Parish ‘green teams’ meet and discuss what is needed, across parishes
Initial discussions at the meeting identified four topics of greatest interest for further help and examination: how to start a green team, how to work with pastors, how to benchmark energy savings, and how to bring “Laudato Si’” into the Mass and other liturgies.
Members of nascent Bay Area green teams came together on July 30 at St. Teresa of Avila Parish in San Francisco to share progress, aspirations and obstacles during a “green team workshop” led by members of the parish’s own green team.
“We came here today to find out what is working in other parishes so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” said Verna Shaheen, a parishioner at Most Holy Redeemer. She and friend Barbara Applegate got the nod from their pastor before talking to parishioners about recycling and composting at after-Mass coffee hour. “Some people are on board and others are resistant,” she said.
Most Holy Redeemer got off to an exciting start, said Applegate, “But it’s a challenge to keep it going. I’m hoping I will walk away from today’s workshop with some ideas on how to really engage people,” she said.
The archdiocese encouraged laity to “be the driving force” in forming a parish response to the imperatives of “Laudato Si’: On Care For Our Common Hame” at an April 23 conference organized at the behest of Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone. He and an overflow crowd of 100 pastors, parishioners and staff at St. Anne of the Sunset parish hall collectively unpacked the pope’s historic messages.
“Pope Francis weaves together the need to respond to the environmental crisis, the economic inequities that create an ever-widening gulf between the rich and the poor, and the underlying spiritual hunger felt by so many today,” the archbishop said in his opening remarks. “I really believe that this is a cause that can unite us all no matter where you are on the political or the church spectrum.”
Thirty-one participants from the April conference registered for the July workshop at St. Teresa. Organizers called the workshop a “bridge” between the motivational thrust of the first conference and the more practical, boots-on-the-ground agenda of the second. A larger conference is again planned for the first week of October to coincide with the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi.
“Today is meant to be a chance for us to connect with each other about our intentions,” said Stephen Miller, chair of the St. Teresa of Avila Parish green team. He and Carmelite pastor Father Mike Greenwell and parishioner Gail Kendall have become the public face of the archdiocesan initiative, sharing their experience and knowledge at both conferences.
Miller, who works as deputy director for a Marin County nonprofit that shapes environmentally-responsible communities, and Kendall, an MIT-educated professor of mechanical engineering, joined the parish’s longtime efforts which were ‘green’ long before green was a thing, according to Father Greenwell.
The parish uses energy efficient lights, replaced old toilets with water-saving models, insulated ceilings and walls and purchase energy-efficient, recyclable, compostable or biodegradable products whenever possible.
Miller and Kendall developed a greenhouse gas emission report that showed a parish reduction of greenhouse gases of 30 percent in 2014 over the previous year, a number that translated into a savings of $7,100. The parish is in the process of installing solar panels in the priory, a $25,000 investment with a projected nine-year savings payback of $70,000 to $100,000.
With a few notable exceptions, like St. Teresa and St. Rita in Fairfax, who have well-established green teams, most parishioners said their parishes were still in the formative stages. Several parishes are recycling, composting and conserving water, installing energy-efficient-lighting and offering parishioners a copy of the encyclical.
But momentum is challenged, they said, by a lack of interest or commitment on the part of some pastors and parishioners, they said.
St. Anselm parishioner Maureen Bennett who attended with Margy Sheehan said her pastor Father Jose Shaji is supportive. “But our biggest challenge is recruiting other members,” she said. The parish is planning a “Green Mass” in October for the Feast of St. Francis, integrating relevant messages from the encyclical into the readings, prayers of the faithful and homily.
After going around the room and listening to team members, organizers identified four topics of greatest interest for discussion:
- how to start a green team
- how to work with pastors
- how to benchmark energy savings
- how to bring “Laudato Si’” into the Mass and other liturgies.
Kendall said there are organizations in all three counties that come to churches and do a free energy assessment. They will let you know what kinds of rebates and incentives are available. The organizations are San Francisco and San Mateo Energy Watch and Marin County Smart Lights Program.
“I can tell you that some of the people that do these audits are Roman Catholics, and they are delighted to come to any parish,” said Kendall. The assessment takes a little more than an hour.
“They tell you right on the spot, this or that would be a good thing to change,” she said. They follow it up with a written report to share with the pastoral council or green team and will even come to parish green team meetings.
Another popular discussion led by Father Ken Weare, pastor of St. Rita Parish was focused on weaving the concept of caring for creation into the Mass and other special liturgies. You really have to help your pastor more than ever if you want to bring the encyclical into the liturgy because there are fewer of them now and more work for them to do, he said. “Approach your pastor with a plan set out ahead of time and even homily ideas,” he said. Readings, the homily, petitions and song can all be infused with the spirit and words of the encyclical.
Within existing readings you can find lots of references to our personal responsibility as Christians, for each other, the world and God, Father Weare said. Almost every Gospel has something related to the way we are supposed to live as Christians,” he said.
Sara Steck of St. Rita said that the natural world is a revelation of God’s existence as Creator and his love for us.
“The people that don’t want to get involved in this initiative, they need to fall in love with it again and we can help them,” she said.
From August 11, 2016 issue of Catholic San Francisco.