Eco-Journey is the blog of the Environmental Ministries Office of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). It includes a wide array of environmental topics: upcoming environmental events, links to interesting articles and studies, information on environmental advocacy, eco-theology topics, and success stories from churches that are going “green.”
Author Rebecca Barnes is the Associate for Environmental Ministries at the PC(USA). She is a graduate of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary with an MDiv and Master of Arts in Religion (MAR) dual degree.
“Our faith tradition teaches us that the earth and all creation are God’s, and that God calls us to be careful, humble stewards of this earth, to protect and restore it for it’s own sake, and for the future use and enjoyment of the human family, " says co-pastor Sue Lowcock Harris, of First Presbyterian Church of Howard County (Columbia, MD). "We have pledged to do this through our worship, our facilities management, our educational activities, and outreach ministries. We believe in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., that ‘our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter to us.’”
First Presbyterian Church of Howard County takes this call seriously, in all aspects of being church. Every worship service has some element noticing God’s earth or praising God for God's good creation, in a song or announcement or prayer. The church hosts a Blessing of the Animals, an outside sunrise service, and made an outdoor labyrinth for walking prayer and meditation.
As is true with many who participated in the 2010 pilot program for today’s Earth Care Congregations, church members at First Presbyterian Church of Howard County have long been engaged in environmental issues. “Our work in this space wasn’t new to us five years ago. As a church, we had been discussing environmental issues for what seemed like forever. We did, however, decide that we needed to take a more active role in doing something about these issues. The Presbytery of Baltimore extended an invitation for our congregation to participate in the Earth Care Congregation pilot program, which was a natural fit for us,” said Nancy Fayer, Coordinator of First Presbyterian Church of Howard County’s Earth Care Team and The Earth Forum.
The church took action in two distinct ways – through the development of an Earth Care team, which focuses on the church facilities and property, and through the creation of the Earth Forum of Howard County, which provides community-wide programming focused on issues that relate to climate change and sustainability.
The Earth Care team quickly began its work and focused on advocacy and education and the development of a seven-step storm water management plan for the church, aimed at reducing the pollution that ended up in the nearby bay. Plans included the implementation of an infiltration trench, the development of a conservation landscaping garden and rain garden, and the installation of a dry creek bed, urban tree canopy and green roof on the church property.
Another key element of the plan focused on church and community education, and the creation of the Earth Forum of Howard County, which brings together environmental groups, faith communities, and government agencies for civil and informed discussion to address climate change, promote sustainable living and develop communities of cooperation through education, ideas and action. Four members of the Earth Care Team plan and organize programs that are offered to more than twenty-five congregations and community organizations each month.
Seeing a need and feeling a sense of urgency to address environmental issues, First Presbyterian Church of Howard County has spent the past five years building a community of dedicated and engaged people who come together around these issues. “We’ve managed to connect with our congregation and the community in a new way. We’ve learned and grown as a church, and we feel blessed that we’ve been able to have an impact locally. Our work as an Earth Care Congregation has helped our church better understand the importance of recognizing the interconnectivity of ecosystems, and to understand that the faith-based nature of our work is vital to the discussion and success of our program. The Forum has also provided us with a unique opportunity to embrace interfaith work in a new way as we connect with our brothers and sisters from a variety of faith traditions and work together toward our common goals,” she adds.
To learn more about First Presbyterian Church of Howard County, visit http://www.firstpreshc.org. To learn more about Earth Care Congregations and the Environmental Ministries of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), visit https://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/environment.
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There are currently 140 certified PCUSA Earth Care Congregations. For the initial year of certification, each church fills out a congregational audit, gains session approval of an “Earth Care pledge,” and has an earth care team of some sort. This first year of certification often means that a church has been working to integrate care for God’s creation into its ministry for a number of months or years prior to certifying. Each additional year of recertification requires the congregation to both continue and to grow their efforts at integrating creation care into the life of the church. Begun in 2010, this PCUSA certification program has 14 churches now entering their 5th year of certification.
The "5th year certified" churches are: Light Street Presbyterian Church (Baltimore, MD), Trinity Presbyterian Church (East Brunswick, NJ), Bardstown Road Presbyterian Church (Louisville, KY), Church of Reconciliation (Chapel Hill, NC), Montevallo Presbyterian Church (Montevallo, AL), St. Andrews Presbyterian Church (Tucker, GA), Second Presbyterian Church (Little Rock, AR), Maryland Presbyterian Church (Towson, MD), First Presbyterian Church of Howard County (Columbia, MD), North Como Presbyterian Church (Roseville, MN), First Presbyterian Church (Cottage Grove, OR), Swarthmore Presbyterian Church (Swarthmore, PA), St. Andrews Presbyterian Church (Kilmarnock, VA) and Frame Memorial Presbyterian Church (Stevens Point, WI).