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St. Anselm’s Ecology Group: How Our Church’s Green Team Evolved

Guest post by Marlie Whittle, St. Anselm’s Ecology Group in Toronto.

St Anselms green team with certificate
GSS Certification Team

In 2015, Pope Francis wrote an encyclical called Laudato Si: Praise be to You. This encyclical was a call to environmental action from the highest authority of the Catholic Church. Since 2015, many Catholic orders, churches and people have found different ways to respond to this call. I have had the privilege of being on St. Anselm’s Church’s ‘Green Team’ for over a year. We call ourselves St. Anselm’s Ecology Group and in the past three years our team has grown from two parishioners to 13!

We have used insights from Faith & the Common Good’s Guide to Developing a ‘Green Team’ in Your Faith Community combined with the educative elements of the Pope’s encyclical, Laudato Si to structure our team’s work.

The first page of FCC’s Green Team guide starts with an inspiring quote from Margaret Mead:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

I’d like to share how St. Anselm’s Ecology Group has been gradually and deliberately changing the world since 2014:

   1. It began with a spark

Two brave parishioners went to their priest with an idea to start a social justice group at the parish. Later, they announced at Mass an invitation to all parishioners who were interested in joining such a group to come to one parishioners house. About a dozen people showed up but only one other person wanted to commit to eco-justice and developing a ‘Green Team’. The pair did not get discouraged by their small number, instead they dove into a variety of projects in a brief period of time. In several months, they organized many different initiatives including:

  • Inviting a guest speaker to talk on Earth day
  • Involving the youth group in planting seeds
  • Writing a newsletter called ‘Footprints’ which is focused on Faith and the Environment

   2. Then there was a plan

The ambitious founders of our group quickly learned that they needed to space out their activities in order to manage all the different projects. They created an annual plan that outlined activities in four key areas:

  • Prayer for Creation, including a weekly Rosary.
  • Education about local and global environmental problems and solutions of all shapes and sizes.
  • Action to reduce the carbon footprint of the church and its parishioners.
  • Communication about the Ecology Group’s events, campaigns (e.g. anti-bottled water) and messaging from Laudato Si.

When Laudato Si was published in June of 2015, the Ecology Group organized three evenings of discussion and reflection on the encyclical with Yvonne Prowse, a retreat leader from the Ignatius Jesuit Center in Guelph, Ontario. This and other educational activities engaged a broader group of parishioners and attracted new members to the ecology group.

   3. Next, we started to measure our progress

With a few new members and a solid plan, it was time to start setting goals to lower St. Anselm’s carbon footprint. Our team used the Green Certification Checklist from Greening Sacred Spaces as a framework and benchmark for determining our progress. It took us a year to achieve “Light Green” status.

    4. Now we are one of St. Anselm’s most active ministries

On the first Sunday of Advent 2017, our group hosted two events. The first was an Advent wreathmaking workshop where parishioners were incentivized to recycle their wreaths from previous years. The second event was a screening of one episode from Salt and Light’s television series Creation followed by a discussion. We were joined by members of the youth prefect group and other interested parishioners. Both events were a success and we continue to see increasing engagement in our activities.

Our current Ecology Group has 13 dedicated members with a variety of backgrounds and skill-sets. We use our yearly overviews to make sure that everyone’s ideas are given a time and place to be realized. Our team works hard to engage other parishioners and broader community members. This year, we hope to broaden our positive environmental impact through ecumenical initiatives with local churches.

St Anselms Creation Event
Creation Event

Recently, we launched a monthly e-newsletter to improve communication with people who are interested in understanding our faithful responsibility to protect our ecological habitats. In the monthly e-newsletter we share ideas for living sustainably, information about local community or parish events and much more.

One of the keys to success of our team has been to take each project one step at a time. Although, our culture makes us anxious to see immediate results, our team has mastered the art of patience and appreciation.  The second key to growing engagement is by providing a variety of opportunities for people to become involved. From spiritual retreats to newsletters, we are constantly brainstorming new ways to connect with people on these issues.

Overall, St. Anselm’s Ecology Group has been a wonderful learning experience for everyone involved and we are looking forward to many more years of positive change.

Marlie Whittle is a member of St. Anselm’s Ecology Group and an environmental lifestyle blogger. Her blog GreeninTO (greenintoronto.eco) strives to illustrate how to live by green principles in the city of Toronto. It is a blog that shares ideas about collective action towards the good of people and the planet. She became passionate about advocating for ecological protection after planting trees in the Alberta tar sands’ reclamation efforts and living in smoggy Hangzhou, China for over two years.

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