Over the past 20 years First Mennonite Indianapolis member John Marquis has paddled over 2,000 miles of Indiana rivers. He says the environment has changed before his eyes: later snowfalls, rainier Springs, hotter Summers, and trees lost to invasive pests have all become increasingly common.

These changes don’t just concern him from a paddlers perspective; for Marquis, it’s also a matter of Faith. 

H-IPL: How does your personal experience of faith influence your relationship with the natural world and your views on environmental issues?

Marquis: …We have a God that created the Universe, and that’s beyond our imagination. We have no way of understanding how any being could be so powerful and so vast as to create the Universe. We are finding more and more planets and stars all the time. The Earth is 4.3 billion years old and there hasn’t been any new water on Earth that anyone can detect since… four billion years ago.

Marquis: So I have this feeling when I am in a river that dinosaurs drank that same water, penguins swam in that water. I could go from where I’m sitting in my canoe to the edges of Antarctica. It’s limitless, as is God. It helps me to try and understand the vastness of God by comparing God to something I’m touching. And God is touching me; He’s given me a good life.

                   The constellation “Orion’s Belt”

Marquis: Still, there’s only so much water. The theory is- do you know some constellations?

H-IPL: A couple, I could pick out maybe Orion’s Belt and the Dippers.

Marquis: So the theory is the middle of those three stars – the belt buckle – spews water. We don’t know how or why, but it spews water into space. So at least some of our water may have come from Orion.

H-IPL: That’s… amazing.

Marquis: I was totally dumbstruck by it too.

Marquis says his love for the natural world began when he joined the Boy Scouts as a child. As an adult he entered the field of construction engineering, where he helped engineer wastewater treatment plants. He says it was there he saw the critical role water systems play in improving public life. 

“We are sensitive to a tablespoon of mercury in Lake Michigan,” Marquis said, “There is no life without water.”

Wetlands are crucial to regulating water quality, protecting cities from flooding, creating a variety of animal habitats, and supporting recreational tourism in Indiana. That is why the recent passing of Senate Bill 389, which repealed major protections for Indiana wetlands, has outraged so many Hoosiers. Marquis was among those who spoke out against the legislation. 

“We put up a fight, we wrote letters…but the developers gave money, so we now have the ability to drain more wetlands in Indiana, which is an injury to our water systems,” Marquis said, “You gotta either give up, or go down to the statehouse and yell until someone gives us a fair chance to vote.”

While the battle for Indiana’s waters plays out, environmental activists continue their work where they can.

First Mennonite Indianapolis congregants celebrating their solar installation 

Marquis is active in his congregation’s effort to become more sustainable. In addition to educating Indiana youth about climate change, Marquis has spent the past several years advocating for a transition to solar energy with his fellow First Mennonite congregants. 

As of May 24, 2021, First Mennonite Indianapolis has attained 100% solar energy. The array saved 7,104 pounds in CO2 emissions – the equivalent of planting 53 new trees – in it’s first month. While there are countless environmental issues that remain to be tackled in Indiana, many Hoosiers of faith are taking Creation Care into their own hands with projects like this.

“You gotta pay attention and you gotta do something,” Marquis said, “Everyone can do something. If you can’t interest people in their own future, then you aren’t trying hard enough.”