officials with key non-profit leaders and community church leaders to develop a faith-based environmental and economic stewardship effort that would also promote racial reconciliation. After a year of work, I asked Jeffrey to film the first meeting of all the important players. In 2007 Faith Based Stewardship Spreads to Urban and Suburban Communities was produced with the hope of it providing the impetus for foundations to fund the second half of the effort. We are still waiting for funding to complete the effort. Meanwhile, a sociology professor and his class at the University of Maryland—Eastern Shore, a predominately African-American school, were to carry out an ethnographic study based on the faith-based stewardship ethnographic approach. We do not, however, have information as to whether that study was ever completed.

Comments are closed.