Nearly 50 individuals learned about everything from harnessing the sun's energy to engaging young people in eco-friendly efforts February 7 at the Center for the Environment's Faith, Spirituality and Environmental Stewardship Workshop. Participants drove as much as two hours to the Catawba College campus to gather information they could take back to their faith communities.
"This workshop and others scheduled for March 14 and April 18 have been designed to offer people who have implemented green projects the opportunity to share their experience with those who want to learn more," said Dr. John Wear, executive director of the Center for the Environment. "Calling on the expertise of those in the trenches is proving to be an effective way of sharing best practices."
Facilitators guided discussions on four topics at the first workshop: Less is More – auditing and conserving water and electricity; Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rethink – lowering your waste, buying less and finding alternatives to "stuff"; Green Kids – getting youth involved and invested in green efforts; Runnin' on Sunshine – investigating, funding and implementing solar and other renewables; and Teaming Up for the Earth – starting and maintaining a Green Team.
Center Development Coordinator Dolly Farrell, who facilitated the "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" discussion, noted that the participants in her group learned a great deal from Kate Green of Myers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte. "That congregation has been doing an amazing job for more than a decade," Farrell said. "They are way ahead of the environmental stewardship curve."
Green noted that the Myers Park Baptist environmental stewardship group, called Earth Keepers, has been meeting weekly for 12 years. She is also a Greenfaith Fellow, a member of a national non-profit group that trains clergy and lay people on environmental stewardship. "We gather together as faith communities and examine our sacred texts to see how all the sacred texts talk about caring for creation," Green said.
She was delighted to see the age diversity and the different faiths represented at the Center's workshop. "We had about four high school students in our group," she said. "I just lit up when I heard these young people talking about how they felt about caring for the earth."
Green thinks it is important to "connect the dots" between social justice and environmental justice. "To me, that's the big message," she said. "If you care about poor people, you care about where they live and the air they breathe."
Participant Jeff Austin shared his experience leading a project to ban Styrofoam in the Wells Fargo corporate office in Charlotte. Participants asked him about alternatives to the environmentally detrimental material, how much the alternatives cost and where they can be purchased.
Dr. Ken Clapp, senior vice president and chaplain at Catawba, shared his decades-long experience motivating young people in the session called "Green Kids." "We don't get any group – youth or otherwise – really committed and engaged unless they understand a reason for doing so," he said.
The students' level of spiritual development determines the approach to take in getting them engaged in environmental concerns, Clapp said. "If they really want to live according to what their faith commands them to do, you can make the case that we are stewards of God's creation and we do this out of our love for God.
"But for those who are not there yet, sometimes it takes the form of getting them to understand that our failure to conserve and preserve the environment will result in those we care about and future generations not having the comforts of life or even possibly the necessities," he said. "The students can see that there's something beyond the immediate that offers a compelling reason for doing it."
Mark Ritchie, a member of St. John's Lutheran Church in Salisbury, was drawn to the workshop because he knew about the quality of the Center's programs and he has a keen interest in faith and the environment. "I had attended the original Faith, Spirituality and Environmental Stewardship Conference at the Center years ago, and I have always had a personal connection between those topics," he said. "I believe it is part of our faith responsibility to be environmentally conscious."
Ritchie participated in the "Runnin' on Sunshine" session, which focused on solar energy. "I have an interest in photovoltaic panels for our home as well as the opportunities that exist for our church," he said. "We have a lot of flat roof in our educational building, and I believe installing [solar panels] is the right thing to do if the strategies can be identified."
Another member of the solar energy group, Chatham Olive, shared his considerable expertise on solar energy with Ritchie and others. "He was well aware of all the tax credit strategies," Ritchie said, "and how a church can capitalize on tax credits to make [the installation of photovoltaic panels] a good economic decision in addition to the environmental stewardship it offers."
The workshop on March 14 will focus on these topics: Green Gardens, Green Food – starting a community garden; Go Green, Save Greenbacks – learning about inexpensive ways to green your congregation that pay off quickly; and Teaching and Preaching Green – sending a green message through sermons, religious education and special events.
A plenary session, titled "Campaign for Clean Air: Planning and implementing initiatives for your congregation using the resources provided by the Campaign for Clean Air," will be held after the other sessions.
The Center is soliciting topics of interest from the workshop participants for the April 18 workshop. Those topics will be announced later.
All the workshops are free and open to the public. For more information or to register, individuals may call (704) 637-4727 or visit www.CenterForTheEnvironment.org.
The event is a Campaign for Clean Air initiative. Campaign for Clean Air sponsors include the Robertson Family Foundation, Caniche, Schneider Electric, Salisbury Community Foundation, First United Church of Christ Foundation, Food Lion Charitable Foundation, F&M Bank, Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, Power Curbers Inc., Piedmont Natural Gas and Duke Energy.
The Center for the Environment at Catawba College was founded in 1996 to provide education and outreach centered on prevalent environmental challenges and to foster community-oriented sustainable solutions that can serve as a model for programs throughout the country. For more information, visit www.CenterForTheEnvironment.org or www.CampaignForCleanAir.org.
Center for the Environment