Sustainable sanctuaries: Congregations answer call to become stewards of the earth
Stanley Congregational church, Adath Shalom synagogue and Church of the Redeemer, all participants in GreenFaith's Certification Program, are featured in the Daily Record.
The youth group at Morristown’s Church of the Redeemer constructed an 8-foot lighted peace symbol made of recycled plastics collected from parishioners and the local community as a visual symbol of the congregation’s environmental commitment.
Many of the central teachings of the world’s major religions focus on caring for creation — acting as trustees of the planet and its inhabitants. In Christianity and Judaism, the call to environmental stewardship can be found throughout the Old and New Testament and the Torah. The verses speak of the human relationship with nature and the manifestation of the divine throughout.
The scriptures of Isaiah, which both Jews and Christians consider part of their Biblical canon, extol the faithful to prevent the earth from withering away.
There are faithful who today take up the call to be good stewards, who believe they are not masters of the earth, but rather servants, taking precious care of God’s gift to humanity.
They do so in their homes, places of work, and, most recently, in their places of worship. The movement to create sustainable sanctuaries—which includes eco-themed worship services and ‘greening’ of the buildings—is growing on a national scale.
Stanley Congregational Church in Chatham became one of the first congregations in the country to be certified as a “Sustainable Sanctuary” by the New Jersey-based interfaith organization GreenFaith.
In May 2009, the congregation assembled a 10-member “Stanley Goes Green” Committee, which included the senior Pastor, the Rev. Shawn Garvey, and began the complex process to achieve certification.
The committee began by replacing the 40-watt incandescent light bulbs in the 23 exit signs with four watts of LED lights and progressed to buying 100 percent of the building’s energy from green energy sources.
The congregation eliminated the use of paper goods at indoor events and provided eco-friendly biocompostable paper products for outdoor events. The church serves vegetarian, local, organic foods and encourages members to do so at home by providing monthly recipes and eco-tips in the church newsletter.
Furthermore, the congregation uses Fair Trade Equal Exchange coffee at church events and sold the coffee, tea and chocolate at the Green Fair in Chatham.
After touring polluted sites in the Ironbound section of Newark, Stanley church members supported the establishment of a community garden by the Ironbound Community Corp. by providing non-contaminated soil and a wheelbarrow.
Over the summer, church members worked with a local Eagle Scout candidate and other volunteers to establish a rain garden on the church property to prevent run-off of pollutants into the water system; they also supported a water well project in Mozambique as a Lenten activity.
In September, Stanley held a hybrid car show and posted “no idling” information and signs around the church building. The church encourages members to walk, bike and car-pool whenever possible.
Throughout the process, the congregation held a forum with other faith groups to discuss sustainability, where representatives from synagogues and mosques explained the theology of earth care from their faith perspective.
On Nov. 20, the congregation was certified as a sustainable sanctuary.
“As one of the first congregations in the country to complete this process, Stanley Congregational Church is a strong example for other houses of worship statewide and nationally,” Stacy Kennealy, director of the certification program and sustainability for GreenFaith said at an organic, sustainable luncheon in the church hall.
“Environmental justice is not easy,” she said. “But small steps do matter and Stanley has set a high standard for what is possible.”
Nancy Presnell, GreenFaith committee chair at Stanley, said the process was well-supported by the congregation.
“We will continue to encourage our members to make changes in their behavior which will exhibit our belief that we are stewards of the Earth and, as a people of faith, are called to care for creation and advocate for justice,” she said.
The Rev. Shawn Garvey of Stanley, weaves messages of sustainability into his sermons.
“I’ve always felt profoundly connected to the natural world. That personal connection has always translated into a professional responsibility to preach a message of compassionate and responsible stewardship of the world around us,” he said.
“I make no differentiation between the commission to love God and neighbor with a profound responsibility to be stewards of the creation which we all share,” Garvey said.
“If we testify to a belief that God felt all that is created is ‘good,’ as it states in the Creation Story found in the first chapter of Genesis, and if we also testify to a belief that we are to love in equal fullness all of God's creation, then I interpret that to mean that we are to have just as much compassion for the entirety of Creation as we are called to have for one another.”
Just seven miles away in Morristown, the Church of the Redeemer has begun the process of GreenFaith certification.
The church will increase its programmatic emphasis on environmental stewardship and justice in everything from children, youth and adult education to worship and stewardship.
“We hope to implement a rigorous set of environmental stewardship measures aimed at improving our use of and relationship to food, water, energy, transportation, waste, toxics and grounds maintenance,” the Rev. Cynthia L. Black, Rector, said in a sermon on the third week of Advent.
“We will develop working relationships with area environmental justice leaders, continuing to work to improve the living conditions of the poor, who often absorb the brunt of local environmental degradation. Redeemer will also actively engage in legislative advocacy efforts to promote responsible and meaningful environmental legislation.”
As a visual symbol of the congregation’s environmental commitment, the youth group constructed an 8-foot lighted peace symbol made of recycled plastics collected from parishioners and the local community, which was visible just off of the Green.
“What I love about this program is its comprehensiveness,” Black said. “It's not just about recycling or using compact-fluorescent light bulbs — this is about taking our commitment to ‘do justice’ seriously, as Redeemer has done so well throughout its history.”
The commitment to do justice for the Earth also rings true with Adath Shalom Synagogue in Morris Plains, a congregation that has also taken many steps to go green.
The synagogue participates in GreenFaith and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism Sustainable Synagogue Initiative.
By Earth Day, April 22, 2012, Adath Shalom intends to conduct educational programs on energy conservation, to integrate energy conservation related prayers during Shabbat services, and to ask congregants to commit to energy conservation steps in their own households.
In partnership with the American Jewish Committee, Adath Shalom recently installed a reserved parking sign for hybrid and flex-fuel vehicles or any other vehicles that get more than 30 miles per gallon.
The congregation also retrofitted its sanctuary lighting, placed signage throughout the facility, and uses eco-friendly tableware at its annual barbeque. It also uses LED inserts in emergency exit signs and programmable thermostats.
As with the Stanley Church and Church of the Redeemer, Adath Shalom finds deep connections to environmental stewardship in Jewish theology.
“Judaism mentions right in the beginning of the Torah, in the creation story, that the duty of mankind is to ‘till and to tend’ God's creation,” saidBill Friedman, chair of continuing education and member of the synagogue’s green team.
“Among Jewish commands is ‘b'al taschit,’ or thou shalt not destroy, and the concept of ‘tikkun olam,’ or repairing the world. These are basic sustainability concepts embedded in Jewish theology.”
Adath Shalom has participated in interfaith dialogues on sustainability with several congregations, including Stanley Church.
Their members have explored the common threads between faiths as it pertains to the environment.
“People of faith have an individual responsibility to preserve the natural world and conserve resources,” Friedman said. “Throughout virtually all religions, there is a call to appreciate God's creation and its majesty.”