Five years after it began, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Earth Care Congregations program is celebrating 14 churches that have demonstrated a commitment to caring for God’s creation.

To be certified as an Earth Care Congregation, churches complete projects in four areas: worship, education, facilities and outreach. These activities can range from the simple — displaying an earth-themed banner during worship — to the more involved, such as establishing a wildlife habitat on church grounds. Each activity is assigned a point value; churches must earn 100 points to be certified as an Earth Care Congregation for one year. After a year, churches can complete new projects to get recertified.

About 140 churches get recertified every year, said Rebecca Barnes, associate for environmental ministries with the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

“The churches feel really affirmed to be connected to the national church and recognized for their work that could really feel unseen,” she said.

The 14 congregations being recognized this year have been certified for five years, since the program began. They vary in size and location, but have one thing in common: lay leaders who are passionate about caring for God’s earth, Barnes said.

“They feel really committed to connecting their faith with the way they live in the world,” she said.

Although the Earth Care Congregations program hasn’t changed much since its founding, Barnes has seen an increase in environmentalism across the denomination, especially among youth and young adults.

“Churches are very excited about this,” she said. “Connecting it to faith has been really powerful for people.”

“Our faith urges us to strive for eco-justice: defending and healing creation while working to assure justice for all of creation and the human beings who live in it. This call is rooted in the human vocation of “tilling and keeping” the garden from Genesis 2:15, as well as Christ’s charge to work with and for the most vulnerable,” states the Earth Care Congregations guide.

In 1990, the 202nd General Assembly adopted Restoring Creation for Ecology and Justice, a report that calls the PC(USA) to greater environmental stewardship. One of first steps to becoming an Earth Care Congregation is to commit to the Earth Care Pledge, which states that a congregation will take earth care into account when making decisions. The pledge is based on the 1990 report.

“There’s real value in this,” Barnes said. “We have policy and theology behind this work that you feel called to do because of your faith.”

The Earth Care Congregations program can serve as a form of evangelism for participating churches, many of whom display their certification on their websites or even on reusable grocery bags. Participants can also connect with other eco-focused congregations via a map on the Earth Care Congregations webpage, allowing them to find encouragement, support and new ideas.

“The PC(USA) is a connectional church, and connecting our own faith life to the rest of God’s creation is a vital way we practice discipleship,” Barnes said.

The Environmental Ministries Office is highlighting the

The 14 congregations celebrating their five-year certification as Earth Care Congregations are below. The Environmental Ministries Office is highlighting each congregation on its blog this summer.