Transcendent Legacies

Kris Stoever works to push her community toward a brave, new frontier

Many kids idolize their fathers growing up, thinking their dad is the best father in the world. With her own dad, one of NASA’s first astronauts to orbit the earth, Kris Stoever could claim hers as the best father in the world—and in space.  “My mom,” Kris adds, “is pretty great, too.”

From an early age, Kris had a rare, personal window into pioneering spaceflight. Her parents were celebrated on LIFE magazine covers, and the four Carpenter children were the first astronaut kids to witness their father’s launch, live from the beach.  The Carpenter family’s postflight trip to the Kennedy White House is a treasured childhood memory. Absent for this White House ritual, Mrs. Kennedy extended a second, private lunch invitation to the Carpenter girls and their mother the following week.

Growing up near Houston as part of a young NASA community of research administrators, rocket scientists, and the first astronauts, Kris learned, better than many ever could, that the limits and boundaries of the possible can be broken and transcended. If spaceflight was a kind of family business, then there was practically nothing she couldn’t take on.

She took her parents’ example of service to country—in the United States Navy and at NASA—deeply to heart. As a member of the next generation, Kris would serve, too, for other powerful causes. Living and traveling abroad in the 1980s, in Southeast Asia, Kris saw smoking mountains of refuse maintained by crowds of small children, political repression, extreme poverty, and popular revolution first hand. Abroad, Kris gained a deeper appreciation for the power wielded by people of faith. It was there she came to believe that people of faith, working together, could be powerful forces for systemic change.

Armed with a spirit of service (and an impulse to improve things), Kris sought to break barriers in causes closer to home than, say, outer space. At the Cathedral of Saint John in the Wilderness, on Capitol Hill, where Kris has been a longtime parishioner, she seized on opportunities to improve the local food system. Beginning with the food waste in the Cathedral’s busy kitchen (“You can never,” Kris says, “un-see food waste,”), she arranged for the commercial composting of the Cathedral’s food waste, which had been going to landfill. She then introduced internal processes for single-stream recycling at Saint John’s. “A work in progress,” she says, looking through one blue “We Recycle” bin with alarm.

Kris then offered the Cathedral as a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) host site. “We were the perfect CSA site for Capitol Hill,” she explains. “With our parking lot and enclosed gardens, Saint John’s could easily host dozens of CSA shares and support local farmers.” But with 50+ shareholders during the summer come orphaned shares, and more opportunity to give. “Our first or second year, we were donating more than a thousand pounds of local, just-harvested produce to Metro Caring,” the well-known hunger-relief agency just a few blocks away.

After forming the Cathedral Co-Operative of Gardeners to help with the work (“We’re gleaners as much as we are gardeners,” Kris explains), came introductions to the awesome Dana Miller and Barbara Masoner of Grow Local Colorado.

A collaborative new partnership was launched. Kris and a Saint John’s team of urban gardeners and gleaners now oversee several grow-and-share gardens. They observe a schedule for watering, tending, and harvesting vegetables on the grounds of the Cathedral, at the Grow Local Colorado food gardens at the Governor's Mansion. They help out as needed at Morey Middle School's DUG Community Garden. On Sunday, parishioners  tote in bagsful of produce from their own backyards and fruit trees for Monday morning delivery to Metro Caring.  “People want to help,” Kris explains, “and we make it easy and fun to be a part of the effort.” They’ve even recruited honeybees to help. In 2015 several beehives will be living and working atop the Cathedral, pollinating Capitol Hill and producing honey for the annual Saint John’s Mother’s Day Plant Market.

Growing for Tomorrow

What’s next for the hunger-relief effort at Saint John’s? “We’re growing the ‘growing and sharing’ ministry,” Kris says. An energized Cathedral recently formed a Faith in Action ministry and is folding in Kris’s groups and the members of the Women’s Homeless Initiative (Saint John’s is the Monday night WHI shelter). “We need to recruit more helpers for both.” In 2014, she brokered a landscape design from Denver Urban Gardens for a Cathedral Learning Garden, which would span the south lawn that runs alongside Thirteenth Avenue. Working with Metro Caring and its Seeds for Success program, Saint John’s hopes to offer more than a dozen raised beds to Metro Caring guest gardeners. Although the Cathedral has yet to break ground, Kris hopes these urban plots will be growing spaces for those with no gardens of their own. They will supplement their food budget, work alongside Saint John’s gardeners, rest in the shade of an elderly red oak, and learn from each other.

As the ministry leader for hunger relief at the Cathedral, Kris works directly with visionary community partners to move her faith community and others beyond charity and toward models that support and bring about the transformation of neighborhoods. Like her parents, Kris is all about breaking down conventions and breaking through barriers. “We have something we call ‘Cathedral time’ at Saint John’s,” Kris observes with some chagrin, “But that’s the way with most institutions. Change doesn’t take place at the speed of sound.” But with enough persistence, good change can come.

With her new Faith in Action ministry, Kris is hoping to learn from other communities of faith and to bring the food movement lessons to the Mainline denominations. And thanks to Kris, Denver’s local food community gets a powerful boost—and a nudge into the mainstream of Denver’s faith communities.