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.
Curtis Brown, the coordinator of the Earth Care team at Light Street Presbyterian Church, has been helping out for 15 years with the brainstorming and physical aspect of creation care projects, whether it’s gardening, moving things around, or changing lightbulbs. More recently though, as he’s become coordinator for the committee, he obtained a file of all the great work this small congregation has accomplished in caring for the earth. He is being reminded of, and re-energized for, all the many environmental stewardship initiatives that have been a great success for Light Street Presbyterian Church.
This congregation was certified, like the other 13 congregations who are celebrating their “5th anniversary” of certification, in 2010 (the first year that PCUSA Earth Care Congregations were established). As a congregation that is blessed with a number of members with gifts and interests in sustainability, the Earth Care team has been active both inside the church walls (green architecture and renovations) as well as outside the church walls (maintaining gardens and reaching out to the community).
Many years back, as a relatively new member, Brown first understood the church as both welcoming and willing to take seriously God’s call to care for the earth when he made a suggestion about going with green architecture, at a church-wide exploratory meeting about adding onto the back of the church (which would have taken out the back yard area). His question about green architecture was taken seriously and the congregation, after exploring additional options, decided to switch to a green architect. For Brown, who got rid of his car 15 years ago and has since bicycled everywhere he goes in Baltimore, the church’s commitment to earth care was important.
Other examples of Light Street’s commitment to earth care are: redesigning the garden to include native plants and plants that don’t need constant care and watering, redesigning permeable garden pathways so that storm-water may filter down into the ground, having an energy audit completed by the electrical company and then acting on the recommendations, including motion-sensor lights, energy efficient lightbulbs, energy efficient heat and air conditioning systems, and air handlers that can heat/cool separate rooms (rather than the whole building).
The church also studies sustainability, lifestyle simplicity, and other relevant topics in educational settings. Creation care is a part of the worship life of Light Street Presbyterian Church as well, as their pastor incorporates biblical and theological themes about God’s care for the earth into worship and offers services such as a “Blessing of the Animals” worship service.
A recent project that had some fun, good energy was taking a (paper!) calendar and writing on it the various dates throughout the year where people can learn more, participate in, or pray for local, regional, national or international focus days, like World Water Day. Hanging on the bulletin board in Fellowship Hall, this calendar gives church members an opportunity to peruse upcoming events while drinking coffee after church. While living in a technological age, this physical and tangible reminder of the church’s connection to worldwide events was appreciated.
For the immediately surrounding community, perhaps one of the more noticeable projects in the neighborhood is the bike rack the church put out front. Brown explains, “It’s kind of like a symbol. It sits right there in front of the church. People in the community use it. There are restaurants and bookstores nearby. Now, the city has put in more racks, and local businesses too, and they all kind of match ours.”
Light Street Presbyterian Church also connects with area organizations. Blue Water Baltimore came to the church to do a water assessment on the church and offer suggestions for improvements. Even with small recommendations, like adding a rain barrel to the property, “it is important, that we all get started and continue to build in this area, in our lives at church and elsewhere.” In addition to connecting to area water resources, the Earth Care team is also sitting in on local conversations with Bikeshare (for possible placement of a bikeshare station at church) and Real Food Farms (initially utilizing their community composting services).
Now, as the church is discerning its way forward with their New Beginnings process, the congregation will look at these and other strengths as well as growing areas for spiritual development, equipping leaders, connecting with the community, and providing for the community’s spiritual needs.
Of the national PCUSA program, Brown says, “the Earth Care certification gives a really nice spread of different kinds of activities and engagement that a church could look at for growing each year. Every year when we pick the application up, it’s nice to refresh ourselves on the areas we haven’t delved into yet.”
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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 13 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).