Maryland Presbyterian Church is a progressive Christian community located in Towson, Maryland. Green Team Leaders Pastor Mary Gaut and Bill Breakey talked with us about all the work their church has done to make environmental stewardship “part of our genome.”
What is your proudest accomplishment at Maryland Presbyterian Church?
Mary Gaut: Over the last ten years, we have strived to make environmental stewardship a core value of our congregation.
Bill Breakey: Environmental stewardship has become “part of our genome” at Maryland Presbyterian.
How did you implement principles of environmental stewardship in your congregation?
Mary: As pastor, I have incorporated some aspect of caring for the Earth into every worship service. Our members have publicly signed an Earth Stewardship Covenant as a formal part of a service.
Bill: We have worked to make our campus as energy efficient as possible, beginning with an energy audit by IPL-DMV. We have changed our lighting, put in energy efficient windows, and contracted for 100% clean energy through Groundswell’s Community Power Program. We implemented recycling, composting, and improved water management on our 2.5-acre campus.
Mary: We have also worked hard to turn our campus into a place where congregants and the wider community can experience the beauty of nature. We replaced invasive species with native plants and installed a prayer garden, a labyrinth, and a meditation trail. Outreach to our surrounding neighborhood and wider community has been an important aspect of this work.
Bill: There are several other aspects to our outreach efforts. We are building partnerships with neighboring congregations to explore how we may work on environmental issues together. We will host a yearly environmental film festival in May that is open to the public. Every summer we host a day camp for children from a community center in downtown Baltimore. We have also participated in advocacy, attending the recent Cove Point demonstration in Baltimore and lobbying our legislators in Annapolis.
What are your favorite memories arising out of Maryland Presbyterian green initiative?
Mary: Our congregation hosted a visit from Phillip Newell, a Celtic theologian and poet, in the fall of 2012, who praised our campus as “a church without walls.”
Bill: I particularly enjoyed the Eco Parties that we held to pull up invasive species on campus. It was a good feeling to see a concrete accomplishment in a short period of time.
What else have you learned from this project?
Mary: Our environmental efforts and development of an Earth Stewardship consciousness have drawn new members to our church.
What is the most difficult obstacle Maryland Presbyterian has faced in its efforts?
Mary and Bill: The hardest part of this work is helping people feel empowered in the face of the enormity of the task and the long-term nature of the task. We must become less dependent on working for short term goals, more focused on the long view, which recognizes that the health of the planet and the well being of our grandchildren are inextricably related.
What is most rewarding about the green initiatives at Maryland Presbyterian?
Bill: For me, watching people grow in the environmental consciousness—first becoming aware and then becoming enthusiastic.
Mary: I have found that this work has deepened my own spirituality and has drawn me closer to God.
What are the next green things you’d like to do to respond to climate change?
Bill: We are looking forward to a visioning session soon, led by facilitators from Interfaith Partners For The Chesapeake. This will give our Green Team a chance to take a fresh look at what our next steps should be.
Do you have any advice for other Green Team Leaders trying to save energy, go green and respond to climate change?
Bill: Build a Green Team. Place Green Team members on all other congregational committees, as well, to help make Earth Stewardship a part of everything that happens in the congregation.
Mary: First, network with other groups like IPL-DMV that will support your team. Second, Green Team Leaders need to be, and stay, informed on developments relating to environmental issues, so that they can answer questions accurately and integrate the facts with a religious perspective.