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Catawba's environmental stewardship conference makes impact on many

By Kathy Chaffin
kchaffin@salisburypost.com
One of the 300 people attending Catawba College’s recent “Faith, Spirituality and Environmental Stewardship” conference wrote in her evaluation that she had been “truly transformed.”
“I’ve been involved in a lot of conferences,” says Center for the Environment Director John Wear, “but people feeling like they had been transformed is not a comment that I’ve seen. I think that’s a real good sign.”
The May 29-31 conference not only addressed climate change, he says, it offered practical suggestions for churches and individuals interested in helping with creation care.
Almost 10 weeks later, Wear is continuing to hear how participants are implementing environmentally-friendly practices in their congregations and individual lifestyles.
Last week’s Faith page featured an article about the “Caring for Creation” Bible school Gloria Dei Lutheran Church of Statesville Boulevard held with nearby St. Matthews/San Mateo Episcopal and Good Shepherd Episcopal in Cooleemee.
“Actually what we did was kind of scratch the surface with this event,” says the Rev. Bill Batterman.
Coming up on Oct. 21, for example, Amanda Hooker Lanier, project development assistant for the Center for the Environment, for example, will be speaking to members of Gloria Dei and six other congregations.
“There’s a lot to do when it comes to the environment,” Batterman says. “Everything from personal habits to legislation to trying to get companies and people and churches to change the way we do things. I sort of feel that with the things going on in the country, people are more concerned about gas for their cars than they are about air for their lungs or water for their bodies.
“I think we could probably live without gas in our cars, but I don’t think we can live very long without air for our lungs.”
Wear’s home church, St. Luke’s Episcopal of West Council Street, is also making plans to implement an environmental program.
About 25 members turned out for the first meeting of the “greening committee” last month, says member Lillian Gascoigne. The Rev. Whayne M. Hougland Jr. is working with Wear on developing a study on faith and the environment, and Gascoigne and Worth Murdoch are working on “greening” the church.
“We want to go through the church and do an energy audit to see how we can improve,” she says. They plan, for example, to replace lightbulbs with compact flourescents and improve the church’s recycling program.
Gascoigne was one of about 10 members of St. Luke’s who attended the “Faith, Spirituality and Environmental Stewardship” conference.
Though Hougland was not able to attend, Wear says the rector has mentioned some aspect of environmental stewardship in his sermons every Sunday since the conference. “And I’ve heard members of the congregation excitedly talking about this topic,” he says, “and it’s in a very optimistic ‘What can we do?’ and ‘Let’s get going’ kind of attitude.
“That’s what I love to hear.”
Throughout the conference, keynote speakers, workshop leaders and panelists referred to the optimism of engaging the faith community in creation care.
Dr. J. Matthew Sleeth, author of “Serve God, Save the Planet: A Christian Call to Action” and one of the keynote speakers, attributed his optimism to the response of congregations he has spoken to across the country.
And what people have found in downscaling their lifestyles and reconnecting with the earth, he said, is that they have a closer relationship with God.
With the faith community coming together to address environmental issues, the Rev. Canon Sally Bingham, another keynote speaker and president and founder of Interfaith Power & Light, said, “I see a wonderful horizon.”
Gascoigne says she was touched by the feeling of connectedness and how every small thing each person does matters to the whole.
“If we try to save water washing dishes, it’s going to make a difference in the big picture,” she says. “The conference was so great because it gave you individually a sense of joy in trying to conserve, and it touched on so many different levels.
“We need to care about all the people on the earth as well as the natural planet.”
Hougland says the conference energized participants to take the role of environmental stewardship seriously.
“That’s the way we should respond,” he says. “We should be thankful for all the good things that we have and show forth that praise by caring for each other and the world around us.”
A community garden is one of the projects St. Luke’s Episcopal is considering. “I think it would be great,” Hougland says, “if this becomes a community of community gardens where we’re all working together to bring up a harvest and share the fruit of our labor.”
A community garden would serve many purposes, the rector says. Participants could get their hands dirty, he says, and reconnect with the earth and each other. “We could bring diverse people together to strengthen the ties in those neighborhoods,” he says.
The rector’s long-term hope is that St. Luke’s will become a leader in the faith community when it comes to addressing environmental issues and inspire other congregations to follow its example.
The Center for the Environment has held an annual conference for most of the 15 years it’s been in existence, but Wear says this year’s event seemed to attract a whole new audience. Business leaders, for example, who have sent their managers in the past decided to attend themselves.
“It made me feel really good to see that this was important enough for them to take time off from their work schedules and participate,” he says. “I think we all are beginning to see that there are changes that need to occur and that the faith community has a tremendous capacity to make those changes happen.”
Center for the Environment staff are preparing a survey for conference participants to see how it affected them personally and if their respective churches have taken on any environmental projects as a result.
“I think people began asking the questions,” Wear says, ” ‘Why isn’t our faith more tightly engaged in environmental issues? Why isn’t environmental stewardship not a really important topic if it hasn’t been already?’ ”
Wear says he has heard that some of the participants from Greensboro and Asheboro are planning lecture series on the environment for multiple congregations.
If this year’s conference is like other events that the Center for the Environment has sponsored, he says the impact will go way beyond the 300 people who attended.
Center for the Environment staff have already started meeting with community and state leaders, Catawba faculty and volunteers to plan next year’s conference.
“It will probably occur sometime in May,” Wear says, “and it will be similar in many respects. I think one of the big responsibilities we have now is keeping the ball rolling.”

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