“The Earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it!” — Psalm 24:1
Following those words — and looking for ways to put them into action — brought more than 40 Moravians together for the third annual Environmental Stewardship Conference in March.
Held amongst the natural surroundings of Laurel Ridge Camp and Conference Center in North Carolina, the Stewardship Conference invited Southern Province Moravians to discover, learn and share best practices of caring for the environment. The Conference featured speakers, group discussions and resource-sharing, all aimed to put environmental concerns at the forefront and raise awareness of the importance of caring for nature, especially within the context of the church.
“I came this weekend to learn more about what we can do about God’s world,” said Fran Huetter, a member of Home Church in Winston-Salem. “I have always been privileged to have the world as we know it, but I am concerned that our younger generations won’t, unless we do a better job of caring for the earth.”
“We received a lot of good, usable information though the conference,” said Jim Yarbrough of Winston-Salem. “It’s exciting to learn what people have done and what we can do. Putting environmental stewardship into action is better than just talking about it”.
Learning from experts
The Board of Cooperative Ministries invited experts from a variety of environmental fields to share ideas and activities that demonstrate the different ways to tend for creation.
Michael Kirschman, division director for nature preserves and natural resources of the Mecklenburg County (Charlotte, N.C. area) Parks & Recreation Dept., gave two presentations during the weekend. The first, “What is it Worth? The True Value of Open Space,” offered a look the work his department is doing to quantify, in economic terms, the value of making wise environmental decisions.
Through his presentation, attendees learned about the impact of development on a region. The Mecklenberg County area has grown rapidly over the past 20 years, replacing what had been green space with impervious surfaces like roads, rooftops and parking lots. His department has been working on ways to ensure green space and nature are preserved for the benefit of the community.
Kirschman shared the County’s efforts to protect Schweinitz’s sunflower, a plant with Moravian connections, from extinction. He also cited statistics that clearly demonstrated the economic value of parks, trees, wildlife and nature preserves, along with the health benefits that recreation in the parks and preserves system brings to the county.
Later in the weekend, Kirschman gave a talk on the rich natural history of North Carolina and the ongoing work to preserve the environment in the region.
First Church Solar
Stan Corwin, a member of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Asheville, shared the story of First Church Solar, an effort to create the first church in North Carolina to install solar power. The Earth Team at First Congregational United Church of Christ built a partnership with the Appalachian Institute for Renewable Energy (AIRE) and North Carolina Interfaith Power & Light that made it possible.
Since the church, as a non-profit, couldn’t take advantage of tax credits available for solar investment, the partnership created a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) that sought private investors. Their efforts soon raised the $60,000 required for the project. A 10-kilowatt system featuring 42 solar panels was installed on the roof of one of First Congregational’s downtown Asheville buildings.
“Our investors realized that they weren’t going to make a lot of money on this investment,” says Corwin. “Instead, they invested because they knew it was the right thing to do and a great way to show their care for the planet.”
While the church doesn’t use any of the energy produced by the solar array — the power generated flows directly into the electrical grid — Green Power is purchasing energy credits, which offers the partnership 20 cents for every kilowatt they produce; in turn, the church pays only 12 cents per kilowatt hour they use. And in five years, the church will be able to purchase the system from the partnership, allowing them to take advantage of the funds it generates.
The AIRE website, which features more information about this partnership, shares, “What these folks have done at First Congregational suggests that there is a great desire among communities of faith to make our society more sustainable. They are trailblazers, and there are now others traveling along that path. As Rev. Joe Hoffman’s liturgy at the solar dedication said, ‘We know that human life on Earth, especially in the United States, has not been kind to Earth. We confess that we have used more that our share of Earth’s resources and seek to live more in harmony with Earth’s ways and with respect for all Earth’s creatures and life systems.’”
Corwin closed his presentation by encouraging all in attendance to consider the possibility of creating more solar projects through churches as a way of living out our call to protect and care for God’s creation.
The New River
Conference attendees also heard form George Santucci, executive director of the National Committee for the New River, a conservation group working on protecting the New River basin. The New River flows north from North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia, eventually emptying into the Ohio River.
During his presentation, Santucci shared the work that his group does to protect the river, restore riverbanks, and advocate for making wise use of the river and its surrounding land. He outlined efforts to plant native shrubs and trees along riverbanks to prevent erosion, yearly activities to clean debris from the river and lobbying efforts to prevent hazardous building along the New River’s banks.
Forming environmental stewards
On Saturday afternoon, the Revs. Rick Sides and Lisa Mullen led a group discussion on forming environmental stewards for the generations to come. Working in small teams, conference attendees discussed where they played as children and used it as a launch pad to discuss what they remember of nature as children and how that can be translated to the children of today.
“Environmental stewards aren’t born, they’re formed,” says Rick. “As people of the church, we need to think through how faith communities are forming children as environmental stewards. Our children are surrounded by messages that depict nature as something that can be dangerous, dirty or messy; our kids are growing up in a predominantly video/verbal culture with fewer opportunities to interact with nature. In many ways they are being cut off from the natural world, a condition known as nature deficit disorder.”
Rick cited a professor at Appalachian State in North Carolina: “Our emotional response to the outdoors makes nature essential and memorable. It calls into mind beauty, unexpected surprises, the engagement of all our senses and a sustaining sense of wonder. Nature provides incredible gifts to us and formational opportunities to children.”
“Congregations have to be intentional about helping children understand the value of nature and the need to protect it,” says Rick. “We assume other institutions are taking care of all this. Camps and other outdoor places have this as a mission, but it is people of faith who received from God in the first command of the Bible, ‘take care of the world that I have created,’ that must take up this task, too.”
At the end of the session, attendees brainstormed different ideas for enhancing environmental stewardship. Some of these included:
- Involving your congregation in environmental stewardship-based Vacation Bible School programming
- Supporting Laurel Ridge’s emphasis and role in helping us (Moravians) care for the environment
- Involving our pre-school programs at the church in “green activities”
- Calling for more “pulpit leadership” in our creation care work for God’s world
- Claiming our Moravian identity and resources in our environmental stewardship efforts (i.e. using what we believe and how we live)
- Organizing a Sunday School class around environmental stewardship studies and projects
- Organize and support an “Eco Weekend” event for adults (at Laurel Ridge or in town)
- Getting a Green Team started in your congregation to focus on environmental issues
- Focus on smart resourcing, recycling and reuse in our congregational activities, purchasing, and waste
- Get more specific information on solar panels, installation, & their potential contribution to our church
Going home with a mission
“I am honestly still trying to unpack everything I learned,” says Mary Rights, wife of the Rev. John D. Rights of Konnoak Hills Moravian Church. “Each speaker was extremely informative and the sessions were very educational for me. John and I have had many discussions since we have been back about what we heard. I also appreciated the discussion among the participants, and the fact that we heard from people college age and up. The exchanges and sharing of ideas was as beneficial as the information from the speakers.
“I appreciated the fact that we were presented with ways to practice our stewardship of the earth that seemed doable,” continued Mary. “I was reminded that, although we were talking about big ideas, we can start small with our children to bring them into a greater awareness and love for our natural resources. Another highlight for me was the feeling of community that I experienced with other Moravians of all ages.”
The Environmental Stewardship Conference 2012 was sponsored by the Southern Province Board of Cooperative Ministries and was coordinated by a team led by Greg Keener and the Rev. Rick Sides. More information about environmental stewardship is available from the Southern Province Board of Cooperative Ministries.
From the June 2012 Moravian Magazine