Eco-spirituality workshop gives tools for protecting the environment

COLUMBIA—Parishes, Catholic schools and other faith communities can do their part to save the planet through simple activities such as recycling programs, discussion groups, even something as basic as turning off extra lights and adjusting the thermostat up or down depending on the season.
That was the core message for about 40 people who attended “How to Energize for Eco-spirituality,” a workshop by Sister Paula Gonzalez at Columbia’s Shandon United Methodist Church on Jan. 24. The Midlands Green Congregation Initiative and South Carolina Interfaith Power and Light sponsored the event.
Sister Paula, a member of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, is known as “The Solar Nun” because she lives in a converted solar house, drives a solar-powered golf cart, and has spent the past 40 years teaching others about the environment.
She said churches have a special role to play in protecting the environment because Christians realize that all creation comes from God and is a reflection of His divine love, and consequently, they need to work to preserve what God has made.
“It’s a matter of being God’s hands and feet on the earth,” she said. “We need to ponder our footprint on the earth because the United States’ energy consumption is twice the rest of the industrial world. God is telling us we can’t keep doing what we’re doing.”
She offered suggestions about how churches can begin to develop reverence and concern for the environment.
Start an environmental club or group. Members could meet at least once a month to learn more about the issues, discuss their environmental impact and talk about ways to help their families and the parish go green. Make sure you have the support of the pastor. St. John Neumann Church in Columbia has an active environmental group that organizes recycling efforts and special workshops for the community.
Get all ages involved.  Incorporate green activities into programs for young people and seniors. Encourage youth groups, Scouts and other groups for children to take on earth-friendly service projects. Form environmental clubs for youth. At St. Peter School in Beaufort, for instance, students can join a recycling club and a gardening club where they learn more about creating wildlife habitats, conserving rainwater and composting.
Learn how to make your worship space more energy efficient. Churches are often large vacant spaces that are generally poor in efficiency, Sister Paula said. Check with local utility companies to see if a worker can do an energy assessment on the building to see how efficiency can be improved. The U.S. Department of Energy offers guidelines on their website ( Cool Congregations is a nationwide effort to help churches and their members become more energy conscious and calculate their carbon footprint and how much energy they use –
Consider earth-friendly materials and technology when adding on to facilities or building new buildings. If space and budgets allow, Sister Paula suggested considering ways to use solar or other non-fossil fuel sources of energy in buildings.