Thursday, April 23, 2009
The Unity Church in Monterey wanted to save money, as all organizations do these days. And they wanted to “walk their talk,” to embody their spiritual teachings that God cares about all of creation and wants people to be good environmental stewards. So last fall the small congregation led by Rev. Vicky Elder set about developing a comprehensive sustainability plan, with the help of a class of graduate students from the Monterey Institute for International Studies and The Sustainability Academy (www.sustainabilityacademy.org).
The students analyzed the church’s bills and budget, and in December gave the church a comprehensive report about their water, gas and electricity usage, their landscape service and purchases of paper and food. They found a grant program from the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments that paid for the church to replace their light bulbs at no cost. They recommended ways the church could reduce its carbon footprint, get involved more in the community as a “green business” (including certification by the county) and attract members by promoting their earth care ministry.
Unity is one of hundreds of faith communities in Monterey County working to do more to care for the earth and reduce their footprint, not just in order to save money or to attract members, but to honor their religious teachings that one way to be faithful is to be a good environmental steward. Rev. Elder says, “All religions teach that to love God is to love all of creation. Our members want to do more.”
Many of these Monterey County faith communities – Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Unitarian Universalist, Hindu, New Age – will gather Tuesday to hear Rev. Sally Bingham from San Francisco’s Grace Episcopal Cathedral and to learn more about how they can heal the Earth as they express their love for God. That’s the title of Bingham’s new collection of short essays by a wide range of religious leaders: Love God, Heal Earth.
Bingham has followed this call for 15 years as the environmental minister at the cathedral, promoting Interfaith Power and Light and the Regeneration Project, as a way to love all of creation (www.theregenerationproject.org).
“THANK GOD, LITERALLY, FOR THESE MANY INTERFAITH STEWARDS.”
Dr. Laura Strohm of the Sustainability Academy and I are hosting Bingham’s April 28 presentation in Pacific Grove. We recently received a grant from the Community Foundation of Monterey County to develop Interfaith Sustainability Roundtables to promote conversations and the sharing of resources between faith communities on sustainable practices.
Along with my work as a regional minister, editor and teacher, I am the director of Upwellings Ministry of Environmental Stewardship, which connects local congregations, broadly interfaith, with environmental issues, especially coasts and oceans. In 2007, we hosted a one-day retreat and conference at the Monterey Bay Aquarium for 150 local religious leaders and ocean scientists to partner on ocean conservation and stewardship. Since then, in those Central Coast congregations who attend the event, nearly 10,000 folks have heard about ocean conservation issues in their houses of worship.
Congregations’ responses to the environmental crisis has been as varied as the congregations. The Monterey Bay Zen Center hosts regular mindfulness bird walks. Unity Church cleans up the highway every month in Watsonville. Temple Beth El in Salinas committed to reducing the trash from its annual food fundraisers. Carmel Mission held a special Mass on World Water Day. Church of the Good Shepherd in Corral de Tierra hosted an Eco-Fair this past weekend with worship, education and free collection of computer waste. The Unitarian Universalist Church of Monterey installed solar panels, changed their light bulbs and promoted carpooling.
Many pastors preach regularly on conservation issues, especially this month as part of Earth Day. Several congregations put links on their websites to the California Ocean Council’s “Thank You Ocean” message (www.thankyouocean.org).
We have found that the ocean activist community is open to partnering with local congregations.
“Folks who are motivated by deep faith and conviction are more likely to change behavior and speak out publicly on behalf of the environment,” says Mike Sutton of the Center for the Future of the Oceans of the Moterey Bay Aquarium. “Thank God, literally, for these many interfaith stewards.”