Congregations Go Green with Creation Care

Environmental Commentary by Nina Beth Cardin

On a brisk day a few weeks ago, by the meandering banks of Langford Creek on the Chesapeake Bay’ Eastern Shore, a group of about 50 environmentalists and people of faith gathered to learn, be inspired by and support one another.

We spoke of nature and spirit, Genesis and creation, stormwater and the Bay, fees and regulations, imperatives and costs, incentives and barriers. Most of all, we spoke of what we as members of faith communities could and must do to realign our values and behaviors with the rhythm of creation. We learned that more was happening on the denominational and congregational levels than any one of us knew. And we proposed to promote both the awareness and practice of such behaviors throughout the Bay watershed’s faith communities.

Many of these efforts are worthy of emulation. The Virginia Methodist Conference, for example, is the first Methodist region anywhere with a full-time creation care ministry, Caretakers of God’s Creation. While Virginia has been its geographical center, this ministry is now expanding to encompass the global Methodist community.

Under its leadership, The River Road United Methodist Church in Richmond has planted a community garden, several fruit trees and developed a Bay-friendly master landscape plan.

In May 2011, a team of young adults from various United Methodist churches in the Virginia Conference spent five days hiking the Appalachian Trail and canoeing the Shenandoah River on a “Sojourn to Sacredness” learning about water quality and aquatic health.

Similar energy is found in the Unitarian Universalist Church. One in four UU congregations throughout the country are engaging in Green Sanctuary work, including the UU of the Chester River.

Guided by their Seventh Principle which asserts: “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part” and amid other green initiatives including local eating and responsible pest management, the Chester River congregation, which is an official Green Sanctuary, is heeding the call to celebrate the sacred waters that sustain us all and committing to “40 days of actions that will make our world more just.”

In Baltimore County, the Chesapeake Covenant Community (with the support of a grant from the Chesapeake Bay Trust) is partnering with the county’s Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability to help three congregations explore ways to make their acres of land more stormwater resilient and Bay-friendly. The lessons of this pilot initiative will be replicable as a public/private partnership throughout the Bay watershed.

In Baltimore City, Bolton Street Synagogue, in partnership with their local watershed group, Blue Water Baltimore, and their neighborhood association, and with funding from the Chesapeake Bay Trust, removed 3,380 square feet of impervious surface; installed and restored 200 linear feet of streamside trail and planted 250 square feet of conservation landscaping. All told, this is expected to lead to an annual removal of 265,750 gallons of stormwater from the Baltimore storm drain system.

In the District of Columbia, a class of the National Capital Region Watershed Stewards Academy converted 400 square feet of land around the Washington City Church of the Brethren into conservation landscaping, which will be watered by the 50-gallon rain barrel they also installed there. This follows a 650-gallon cistern installed earlier on the property through a District Department of the Environment grant.

In Prince George’s County, members of the Watershed Stewardship Academy faith-based course testified in favor of the passage of a stormwater retrofit incentive program that already benefitted communities in Montgomery County and DC. The bill passed unanimously.

In Annapolis, St Mary’s Parish’s Environmental Stewardship Committee worked with the Spa Creek Conservancy to retrofit the church’s largest parking lot with nine rain gardens to manage stormwater from its roofs and surface parking.

On Church Creek in Dorchester County, 300-year-old Trinity Church, with funding from the Chesapeake Bay Trust and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, protected 750 linear feet of riverbank with a living shoreline. In the process, they built 26,000 square feet of new and restored marshland, arresting and reversing the erosion that stripped away part of their land, including part of their historic cemetery.

There are more than 370,000 congregations in the United States. Given the density of the Northeast, it is safe to assume there may be 100,000 in our Chesapeake Bay watershed. If all of us engaged in and promoted more sustainable living, we could have an enormous positive impact on all our local waters, land use, personal and public health and the Bay.

Here is what every house of worship can do:

1) Make greening an explicit part of its mission

2) Create a team of congregants and staff to guide the work to realize this mission

3) Create, implement and complete an action plan: Core areas would include worship, study, sustainable living and advocacy

4) Encourage and assist its members in pursuing sustainable living in their personal and professional lives

Now’s the time. Let’s get to work.

Nina Beth Cardin is the Chair of the Chesapeake Covenant Community, an interfaith organization working on behalf of the earth and all life in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Distributed by Bay Journal News Service.

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