From Capitol Hill to Damascus, Congregations Are Caring for Creation

by | Sep 17, 2015

Environmental groups, parish task forces and determined individuals across the Diocese of Washington are taking action in varied ways to help preserve the environment for future generations. 

Congregations are looking at reducing their energy consumption and waste from Sunday coffee hour and parish suppers and picnics. They are finding ways to use their properties to protect and restore natural resources and working to raise awareness about environmental challenges and their impact on our life on this planet. 

Harnessing the energy of the sun at Christ Church, Capitol Hill

Solar energy in this relatively sunny part of the world makes sense and the Rev. Cara Spaccaelli at Christ Church, Capitol Hill says it can reduce energy costs. Solar panels are saving Christ Church around $1,000 a year. “The best part,” she says, “is that three church families got solar in their homes after seeing the church go through the process.” Spacaelli is available to talk with other congregations interested in going solar.

Becoming a greener parish at Grace Church, Silver Spring

At Grace Church, Silver Spring, the Green Team grew out of work begun by the stewardship committee. Working with GreenFaith, an interfaith coalition for the environment, they are working to become a GreenFaith certified parish. Grace has reduced paper usage and now uses washable cups at coffee hour. The parish purchases electricity through a cooperative, and is switching to energy efficient lighting. Just like Christ Church Capitol Hill, Grace finds itself saving on energy costs.

Recycling and composting at St. Columba’s, DC

In northwest Washington, St. Columba’s is feeding close to five hundred people and ending up with only a one-pound bag of trash. Zero waste is a current focus for the parish’s Environment Committee. 

“For two years, we have worked with groups hosting church events to minimize waste,” says Nicole Holstein, the committee’s co-chair. “This means helping them in the planning phase to incorporate re-usable items wherever possible, and then sourcing only recyclable and compostable items.” 

Environment Committee volunteers assist at events, helping attendees to sort their waste into the right wash bins, recycling containers and compost buckets. The committee gladly consults with church groups interested in “zero-waste” events. 

Protecting Pollinators at St. Anne’s Damascus

St. Anne’s Damascus, is exploring ways to be better stewards of their 13 acres bordering a Montgomery County agricultural reserve. The parish is working toward using some of its land to convert to solar power, but in the meantime, it has set aside two acres for a monarch butterfly waystation.

Led by parishioner Geri Drymalski, the church’s Sacred Grounds Ministry is restoring the meadow on those two acres, removing trees and seedlings and seeding it with native plants like milkweed that attract monarchs and other pollinators. 

St. Anne’s youth have helped too, filling clayballs with the seeds used for planting. “With so much development going on around us, we feel it’s important to make a statement and do what we can to protect our resources,” says Lee Davis, St. Anne’s rector. “This is an easy way to do that in a short time frame.” 

Saving energy at St. James, Potomac

St. James, Potomac is also making sound use of its property. “We’ve established a large rain garden, fully funded by grants and rebates, and a comprehensive lighting retrofit that is saving substantial energy and money for the parish,” says Scott Harris, the parish’s earth stewardship coordinator. 

Lowering carbon emissions at Ascencion, Gaithersburg

Ascension, Gaithersburg has also recently finished upgrading all interior and exterior lighting on its campus with LEDs. LED lighting is 80% – 95% more efficient than incandescent and fluourescent lighting, and last much longer, resulting in fewer carbon emissions.

Reducing waste pollution at Church House

The message that environmental stewardship is a diocesan priority will be reinforced at every meeting at Church House. “When you come to a meeting … expect to be offered a glass of water, not a bottle,” writes Bishop Mariann Budde in her blog this week. “Look for healthier, less packaged food when coming for a meeting. In the coming year, we will join with all institutions on the Cathedral Close in efforts to reduce our carbon footprint.” 

And because no Episcopal initiative is complete without the proper prayers, the Rev. Debbie Brewin-Wilson of St. Thomas Church, Croom, has written a Eucharistic Prayer for Creation that Bishop Budde has authorized for use in the diocese. It is available on the diocesan website.

Susan Elliott is a freelance writer and editor. She is a member of St. Columba’s, DC, where she was communications director from 1986-2007. Since leaving that position, she’s been learning about the church beyond St. Columba’s, working on projects for the Episcopal Church Foundation, Forward Movement, RenewalWorks, and other church organizations and parishes.