PARTICIPANTS DISCUSS ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES (EMILY BENSON PHOTO)
PARTICIPANTS DISCUSS ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES (EMILY BENSON PHOTO)
<
1
2
>
Protecting the Earth is a goal for many faith communities. Now, Catholic parishes and other congregations in the Albany Diocese are teaming up to work on environmental issues.

On Feb. 20, members of 14 congregations of various faiths gathered at St. Vincent de Paul parish in Albany for a "Creation Care" community meeting on environmental protection. Their goal was to learn what each congregation is doing and collaborate on ideas to further help their cause.

Parish-based Creation Care committees work on raising awareness about environmental issues. They sponsor events on topics like the importance of recycling, solar energy and other ways of protecting the climate.

According to NASA, global sea levels have risen eight inches in the past century, and most of the Earth's warming has occurred in the past 35 years, with 16 of the 17 warmest years on record occurring since 2001. There is evidence of shrinking polar ice sheets, melting glaciers and an increase in the amount of carbon dioxide in the oceans.

"The last few years have been the hottest on record," said the Rev. Daniel Carlson of First Reformed Church of Schenectady. He said the planet is in "desperate" need of help.

David Cullen co-chairs the Creation Care team at St. Vincent's along with Barbara DiTommaso, retired head of the Albany Diocese's Peace and Justice Commission.

"We read ['Laudato Si','] the pope's encyclical [on the environment,] and wanted to educate the parish. It's so urgent," said Ms. DiTommaso.

Big plans
The two spent four months organizing last week's community meeting.

"We are here to network with other parishes, see what people are doing, see how we can be a part of doing anything together," said Jeanne Schrempf, co-chair of the Creation Care team at her parish, St. Thomas the Apostle in Delmar, and retired head of the diocesan Office of Evangelization, Catechesis and Family Life (now the Catholic Education and Faith Formation Services Office). "God gave us the Earth to take care of. It's a part of our faith."

"We are hoping to start our own Creation Care team," said Richard Albagli of Immaculate Heart of Mary parish in Watervliet. "I came here to listen and to get ideas."

The 27 attendees sat at tables, enjoying cookies and coffee -- in paper cups, with wooden stirrers instead of plastic.

A representative from each of the 14 attending faith communities spoke on behalf of their team, noting what they teams have accomplished or what they hope to accomplish. Mary Cosgrove of St. Vincent's took notes on an easel.

Speaking for St. Thomas' team, Mrs. Schrempf said the committee has been writing inserts for the parish bulletin about steps to better the environment. They also designed and sold recyclable grocery bags to reduce the use of plastic bags, raising funds for global water projects (see sidebar), and held a "water day prayer service" with faith formation students.

St. Vincent's parish has also been putting notices in its bulletins about topics like reducing food waste and reducing one's carbon footprint when traveling, and announcing upcoming information sessions on climate change.

Good ideas
At the community meeting, some attendees took notes as representatives spoke, borrowing ideas to try for their own faith communities or worship spaces.

"We put recycling bins in our church, but we need to remind people frequently that they are there," noted Nancy Peterson of the Unitarian Universalist Society in Schenectady.

Mrs. Peterson's Green Sanctuary group also holds an annual fall harvest, selling locally-grown foods as a fundraiser for area environmental and climate change programs.

The First Reformed Church of Schenectady sent several busloads of people to the Climate March in Washington, D.C., in 2017. Messiah Lutheran Church in Rotterdam has been working to incorporate caring for God's creation as a part of its school curriculum.

At St. Kateri Tekakwitha parish in Schenectady, there's a push to use more solar energy at the parish and to advocate for its use in the wider community.

Concluding the meeting, participants made a plan to get together again in two months -- this time, to discuss how they can start working as a united front on a project benefiting the environment.

"I'm not sure if we use our collective influence as much as we could," remarked a participant from the United Jewish Federation in Albany. "A united faith base could have some effect on people in power right now who are really hurting us. That's one of the things I want to stop."

"I was struck with how energized everyone was," Ms. DiTommaso said. "Hearing ideas of what could be done, I think, gave people a sense of hope."

(For more information, contact Mr. Cullen at 518-794-9550 or dcullen45@hotmail.com.)