Four Ways Your Parish Can Address Climate Change (On A Budget)

Country leaders from around the world gathered this week at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow to address growing environmental concerns. A recent United Nations report found that countries are not doing enough to curb climate change.

If entire nations fail, what can local communities and small churches hope to contribute? Well, according to the Catholics who are working on this, there is a lot that they can do. Here’s how.

If entire nations fail, what can local communities and small churches hope to contribute? Well, a lot.

1. Simple, daily measurements. Less wealthy communities are already doing things that other communities would not generally consider, “like swapping winter clothes,” according to Paz Artaza-Regan, program manager for the 400 Creation Care teams that Catholic Climate Covenant leads. in parishes and other institutions across the United States.

“They don’t waste clothes. They are already passing them from one group to another. It’s a joke in Latin American parishes that when majority white parishes say they’re going to start recycling more … well, we’ve been doing that for decades.

Service projects are a good way to go green and also involve young Catholics, said Ms. Artaza-Regan. Cleanings, embellishments, as well as cleaning up streams, rivers and streams, are projects that can connect older and younger parishioners. Groups can also do trash audits to identify and reduce the consumption of disposables. Just providing a reusable cup during coffee and donuts can be a step in the right direction.

Cleanings, embellishments, as well as cleaning up streams, rivers and streams, are projects that can connect older and younger parishioners.

In the Chicago area, the Congregation of Saint Joseph started with simple things, according to Pat Bergen, CSJ “We don’t have to use paper towels,” she said. “We don’t need to use plastic cutlery. So we went to garage sales and bought some cloth napkins and bought an extra set of cutlery for 15 people.

They used the napkins, cutlery, and plates for the community meetings, and they eventually started bringing them to the motherhouse for the gatherings. At first, some who attended the gatherings did not take the practice seriously, but eventually other communities in the congregation began to do the same. The sisters also reduced the amount of meat in their diet, as eating meat is considered bad for the environment. Some of the sisters, especially those who grew up on farms, struggled with this at first.

“It sounds like a small thing, but it’s a spiritual dynamic,” Sister Bergen said. The sisters also organize retreats and other nature experiences so that participants can recognize the hand of God in creation. “It’s easier to transform behavior after you’ve had a spiritual experience,” she said.

2. Small renovations. Renovating church buildings is another step, but parishes can start small, according to Ms. Artaza-Regan. “There are things you can do that are good for God’s creation and which are also good for your budget,” she said.

For example, switching from incandescent lights to LED lights or using programmable thermostats can help the environment while saving money for a church. “Parishes start with these small renovations rather than replacing the boiler,” said Ms. Artaza-Regan.

Modernizing church buildings is another step, but parishes can start small.

While LED retrofits can get relatively expensive, many utility companies offer significant incentives, according to Dan Misleh, founder of Catholic Climate Covenant. His parish, school, and rectory did an LED renovation that cost $ 50,000, but the local utility company provided a 70 percent discount. The remaining $ 15,000 could be paid over time as the parish saves $ 6,000 per year in electricity.

Mr. Misleh encouraged parishes to check the state’s renewable energy and efficiency incentives database to see what local utility companies are offering in terms of energy efficiency. Energy Star, for example, offers a workbook for communities looking for green alternatives, and some companies offer free energy audits.

3. Make connections with the land. Youth are also participating in ward and school efforts at Church of the Nativity in Burke, Va., According to Kim Young, who coordinates the Creation Care team there. These efforts include setting up fair sales, collecting and cleaning empty pill bottles for Matthew 25 ministries, and installing solar panels in the parish.

The parish also works with the St. Kateri Habitats and Parks program, which links habitat restoration with respect for God and creation. This includes the maintenance of native trees, shrubs and wildflowers.

“Getting people out in the garden and in nature is a great introduction to biodiversity,” said Ms. Young. “But also, if we remove biodiversity, we are all doomed. You know, if we kill all of our bugs, we won’t survive.

“Getting people out in the garden and in nature is a great introduction to biodiversity,” said Ms. Young.

The team hosted a tree celebration, tagging local types and educating parishioners on why it’s better to have native species than imported. “For a lot of people, these are foreign concepts,” Ms. Young said. “So it’s good to bring them out and see these things and figure out, ‘Hey, it’s good that there are bugs chewing on your plants. This means that they are native plants and the insects survive.

Sister Bergen noted parishes in the Chicago area that have started “Laudato Si” gardens, including Ascension in Oak Park and St. James in Brownsville. In St. James, the church had to be dismantled because the tower was unstable and repairs were too expensive. So eventually the parish started a farm on the site just under the El tracks in the heart of downtown.

Volunteers work in the Ascension Parish Garden in Oak Park, Illinois. This season, they’ve raised over 3,000 pounds of produce for the pantry in St. Martin de Porres, a parish in downtown Chicago. (Photo courtesy of John Owens)

A range of volunteers contribute to agriculture, from homeless people to wealthy Chicagoans. The harvest goes to a local pantry, one of the largest in the region.

“When I went to work there, I didn’t know that you could put so much food in that space where this church was. It’s a big farm, ”said Sister Bergen. “People from all these different races and economic groups are working together to wrap it up for pickup day. It really is just amazing, the community building that takes place.

The people who run the farm educate the volunteers about the enzymes and toxins found in the soil. She said they were planting milkweed seed poles to attract pollinators to the garden.

“People downtown have no access to naturally grown foods at all,” Sister Bergen said.

At Ascension Parish in Oak Park, the church has taken over the back of a former convent and turned it into a farm, Sister Bergen said. The farm products are combined with the fruits and vegetables that the locals donate from their allotment gardens, and then they are donated to a parish in the city center, Saint-Martin de Porres. This season they have harvested 3,388 pounds of produce.

“People downtown have no access to naturally grown foods at all,” Sister Bergen said. “Most of them are in food deserts and there is no grocery store for miles.”

4. “Laudato Si” study groups. The Archdiocese of Chicago began blessing these Laudato Si ‘gardens earlier this year. A number of parishes have created the gardens “as a way to hear the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor,” Sister Bergen said. “If you make people work with the soil, you can do almost anything. You can do all kinds of education in this process. The interconnection of Earth with people, Earth with economy, Earth with simple life. It really works. “

Often times, when a parish or school first creates a creation care team, it begins by studying “Laudato Si ‘,” Pope Francis’ encyclical of God’s creation care, according to Ms. Artaza. -Regan. This will get the group to think about what is possible in their ward or school. Catholic Climate Covenant provides resources for groups, including downloadable toolkits and information for pastors that bridge the gap between creative protection and Catholic social education.

At Burke, the Creation Care team at Nativity started in 2008, but it really got a boost thanks to “Laudato Si”. ‘to readings every week, linking it to what people are experiencing outside,’ Ms. Young said.

Events are more effective than meetings at attracting people, she said, and there are plenty of potential projects and activities. “It really attracts a wide range of people, from those interested in advocacy education,” Ms. Young said. “It starts with gardening and people think, ‘Oh, that’s cool’. And maybe you get some veg and the church is pretty. But it’s so much bigger than that, with local biodiversity and people understanding how essential it is to the survival of the planet.

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