Sustainability in the Sermon

  • Gloria Dei Pastor David Carlson says the Christian bible offers many lessons about the importance of living in ways that sustain other creatures (Photo by Stephanie Hemphill)

Many business people are rethinking their

operations. They’ve been influenced by a

science-based approach to sustainability

that started in Sweden. It’s called the

Natural Step. Stephanie Hemphill reports

some non-profits are getting involved.

She recently visited a church that’s

thinking more about its impact on the

environment:

Transcript

Many business people are rethinking their

operations. They’ve been influenced by a

science-based approach to sustainability

that started in Sweden. It’s called the

Natural Step. Stephanie Hemphill reports

some non-profits are getting involved.

She recently visited a church that’s

thinking more about its impact on the

environment:

The folks at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Duluth Minnesota are studying
more than their Bible these days. They’ve been learning about how the
ideas in the Natural Step can make their church operate more sustainably.

One Saturday in the church basement, about a dozen people from churches
around the region are talking about what sustainability means.

Judy
Isaacson is from a small church in the country.

“It’s a growing understanding that we as individuals have to be responsible
for what we do, and then I think a big part is helping people understand
it’s not that difficult to live up to what our values are and what we see
happening.”

Isaacson says it’s easier to talk about the practical ways to be
sustainable than to expound on the theory. She’s been learning how to
encourage everyone in her church to get involved in making small changes.
Like using less electricity.

“We’re the newbies at our church; we’ve only been in the church six years.
And by having someone who’s been there forever change the light bulbs, it
was very easy because she had credibility within the congregation.”

For many Christians, the Natural Step fits right in with what they call
“creation care.” For them it means taking care of what God created.

The Natural Step publishes its principles on the internet, along with
inspiring examples of how it’s working in various places around the world.

In Duluth, a non-profit group brought the Natural Step to town. Experts
from Canada gave several day-long training sessions to about a dozen
businesses and organizations that committed to a year-long effort to put
the ideas to work.

Sue Anderson took part in the training. At the Saturday workshop in the
church basement, she mentions some of the things the church has done.

“The use of glasses and cups, reuseable items. We kind of got that going
through a lot of different committees, you know our neighborhood breakfast
and things like that.”

No more throw-away styrofoam cups. That fits in with one of the principles
of the Natural Step: don’t wreck the earth by building more landfills than
you absolutely have to.

Another principle is: use less fossil fuel, and other resources that have
to be mined from the earth.

When they replaced the roof at Gloria Dei, they added a lot of insulation.

David Carlson is pastor of Gloria Dei. This year he used Lent as a chance
to educate the congregation. He asked people to go on a “carbon diet” for
Lent.

“There’s usually a confession and forgiveness of not only the brokenness
that we have with God and between us and other people, but also the
separation that we have with creation. And this is one way that we can
participate in the healing of God’s creation.”

Carlson says a lot of church members are taking on projects. One man is
promoting the idea of ride-sharing to church.

“He is offering a free pillow-pack of fair trade coffee to anyone who comes
to him during coffee hour and says that they car-pooled that day. It’s
trying to remove barriers for people that may be in the way of taking
further steps. And they may be small. But they may make a difference.”

The biggest difference this group might make is offering their experience
to others. The non-profit group behind the Natural Step in Duluth is
documenting their progress and hoping others will join in.

For The Environment Report, I’m Stephanie Hemphill.

Related Links

Mountaintop Mining (Part Three)

  • Christians for the Mountains field worker Robert "Sage" Russo standing on Kayford Mountain overlooking an MTR site in West Virginia (Photo courtesy of Christians for the Mountains)

Environmentalists have been fighting to stop mountain top removal coal mining for
decades. They say they want to preserve the mountains, the water that’s polluted by the
mining and the people. But many of the people don’t want the help. They want the jobs
provided by the mining operations. Sandra Sleight Brennan reports the struggle
between the two sides is complicated. Now churches and synagogues are introducing
religion into that struggle:

Transcript

Environmentalists have been fighting to stop mountain top removal coal mining for
decades. They say they want to preserve the mountains, the water that’s polluted by the
mining and the people. But many of the people don’t want the help. They want the jobs
provided by the mining operations. Sandra Sleight Brennan reports the struggle
between the two sides is complicated. Now churches and synagogues are introducing
religion into that struggle:

The line drawn between environmentalists who want to stop mountain removal
coal mining and the coal miners who depend on it for jobs has always been
smudged.

Often the environmental activists had relatives and close friends who worked for
the mining companies. There aren’t a lot of jobs in the Appalachian Mountains.
Of the jobs that are there, the coal mining jobs pay the most.

In the small Appalachian towns in the coal fields, the God-fearing families who
depended on the mining jobs have often seen the environmentalists as people
who were out to destroy their way of life.

But lately some people are seeing things differently. More than a dozen churches
and synagogues have passed resolutions against mountaintop removal mining.

Allan Johnson is the co-founder of Christians for the Mountains, a group that’s
sided with the environmentalists.

“It’s a serious issue, ultimately it is a moral issue and, as a moral issue, we’re appealing
to the religious communities, the Christian communities. We’ve got to do right. We
cannot destroy God’s creation in order to have a temporal economy.”

And Johnson is getting help from other Christians. Rebekah Eppling is an
Ameri-Corps VISTA volunteer. She’s working with Christians for the Mountains.

“We present ourselves that we are a Christian organization and we are working for
Creation Care and we are following the Biblical mandate to take care of God’s planet – it
brings a different sense of what we’re doing to people. So a lot of people who
traditionally wouldn’t be interested all the sudden start to realize the different aspects of
it. It kind of hits a different spark for them.”

Creation Care is how some Evangelical Christians describe their brand of
environmentalism. One of the most prominent spokesman for Creation Care is
Richard Cizik. He’s a former Vice President of the National Association of
Evangelicals.

“We say Creation Care because first of all we believe the earth was created and
second of all we know from God’s word in Genesis that we are to care and protect
it. So, we call it Creation Care.”

The group, Christians for the Mountains, works with many different
denominations. They teach people who want to get involved about the issues
surrounding mining. They go into detail about how the short term benefit of the
destructive form of mining not only alters the mountains, but pollutes the streams
and ultimately the drinking water. They point out that once the coal fields are
mined, the jobs are gone and the communities are left to live with the damage to
the environment.

Volunteer Rebekah Eppling says there’s resistance to the message.

“The term environmentalist is kind of a dirty word in the coalfields region. Since we are a
religious organization that puts us in a unique spot.”

“We do get some pretty harsh criticism.”

Allen Johnson with Christians for the Mountains.

“We are concerned about people’s jobs. We want to have a healthy economy. And it is
not a healthy economy in that area. If you go down into the area with the mountaintop
removal is going on it in some of the impoverished areas in the country.”

Like the more traditional kinds of environmentalists, these Creation Care
environmentalists have ties to the community. Eppling says her family comes
from an area that’s targeted for coal mining in the near future.

“My family is very supportive of what I’m doing. Because they see the place where they
used to live are now being destroyed. The mountain very close to where my
grandmother and father grew up its being blasted away. My father and his family are
from Boone County – which is one of the big coal producing areas. Coal River runs right
behind his house where he grew up.”

The Christians for the Mountains know the families that depend on the coal
mining don’t always understand why anyone would want to stop one of the very
few industries that offer good paying jobs in the region. But Rebekah Eppling
says there has to be a better way than blowing up the tops of the mountains and
filling the valleys with rubble.

“It’s not just environmentalist versus workers. It’s a very complex. It’s not just about
stopping coal – it’s about bringing in more options for people.”

And some of those options include preserving the environment by finding alternatives for
the region – such as wind energy, tourism, and not letting the mining companies decide
the fate of the Appalachian Mountains and the people who live there.

For The Environment Report, I’m Sandra Sleight-Brennan.

Related Links

Greening of Religion

  • The Dalai Lama giving a lecture at the University of Michigan on April 20, 2008. (Photo by Mark Brush)

There’s a change going on in the religions
of the world. More people are hearing a green
message when they go to their place of worship.
Mark Brush reports major religious leaders are
spreading a message of caring for the earth:

Transcript

There’s a change going on in the religions
of the world. More people are hearing a green
message when they go to their place of worship.
Mark Brush reports major religious leaders are
spreading a message of caring for the earth:

The Dalai Lama is talking about the environment. And tens of thousands of people are
packed into this basketball arena to hear his message. This kind of a talk is a natural
fit. In the Buddhist tradition all sentient life forms are sacred. So you might not be
surprised to hear that the Dalai Lama thinks we need to cut our cravings for more and
more material stuff.

“We always want more and more and more – like that. So I think some lifestyle, I think have to, have to change. But this is not my business.”

(applause)

This kind of message is now coming from other religions too. The Vatican recently
declared pollution a sin. And, when he went to the United Nations, the Pope told
international leaders to work together on climate change and environmental protection.

And many Protestants are now spreading the green gospel. And it’s not just the more
liberal members of the church. Leaders on the left and the right are going beyond the
pulpit to preach about the environment. You can even catch them on primetime TV.
Here’s a clip from a commercial by ‘We Can Solve It dot org’. Preachers Al Sharpton and
Pat Robertson sit side by side on a couch by the ocean.

“Al lets face it. We’re polar opposites.”

“We couldn’t be further apart. I’m on the left.”

“And I’m usually right. And we strongly disagree.”

“Except on one issue. Tell ’em what it is reverend Pat.”

“That would be our planet. Taking care of it is extremely important.”

While this is a new topic for some religious leaders – other groups have been working for
a long time to green the church. The Evangelical Environmental Network promotes
something called “Creation Care.” And they faced a lot of push-back when they first started.

Jim Ball is the president of the Network. He says the environment was largely ignored
by evangelicals – but now that’s changed. As proof he says 120 senior evangelical
leaders signed onto to an initiative that promises to do something about climate change.
And he says many of them are quite conservative. Ball says these leaders started to change when
they got an earful from their own kids and grandkids.

“So it was the younger generation saying to some of these senior leaders, “you know, you
really need to stop just looking at this and saying ‘you know, that’s for other people.’
You’ve got to look at this and understand this is a serious problem.”

But not everyone is accepting this green sermon. Some in the Christian Church point to
the book of Genesis and believe man should have dominion over nature. They think
environmentalism goes beyond tree hugging and actually promotes worship of nature
instead of God.

Andy Hoffman is a professor at the University of Michigan who speaks on religion and
the environment. He says these kinds of interpretations of the Bible prevent
many people from taking environmental issues seriously.

“Many religious people are skeptical or cautious about environmentalism. They look at
people who care about the environment as deifying the environment. And therefore they
see a challenge there. And that’s really not the case. It’s completely consistent to be
a devout Christian, or a devout Jew, or a devout Muslim and care about the environment
and have those two mesh quite nicely. So to have religious leaders come forward and
articulate this viewpoint dispells that myth and takes away that problem.”

Hoffman says these religious leaders connect people to their moral values. And if
caring for the environment is a part of that – it can go a long way in changing the way
people live.

For the Environment Report, I’m Mark Brush.

Related Links

Nature Profile: Outdoor Worship

  • Outdoor enthusiast Jerry Sherman. (photo by Colleen Sherman)

People enjoy nature for all kinds of reasons. In our occasional series about people’s
connections to the environment, producer Kyle Norris spent time with a recreational
hunter and fisher who says that when he spends time in nature he never feels any
pressure:

Transcript

People enjoy nature for all kinds of reasons. In our occasional series about people’s
connections to the environment, producer Kyle Norris spent time with a recreational
hunter and fisher who says that when he spends time in nature he never feels any
pressure:


Jerry Sherman can fix anything, and he’s fixed a few things around my house. He’s
always carrying a coffee cup with him everywhere he goes. And he’s one of those guys
who wears those dark, working men jeans. And cowboy shirts with pearl buttons. We took a
walk the other day and talked a lot about fishing and hunting. I was wondering how he
got into those things:


“When I first started I was a foreman and I was under a tremendous amount of pressure
there’s always somebody in your face all day long. Either talking to somebody or on the
phone. So then, when you get outside and get away from people, you can be in your own
little world, and think whatever you want to think… there’s no body… what do I do here,
what do I do there.”


KN: Jerry has a couple of friends – actually they’re a pair of twins – that he likes to go
fishing with. But a lot of times it’s also about being alone:


“It’s both of those things. There are days that I want to be by myself and just go fish by
myself and there’s days that you feel that need to be with your friends. And that’s when
you want to fish with them. Good example, the other day, when we were fishing we spend
time together then all three of us go off in different directions. That does two things: it gives us
more area to cover, but we all enjoy fishing alone to a certain amount.”


I think Jerry and I feel similarly about nature. It makes us feel calmer. If he’s like me, it’s
kind of about being part of a bigger picture. So I asked him, what he feels when he’s alone in
nature:


“You’re feeling great and there are some times you just sit down and do some praying on
your own sometimes. And you can pray to God in your
own way and nobody’s putting any pressure on you…Well, in a church you kind of feel
like you’re sometimes pressured into praying a certain prayer for somebody, and you’re
out in nature you can pray for whatever you want and nobody’s looking at you or putting
any kind of pressure on you. Does that make any kind of sense? ‘Cause I think everybody
prays to a certain extent. Uh, I just find a rock and sit down and meditate. Maybe talk to
myself.”


Jerry said the last thing he prayed for was his family, which is funny because hunting
and fishing are ways for him to get away from his family:


“Well, there again a lot of the reason you go out there is to kinda relax and unwind. Kind of
retune your body and mind. And when you back to be around your family I’d say you’re
kind of relaxed and out from underneath all this pressure. You kind of get a chance to sort
things out.”


Like Jerry, maybe all of us need a chance to get away from everybody. And spend some
time in nature. And sort things out.


For The Environment Report, I’m Kyle Norris.

Church Boycotts Bottled Water

  • Coffee hour at Knox United Church in Ottawa, Ontario. The church no longer serves bottled water. (Photo by Karen Kelly)

The latest census found the average American drank more than 23 gallons of bottled water a year. For a lot of people, bottled water is just a part of everyday life. But members of one church are arguing it shouldn’t be. Karen Kelly talked to a minister who’s helping to spread his church’s message:

Transcript

The latest census found the average American drank more than 23 gallons of bottled water a year.
For a lot of people, bottled water is just a part of everyday life.
But members of one church are arguing it shouldn’t be.
Karen Kelly talked to a minister who’s helping to spread his church’s message.

When he was growing up, Reverend Andrew Jensen lived just two blocks from a sandy beach on a
large river. But on a lot of hot days, the beach was closed because of pollution. And when it was
open, his parents were afraid to let him swim there. He says that early experience really made
him appreciate water.


“To have all of that there, to have your parents worry you can’t really touch it too much because
you might get sick… It was really disappointing. You know, you grow up on an island and you
can’t go in the water!”


Now, Reverend Jensen preaches about water. He’s the minister at Knox United Church, a
Protestant church in Ottawa, Canada.


(Fade in sounds of sermon)


“Again and again you have shown your grace to us through water… cleansing of the earth through
the flood… the exodus of the Red Sea, flowing from the rock of the wilderness…”


It’s Baptism Sunday, and Jensen is standing in front of the congregation. He’s extending his arms
over the baptismal font. The service is about the sacredness of water, the idea that it’s a gift from
God meant for everyone. Which is why the idea of bottling and selling water really bothers
Jensen.


“Water really is something we believe is a shared resource and we have to keep on sharing it. And
the more we chop it up into little bits and try to make a profit off of it, the farther we are getting
away from that basic human connectedness and from a religious perspective, that basic sense that
this is something that God has given us that’s for all of us and not just for people.”


A few months ago, the United Church of Canada officially called on its members to avoid drinking
bottled water. The campaign is part of a growing grassroots movement among churches to tackle
some of these issues on their own – in part because the federal government is backing away from
them.


For Jensen, preaching about water means talking about the dangers of it becoming a product.
The more people buy it in bottles, he says, the less attention might be paid to the public drinking
water system.


Plus, church leaders point out that the water in the bottles is often taken right from the tap – for
free – by the companies that sell it. And of course, there’s the issue of where all those bottles go
when we’re done with them.


Not surprisingly, the bottled water industry is not too happy about this campaign.


Elizabeth Griswold is executive director of the Canadian Bottled Water Association. She says the
United Church should focus its energies elsewhere.


“We don’t understand why any church would single out an industry that uses comparatively so
little water – our members use two-tenths of one percent of all groundwater taken in Canada, and
by focusing on the bottled water industry, we are missing a chance to develop long term
sustainable solutions.”


(Clinking cups)


(Congregant: “Coffee or tea, Ma’am?”)


Back at Knox United Church, members help themselves to coffee, tea and pastries. The church no
longer hands out bottled water at events. But it’s hard to tell how much of an effect the boycott is
really having.


The people who say they still drink bottled water refuse to go on tape.


But Sophia Doole and others say the church’s action has changed their behavior.


“Motivation-wise, I think it’s respect for the environment, respect for our own bodies and what
we’re putting into it and also respect for our own church and what they believe and to do to our
best to be guided by them.”


Reverend Andrew Jensen says he’s had calls from people, saying, ‘The church is against bottled
water? What kind of stupid stand is that?'”


That’s when Jensen explains that it’s really not about bottled water. It’s about clean water for
everyone – to drink, to share, and even to swim in.


For The Environment Report, I’m Karen Kelly.

Related Links

Gardeners Bats for Guano

A dealer in plant fertilizers is getting top dollar for product that he gathers close to home. Fred Kight reports some gardeners are just bats for the nutrient:

Transcript

A dealer in plant fertilizers is getting top dollar for product that he gathers close to home. Fred
Kight reports some gardeners are just bats for the nutrient:


What sells for 14 dollars a pound, comes from church steeples and is a fantastic plant fertilizer?
It’s bat poop. Or, more properly, bat guano.


Matt Peters says he already was selling worm dung as a plant food.


When nearby church leaders called him about their bat dropping problems, he added the guano to
the fertilizer inventory of his Ohio business. Peters says some customers are attracted by the
novelty… while others just want healthy plants:


“Definitely in my own personal trials I’ve been amazed at the power of bat guano. I never knew
green could be so green.”


Peters says the original manufacturers, so to speak, of his guano eat mosquitoes.


Since mosquitoes are nitrogen-rich, so is the bat guano… and plants love nitrogen.


For the Environment Report, I’m Fred Kight.

Related Links

Recent Deer Hunts Help Feed the Poor

  • Overpopulation of deer is causing problems for forest understory, farmers, and increased car/deer accidents. Some programs are encouraging hunters to take an extra deer and donating the meat to charity. (Photo by Lester Graham)

The hunting season for deer has ended or is about to end in most states. But the deer are still plentiful. Overpopulation of deer has led to an increase in deer-and-car crashes. Too many deer also damage the understory of forests. In some states, though, the deer overpopulation also means more deer meat is made available to low-income people. That’s because hunters, meat processors and food banks are working together to get venison to the poor. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Skye Rohde
reports:

Transcript

The hunting season for deer has ended or is about to end in most states. But the deer are
still plentiful. Overpopulation of deer has led to an increase in deer and car crashes. Too
many deer also damage the understory of forests. In some states, though, the deer
overpopulation also means more deer meat is made available to low-income people.
That’s because hunters, meat processors and food banks are working together to get
venison to the poor. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Skye Rohde reports:


It’s only been in the last decade or so that states have begun allowing hunters to donate
wild game to charitable organizations. In New York, meat processors and hunters started
the Venison Donation Coalition in 1998. Starting out, they gave a thousand pounds of
deer meat to food pantries in two counties.


Kathy Balbierer handles the coalition’s public relations. She says since that first thousand
pound donation, the program has grown…


“Last year, we had 108,000 pounds of venison donated, which on the average is, you
know – a deer is 40 pounds. It was approximately 27,000 deer. This year we have 119
participating processors throughout the state serving 52 counties.”


It’s an idea that hunters and meat processors across the nation are embracing. There are
venison donation programs in almost every state. Some, such as those in New York and
Illinois, are administered by state government. Others, like Michigan’s and Minnesota’s,
are run by private organizations.


Here’s how it works. First, a hunter who wants to donate meat takes it to a participating
processor. Ed Tanguey operates a meat processing facility in Kirkville, New York. He
says it’s a pretty simple process.


“Once the hunters show up to the building, we’ll have them come into our skinning room.
We’ll have them fill out some paperwork and once it’s brought in, we’ll start to skin the
deer, remove the hide and trim off any meat that’s not edible. We’ll bring the deer into
our cutting room.”


Butchers section the deer into shoulder, torso and hindquarters.


(sound of grinder starting up)


Then Tanguey sets up the grinder and grabs the meat from the cooler.


He packs the ground meat into five-pound black-and-white tubes and slaps a label on
with his name and the hunter’s license number on it.


Tanguey has processed 250 deer so far this season, 44 of them for the Venison Donation
Coalition. The coalition pays him a reduced rate, about a dollar a pound. Once there’s
enough meat in Tanguey’s cooler, he calls the Food Bank of Central New York to pick it
up.


Tanguey says this is his way of giving back to his community.


“When I see a hunter bringing in his son or grandson and they’re giving a second deer or
a third deer to the food bank, I think it’s going to pass it on to them. And years from now
we’ll keep the coalition supplied with some more food for the food bank.”


Jim Giacando is operations manager at the Food Bank of Central New York. He says
200 of the 600 agencies he works with ask for venison.


“In our freezer, we have almost 1,000 lbs ready to distribute, and it’s already committed
to a number of agencies throughout our 11-county area. And we’ll be distributing it this
week and next week, and then hopefully we’ll receive more in and fill more orders.”


The food bank will receive venison up until January. But Giacando says the greatest
challenge is keeping up with the demand for deer meat. A lot of people want it.


“I think we actually may have to get to a point where we might have to say ‘you know,
you can’t order that much. We have to keep it for all the other programs.'”


(ambient sound in church)


One of the food pantries asking for the deer meat is the University United Methodist
Church in Syracuse, New York. Norma Goel ordered venison from Giacando’s food
bank. The church’s food pantry feeds about 150 people every week.


Goel says she can’t buy as much food for the pantry as she’d like to because of the
church’s limited budget and an increase in the number of poor people asking for food.
She says farm-raised meat is a high-priced commodity…


“We’re always looking for a way to provide meat to participants in the pantry. And it’s
become increasingly difficult to buy frozen meat that the food bank has. By and large,
we’re not purchasing frozen meat from the food bank because we can’t afford it.”


So the deer meat is a cheaper alternative. Last year, Goel ordered venison too late to
receive any. This year she got all she could for the pantry: 60 pounds. She only has to
pay the handling costs – the coalition covers processing.


Goel says she’ll encourage people to use the deer meat in place of ground beef because
it’s high in protein and low in fat. She says the 60 pounds will feed a lot of hungry people
in her community.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Skye Rohde.

Related Links

Churches Struggle With Urban Sprawl

Urban sprawl is affecting communities across the Great Lakes region. In one Ohio community, residents are turning to their churches to fight back. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Schaefer reports:

Transcript

Urban sprawl is affecting communities across the Great Lakes region. In one Ohio community,
residents are turning to their churches to fight back. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen
Schaefer reports:


Forest Hill Presbyterian Church was built in Cleveland Heights 100 years ago. Pastor John Lentz
says, in its heyday, some 15-hundred people regularly walked to church services every week.
Today, the congregation totals just 600. Lentz says it’s a constant struggle to replace those who
leave his flock for the greenfield developments that surround the urban center.


“Churches are anchors of communities and I think we need to be active in the kinds of issues that
affect our communities, like fair and open housing and education, and really make it our mission to equip
faithful people to, you know, walk the walk.”


He and other religious leaders have banded together to form the Northeast Ohio Alliance for
Hope. The group is working with 15 Cleveland suburbs, taking on issues like predatory lending,
school funding, and home repair.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Karen Schaefer.