When we think of creation care leaders in the climate movement, we imagine Pope Francis orating before the U.S. House of Representatives, The Islamic Society of North America divesting from fossil fuels at COP22, or the African Methodist Episcopal Church ratifying their first climate resolution during their 2016 general conference. With a combined audience that reaches into the billions, these leaders and institutions are able to motivate climate solutions around the globe, but leadership happens every day with local leaders taking action on climate change regardless of their size or outreach.
This fall, the Mennonite Creation Care Network awarded two grants totaling $15,000 to Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship and Albuquerque Mennonite Church to assist them in acquiring rooftop solar panels. The New Mexico chapel services a congregation of over two-hundred people, while the Vermont chapel accommodates a community of sixty people of faith. To top it all off, the Vermont chapel was and is without a pastor, leaving the legwork required for achieving their solar goals to unordained leaders within the congregation. If that's not a testament to the irrelevance of the size or qualifications needed to be a climate leader, I don't know what is.
More and more, American congregations are enacting the values of their traditions by implementing climate solutions in their facilities, but they aren't limited to major retrofits or construction projects. Faith leaders have a unique position to engage communities on the importance of acting on climate change in their messages from the pulpit, and to encourage climate-minded voting and investments by empowering a growing force of lay people in roles of faith-based climate leadership.
As you know, faith facilities rely on the contributions and volunteerism of the unordained to accomplish many of the important tasks that come with operating a church, mosque, synagogue, etc. Sometimes acting on climate change requires little more than redirecting these busy bees to work on what Pope Francis called “the cry of the earth, the cry of the poor.” But it's about more than delegating tasks – it’s about creating an ecosystem of climate-minded people of faith.
On April 23rd, the Archdiocese of San Francisco launched a major Laudato Si’ initiative to urge California parishes to act on Pope Francis' Encyclical. Eight months later, the results are in, and they are impressive.
At St. Anselm Parish in Ross , California, Father Jose Shaji began implementing a regular “Care for Creation Mass” to discuss the importance of living out the message of Laudato Si. It wasn't long before his congregation formed a creation care committee, comprised entirely of lay people with oversight from Father Shaji.
In less than one year, the eight team members have "conducted a lighting audit of all parish buildings, formed a task force of conservation-savvy parishioners and school parents, introduced the use of reusable and/or compostable cups, dishes, and utensils at parish events, and sold copies of Laudato Si’ after Mass."
These efforts bred an ecosystem of thriving climate awareness as "liturgies began to include creation-conscious intercessory prayer intentions and the bulletin included tips to help parishioners make more environmentally sustainable decisions in their daily lives." Soon, entire families got involved, committing to walk together to Mass or ride bikes thanks to recently installed bike racks. The congregation is currently conducting a water-use audit and investigating solar power options for 2017.
Not far from St. Anselm, St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Burlingame, CA joined with our partner Catholic Climate Covenant to "start a weekly column in the Sunday bulletin and measure parish energy consumption and waste generation to uncover areas to work on." Similarly, lay people Gail Kendall and Stephen Miller of St. Teresa of Avila of San Francisco , who each work professionally on sustainability projects, helped reach a major milestone for their congregation.
On November 30th, St. Teresa of Avila installed 25 rooftop solar panels, saving the parish "$244 per month, or about $3,000 per year."
In many cases, faith leaders are discovering the resources for change are right in front of them. And, as St. Teresa of Avila demonstrated, tapping those resources can save a church a substantial amount of money.
Regardless of your congregation’s size, every faith community has something to contribute to climate solutions. Learn how to get started with Blessed Tomorrow's how-to-guides. We have everything you’ll need to empower the climate leaders in your town.
Ryan Smith is a writer at Blessed Tomorrow. He received his master's degree in Religious Studies with an emphasis on faith and climate change from the University of California, Riverside.