Congregations are green, but unseen
With so much media attention currently being given to sustainability, environmental stewardship, and “going green,” many businesses have been jumping on the green bandwagon. It is a quick and inexpensive way to receive attention while bolstering the bottom line. Whereas many businesses are just “green-washing” (deceptively promoting the perception that a company’s actions or products offer some environmental benefit), other organizations have been quietly doing the real thing—all too often without recognition. Such is the case with some religious institutions in the region.
Fairmount Presbyterian Church and Forest Hill Church, Presbyterian, both located in Cleveland Heights, have made strong efforts to become the environmental stewards that their congregations expect them to be. Both institutions are Earth Care Congregations, which means they follow “a structured certification program for Presbyterian churches to function in a manner consistent with God’s call not only to care for creation, but also to commune with creation,” according to the guide "Earth Care Congregations: A Guide to Greening Presbyterian Churches."
These certified churches take their role as stewards seriously. Certification comprises four components: worship, education, facilities, and outreach. The first certification for the church requires meeting 25 points in an audit. The following year, the point requirement goes up, requiring the congregation to continually make improvements. The only two certified Earth Care Congregations in all of Ohio are located right here in Cleveland Heights.
Dave Neff, from Forest Hill Church, said of the program, “It wasn’t too difficult to reach the first 25-point level. Actually, it was very easy for Forest Hill Church. Requiring improvements is much tougher—once you take care of the ‘low hanging fruit,’ a commitment to sustainable practices and programs gets harder.”
Similar certifications are available to other houses of worship. The Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (UUA) created the Green Sanctuary Program to green up services. The National Council of Churches of Christ created a rich curriculum of Eco-Justice Programs designed to unite faiths—Disciples of Christ, Baptists, Episcopalians and others—around these important issues.
GreenFaith is another option that is open to members of all religions. GreenFaith is marking its 20th anniversary this year, and the number of new certifications is increasing. They offer resources for those of Hindu, Buddhist, and Jewish faiths, as well as for Christians.
Doing one’s part as an environmental steward does not always mean receiving certification, or even recognition. It is often a quiet course, one that works much like many of the earth’s processes: silently accomplishing its work in the background, while the world goes on.
David J. Ernat, pastor at Grace Lutheran, explained how his congregation is doing its part. “We are holding community conversations for Sustainable Heights. We also have a new rain garden, and we are conscious of food issues.”
Sister Linda, from Gesu School, said that the school doesn’t have any certifications, but has been recycling for a long time. The school also underwent an audit with the Cuyahoga County Solid Waste Department to look at ways to be more effective in its efforts.
Realizing that sustainability is also about social capital, Kate Klaber, secretary at Church of the Redeemer, mentioned the partnership between Canterbury Elementary School and the church. “The partnership has two approaches,” she said. “The church regularly gives items to help out children in need at the school. The other component of this partnership is for us to volunteer at the school.”
Any religious institutions that are interested in green initiatives should look at www.churchesgogreen.org, which provides an extensive list of resources for all faiths. Some faiths even offer loans for new projects, such as the United Church of Christ, as outlined in its Partners in Building website.
"In every faith tradition I know of, there is a very clear directive toward care of the earth and all that dwell there upon," said John Lentz, pastor at Forest Hill Church. "Furthermore, a common ecumenical belief is that human beings are connected in a greater web of life including all of nature.”
Chris Hanson is a senior in the Urban Studies program at Cleveland State University, a consultant at The Urban Cash Cow, and an intern at FutureHeights.