How Churches Are Joining the Sustainability Movement
Photo Credit: YAKOBCHUK VIACHESLAV/Shutterstock
Nearly seven years ago, Martha Blume and Marj Chapman got on a bus with a few members of their church and headed to Manhattan for the People's Climate March. A small group among the more than 300,000 Americans in the city for the demonstration that pushed for solutions to the environmental catastrophes facing the world — one of the hundreds of rallies across the globe at the time — the churchgoers returned home wondering what they could do in their small Connecticut community to bring the movement back home.
Born from that moment was the Eco-Justice Council at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, a humble yet growing force in Cheshire, Connecticut, where the church is based. Since its creation, the mostly women-run volunteer organization within the small parish has spearheaded everything from regular movie nights — such as a documentary screening on the polluting nature of the plastic water bottle industry — to giveaways of free reusable cloth shopping bags. The church council leads an ongoing region-wide educational campaign on small yet important and effective ways local communities can do their part in the global fight against climate change and pollution.
The climate crisis facing the world can at times seem endless, daunting, and unmanageable. Scientists are in wide agreement that human activity — in particular, industrialized countries such as the U.S. that rely heavily on fossil fuels and generate hundreds of millions of tons of trash annually — has contributed to increasing average temperatures and a variety of interconnected changes to the earth. Ice caps are melting, ocean temperatures are rising, farmlands are getting too little or too much rain, and natural disasters are coming at greater frequencies and strengths.
United Nations research has shown that the negative consequences of climate change are affecting women the worst and poor women the most. As the international body puts it, “Climate change is the defining issue of our time.” The group has also highlighted the fact that faith-based groups play an important role in environmental protection and preservation. That’s in part because of the large number of land faith organizations own and the vast followings they have.
We’re just 10 to 15 people on any given day, but we’re strong in spirit.
“God created our world and it’s an amazing place where we live. I believe God tasked us to care for it,” says Chapman. “I see it as a Biblical imperative. I also just love nature and find God in it. So I am compelled to care for it.”
The effort at St. Peter’s, a progressive congregation of more than 100 churchgoers that are currently meeting with a mix of virtual and in-person worship, is a small sliver of a larger trend in churches rallying around earth-friendly causes. St Peter’s is part of the Green Houses of Worship program in the Eco-Justice Network, which certifies churches that are making strides toward green causes. The interreligious group also works with Interfaith Power and Light, a national organization of ministers, people of faith, and activists working to connect local religious communities to climate-related causes.
“We’re just 10 to 15 people on any given day, but we’re strong in spirit,” says Blume. At church, she helped spearhead a project under the council to start doing away with plastic — not just in bags but during events with food and drink.
“Before the pandemic, we used to do coffee hours with paper plates and plastic cups. We wanted to change that,” Blume says. “We got the church to use mugs and start using the dishwasher. We put up signs about recycling. We banned bottled water and now we have filtered water in pitchers. It’s about changing our everyday habits to be part of a bigger change that we want in the world.”
In Cheshire, a community of 30,000 that sits between New Haven and Hartford, Chapman, Blume, and fellow council members have also taken their work beyond the parish doors. The council works with a local farm to set up a regular, free “take what you need” food stand and has invited local kids to join in gardening projects. One of the most popular events in the city each year is the Cheshire Fall Festival and Marketplace, which draws crowds to Bartlem Park for food trucks, arts, and crafts. When Chapman and Blume attended on behalf of the church in past years, they gave out hundreds of stainless steel water bottles and reusable bags. The festival was canceled last year because of COVID-19 but is now scheduled again for September.
In their small community, the church group has perhaps become most recognized by the bags they hand out, which are regularly seen among shoppers at grocery stores and other businesses. The words Chapman and Blume had printed on them share a simple message: “Caring for God’s creation.”