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.
Trinity Presbyterian Church in East Brunswick, NJ has about 350 members, is located about 45 minutes from New York City, and integrates care for all God’s earth into all facets of their ministry. When the church was brainstorming about missional foci a number of years ago, including issues such as hunger and peacemaking, at first people thought environmental concerns were more peripheral to the church’s mission, reports Debbie O’Halloran, the chair of Trinity’s Earth Shepherds. “However, we then did the study,” she says, “and then realized none of the other problems could be fixed unless we addressed the environmental issues. In the end we unanimously decided this was the route to go.”
In addition to the fact that the congregation discerned that all other areas of concern were affected by environmental concerns, the church was trying to find something that everyone of all different ages could embrace. The church wanted something that even home-bound members could participate in and feel a part of, as they did recycling of newspapers in their own homes, for instance.
O’Halloran shares that the church started with basic things, “recycling and educating the congregation on different issues.” When the Earth Shepherds got to a point when “the congregation got so interested and we couldn’t go any further because our knowledge wasn’t any stronger,” the church connected with PCUSA Earth Care Congregations as well as a NJ organization called GreenFaith (and now operates nationally, too). “Both led us to things we needed to explore and gave is a pathway to follow,” O’Halloran offered. The church has changed light bulbs, gone to china and glassware instead of disposable dishes—using the dishwasher that has sat unused for 40 years!
The community realized how deeply the impact the Earth Shepherds were having on the congregation when one of the church’s youth hit Eagle Scout age and decided to build a community garden while another church member decided to also plan a very large butterfly garden. “We realized the earth care work really made an impact on the church and they heard the message and were translating it into action,” says O’Halloran.
Trinity Presbyterian Church also hosted a green conference for members of the presbytery, has numerous lunch-and-learn programs with environmental speakers, and opens the fall church year with an outdoor worship service. The spring brings an environmental fair and a special Earth Day event.
In terms of broader impact, O’Halloran reports, “We have had members join because of the green component in the church, that I do know.” And, the gardens that have come out of the environmental education in the church are also providing deeper, enriching connections for current church members.
When asked for advice for others, O’Halloran shares, “Spread the responsibility! The way that we got as much accomplished as we did was each commission in the church took responsibility (property and finance took charge of the facilities, deacons took responsibility for the fair trade coffee for coffee hour, etc). Everyone has ownership of it, and this work is one of the areas that has really brought us all together, and we all feel a part of it.”
* * *
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).