Program History

During the 2000-2001 academic year, the Center invited a group of educators to participate in a series of retreats with cultural historian Thomas Berry (The Dream of the Earth) and writer/educator Richard Lewis (Living by Wonder) entitled “The Biological Imperative: Nature, Education and Imagination.” These retreats marked the beginning of our work with educators in which we considered the question “Can we establish a new form of dialogue between ourselves and the extraordinary phenomena that make up our living universe?”

From 2002-2006, the Center offered a yearlong intensive program for educators entitled “The Seventh Generation Teachers’ Program.” Through a series of three annual retreats, teachers shared their own ecostories, kept a nature journal, and transferred new ways of listening and responding to the natural world to their practice as teachers. Seventy-nine teachers participated in this program during its first four years.

During the fall of 2006, our work with educators took the form of a new two-year program, “The Inner Life of the Child in Nature: Presence and Practice,” funded by a grant from the Compton Foundation. This co-research program continues with the support of the Kalliopeia Foundation and attracts educators from all over the country. The Center also offers a “Being, Beholding, Belonging” program that introduces educators to our eco-contemplative practices for children and young adults.

The Center’s Programs for children and young adults have served over 10,000 young people from more than 50 public and private schools in the foothills of North Carolina since the Center’s inception in the fall of 2000. The Center’s approach to working “small and deep” with children and young adults has been realized in offerings such as “Awakening to Nature,” “Empathetic Listening,” “The Poetry of Nature,” “Native American Journeys,” “Children of the Forest,” “Families of the Forest,” and our one-week Thomas Berry Summer Programs for Children.

In the fall of 2004, the Center initiated Special Design programs for schools and groups. Through programs tailored to the needs of a particular learning community, the Center has created a wide range of Special Design Programs for schools, churches, and universities that bring children, young adults and educators into a deep personal connection to the natural world. These programs offer many possibilities for educators to partner with the Center in creating a compassionate human presence to the Earth.

The Center publishes a biannual newsletter, Chrysalis, which reaches an international audience. Published since the fall of 2004, Chrysalis is a forum where thoughts on the relationship between the inner life of the child and the natural world are exchanged, as well as a vehicle for making Center programs visible to the general public.

The Center was invited to make a presentation about its “Inner Life of the Child in Nature” program at the Child/Spirit Conference in Chattanooga, Tennessee on November 8, 2007. In recognition of its distinguished service in carrying forward the work of Thomas Berry, the Center was awarded the Thomas Berry Award by the Greensboro Public Library on November 10, 2007.

In the summer of 2008, the Center was featured in a North Carolina Public Television segment of Simple Living on the child’s relationship with the natural world that included interviews with Thomas Berry, Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, and Joseph Cornell, author of Sharing Nature with Children, Journey to the Heart of Nature, and Listening to Nature.

The Center’s first book, Only the Sacred: Transforming Education in the Twenty-First Century, was published in the autumn of 2011. A collection of articles by 23 educators, Only the Sacred explores fundamental questions of our time, presents a path of inner schooling for educators, and offers practices where we see a new understanding of a sacred universe actualized in diverse educational settings from pre-school to college.

In 2012, Center Founder Carolyn Toben published Recovering a Sense of the Sacred: Conversations with Thomas Berry - a memoir that grew out of her companionship with Thomas Berry during the last ten years of his life.

In 2014, the Center created a performance piece, “The Meadow Across the Creek: Words from Thomas Berry,” for the Thomas Berry Centennial in Greensboro, NC. And in 2015, the Center launched its Emergence Series of publications.

“Fulfillment . . . continues to find expression in our children running through the meadows, wading in the creeks, playing with animals, or simply sitting with utmost satisfaction in a backyard puddle experiencing the cooling delight of such an environment on a summer day. Such is the beginning of education, of aesthetic experience, of physical vigor, of acquaintance with the universe. Ultimately, it is the awakening of the universe to itself.”

~Thomas Berry, Evening Thoughts