Green Stewards

 

Southwest congregations taking a stand on the environment

A new green streak is sprouting from the pews of some Southwest congregations.

As evidence of global climate change becomes more visible, churches and synagogues across the country are starting to preach the importance of environmental stewardship.

About 250 congregations statewide had members recently sign up to host screenings of “An Inconvenient Truth,” Al Gore’s documentary on climate change.

And in Southwest, congregations are inviting guest speakers, erecting solar panels and preaching energy efficiency with an urgency never seen before.

“I think there’s been a clear shift of consciousness,” said Terry Gips, a member of Temple Israel, at 2324 Emerson Ave. S. in East Isles, and co-founder of Minnesota’s Congregations Caring for Creation. “This is a huge, exciting change that’s going on.”

Ten solar panels recently installed on the temple’s roof help power the lights in the sanctuary, including its tamid – the altar’s perpetually burning flame. It’s switching to less-toxic cleaning supplies and asking worshipers to do the same at home. And it’s working with other Jewish institutions to reduce the amount of trash they generate.

At St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church, 4537 3rd Ave. S. in the Regina neighborhood, an “eco-spirituality” committee is working to convince enough members to sign up to pay wind-power premiums on their utility bills that the congregation’s contributions will total the equivalent of a new wind turbine. It’s about halfway to its goal of 500 participants.

Members of First Universalist Church, at 3400 Dupont Ave. S. in CARAG, organize an annual Earth Day celebration, wherein they host a speaker and fill their social hall with exhibits on global warming and eco-friendly products. The church is also developing an environmental library collection.

Tom Smith-Myott, a coordinator for the St. Joan of Arc committee, said the church’s commitment to environmental causes dovetails with its efforts on social justice issues.

“It’s a justice issue because the people who are most impacted by the degradation of the environment are the poor,” Smith-Myott said. “They live in the areas that tend to get hit the hardest, and it’s in their neighborhoods that we tend to dump toxic waste.”

Global warming is already bringing serious consequences to impoverished parts of the world, said Sean Gosiewski, a coordinator with Congregations Caring for Creation, a national organization with a Minnesota chapter. Water supplies are evaporating in parts of Africa, and tropical storms are intensifying in the Caribbean. Combine these impacts with Hurricane Katrina and a slew of documentary films and it’s changing the way religious people think about the planet.

“As people of faith, we’re attuned to the needs of the disadvantaged. We’re seeing poor people being affected by global warming, in New Orleans and Africa, and we feel like we have to respond,” Gosiewski said.

Congregations Caring for Creation formed a Minnesota chapter in 2004 and had 50 religious institutions as members at the beginning of this summer. A booth at this year’s State Fair attracted members of another 200 congregations to register their interest.

But the faithful haven’t always thought of environmental issues as some are now.

“People did not see this as a faith, justice or spiritual issue, but it’s all three,” said Smith-Myott. “We were voices in the wilderness for a bunch of years.”

Gips said some religious leaders, particularly Jewish, Catholic and Lutheran, have been involved in green issues since the energy crisis of the 1970s, but the mainstream masses only embraced the message in the past couple years.

More remarkable, Gips said, has been the involvement of Evangelical leaders – some of whom previously dismissed global warming with arguments that it didn’t matter because the apocalypse would be coming soon anyway.

“When you have people like Pat Robertson saying global climate change is real and we need to do something about it, that’s a real shift,” Gips said.

The shift is translating into ongoing programs, activities and workshops aimed at lessening the impact of congregations on the environment. Some in Minneapolis are working toward becoming “carbon neutral” congregations. Using the Minneapolis Energy Challenge website, members are pledging to individually reduce their energy use enough to offset all of the energy used to operate the congregation’s building.

Several churches are promoting the use of compact fluorescent light bulbs and other energy-saving products.

“The Earth is God’s good creation, and it’s a gift to us,” Smith-Myott said. “We’re accountable for how we treat this gift.”

 

Dan Haugen can be reached at [email protected] or 436-5088.