Honoring Faith Traditions and Shared Values

By Kelly Crowther

Tony helped the Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati form a network of climate change leaders from over 70 of their 214 parishes. He inspired these leaders by showing how climate solutions connect to their personal and faith values.  And, through partnership with a local organization, participating facilities implemented over $1.4 million in energy efficiency upgrades.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Ground climate concerns within your faith tradition - The task force equipped representatives with resources rooted in their Catholic faith.
  • Connect with shared values and goals - Tony emphasized values such as cost savings and prudence to resonate with skeptical leaders and parishioners.
  • Form congregational teams - Creation care teams at the parish level implemented many of the actions such as recycling and encouraging home energy improvements.
  • Find the right lay leadership - They depended on lay leaders to support clergy by doing a lot of the heavy lifting for them.
  • Partner with other organizations - Their collaboration with a local organization led to thousands of dollars in energy efficiency savings across the diocese.

Connecting Faith and Climate

When the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops stated in no uncertain terms that climate change was “about the future of God’s creation and the one human family,” the Archdiocese of Cincinnati heeded their call to action. Under the leadership of Tony Stieritz, Director of the Catholic Social Action Office, the Archdiocese became one of the original signatories to the Catholic Climate Covenant’s St. Francis Pledge, a commitment to “pray, learn, assess, act, and advocate” on climate change. To ensure that this pledge was “lived out,” a Climate Change Task Force was formed, which today includes a network of climate change representatives from over 70 of the Archdiocese’s 214 parishes.

We took climate change out of a political conversation and put it into a personal values conversation.

Tony Stieritz
Director, Catholic Social Action
Archdiocese of Cincinnati

For Tony Stieritz, responding to climate change is deeply rooted within his Catholic faith. Tony cites prudence - one of the four cardinal virtues - as part of the foundation for his approach to climate change. “Prudence is about risk management,” says Tony. “In the case of climate change, the ramifications are so severe that there is no reason not to act.” In describing this sometimes politically polarized issue to others in their community, Tony has encouraged people to look at it, first and foremost, through the lens of their faith. To support this, he points to Catholic teachings and formal statements made by the Church. Tony explains, “We took climate change out of a political conversation and put it into a personal values conversation.”

The task force also discusses the benefits associated with climate change solutions. Tony has found that framing climate change in practical terms helps to reach more people. For example, when interacting with business managers, he mentions cost savings. Through its partnership with the Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance (GCA), 10 archdiocesan parishes, schools, and other facilities received over $290,000 in incentives to implement over $1.4 million in energy efficiency upgrades.

Empowering Local Leaders

For the task force, local leadership has been key since it is at the parish level that many small, operational changes are initiated, such as incorporating recycling at schools or encouraging home energy improvements. Tony underscores that it is important to find parishioners with the passion to care for creation. For this reason, green champions were identified to serve as liaisons to parishes and 20 parish green teams are now active. Together, these individuals and groups were equipped with a wide range of resources, including monthly green tips and ideas, sample intercessions and papal quotes for homilies, and information on where to get assistance with energy efficiency. Recently, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati made it a priority to hire a property manager who will further help their offices, parishes, and schools increase energy efficiency. 

The Task Force has even engaged in advocacy. When funding for state level energy efficiency programs was threatened, parish business managers and congregants provided an unexpected voice when they testified to political leaders on the benefits of state energy efficiency programs experienced within their own communities.

Looking to the Future

Despite noted success, Tony still feels a sense of urgency.  “We have to do better,” he stresses. He aspires to elevate climate change as a priority to more people in the Archdiocese, to inspire more parishes to form green teams, and engage more parishioners to pray, learn, assess, act, and advocate for climate solutions.

 

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