|St. George's Anglican Parish of the Blue Mountains, in Clarksburg, ON
The Green Sacred Spaces Certification (GSS) program motivates, recognizes, and celebrates those faith communities that demonstrate commitment to caring for the environment through action. There are three levels to aim for and complete: Light Green, Medium Green and Deep Green. Each certification level has a corresponding checklist of possible actions in 8 categories such as Energy, Water and Community.
St. George's Anglican Parish of the Blue Mountains, in Clarksburg, ON., is one such committed faith community participating in the program. St. George's Parish achieved Light Green status in 2021 and Medium Green status in 2022, with parish council member Michelle Hughes putting in the 2022 application for the church.
Joining as a member of parish council in 2021, Michelle was asked by the rector to consider the direction of their ministries. "For me, praying on it, I wanted to focus on environmental work,” she says.
Michelle says she doesn’t consider herself to be an expert in this area but instead, wanted to “learn and grow with everybody else,” recognizing that she shared the same concerns and “feelings of inadequacy that everybody has about whether or not they are doing the right thing.”
Along with members Elaine Beard and Richard Griffith, they formed a core green team, and together, they identified the GSS Certification program as a way forward. They decided to aim for Medium Green status, given that they had already attained Light Green status thanks to the previous efforts of past members. As well, a past Green Audit had resulted in actions taken and provided a solid foundation to build upon.
Michelle notes the fluidity of the broader team, with people coming in and out of it as the tasks flow, and as recommendations are made. “It’s a great opportunity to call on people; ‘You’ve got some skills, why don’t you share that?’” she says.
Describing the property location itself, “We are gifted. We have everything here: the bay, mountains, orchards, vineyards, animals. We have a beautiful church, and a generous space around the church on our lawn.”
It’s no wonder that the team is eager to honour their blessings!
Medium Green Action: Highlight
St. George’s Parish has an industrial functional kitchen and during Covid, provided 11,000 meals to members of the community. One of the larger projects the team took on was constructing a large double-sided composter for plant matter from the kitchen, to build soil. “We were led here, through the Certification Program; through the steps,” Michelle says.
The team faced certain challenges, especially as they were working during the height of Covid. For the ‘Community’ category of the Certification, “We had to think outside the box; how could we be outside and gather? And so on Earth day, we were talking about acts of love, inviting people to go out and do something that they love, even if it was just enjoying nature, and then sharing a photo of them doing it.”
Michelle describes some of the submissions as “neat,” such as the lamp someone built out of recycled musical instruments.
Last year, St. George’s was able to resume regular programming and events, and they hosted their traditional community fish fry for the first time since Covid struck. Without the knowledge base for recycling and repurposing, the green team reached out to their neighbours at Grace United Church, who hosted the booth and helped to educate more toward efficient recycling. St George’s had previously collected thousands of pieces of cutlery and avoided plastic waste. This momentum carried over to St. George’s Parish annual corn roast, where their green team ran the booth and this time, Grace United supported them, which culminated in their last event, during the Season of Creation – a parish picnic, opened to the community.
“We were really pleased. It was our first zero waste attempt, and it happened very quickly,” Michelle says. “I don’t want to be a doubter, but I was surprised at how people embraced bringing their own things, not using plastic. It was really satisfying.”
A highlight of the event was a visit from Ojibway artist and speaker, Red George. “Red brought his artwork which is focused on Indigenous spirituality, the beauty of nature and our relationships to each other and nature.”
|Red George, Ojibway Artist
And so, unintentionally, the team was “led to” a section of Medium Green, where, Michelle admits they haven’t done much, but opens up a whole new area for them to explore: Environmental and Climate Justice.
“We noticed the big gap here, and we’ve moved more into that space. It is a different level of caring than we started with, we have more balance on what we are doing.”
Going for Deep Green: Forming Relationships
As they move into the new year, Michelle says that there are areas of Medium Green they will be reinforcing. She points out that it's not so much a striving for Deep Green, “but there are areas where we need to go a little deeper, learn more, and that’s going to come from relationships. Relationships are very important. We want to have people come from the community and we want to learn more. We are a growing community, so it’s a great opportunity to form relationships and collaborations with the other faith communities and our greater community.”
Communicating and Sharing Successes
Not wanting to “pat ourselves on the back,” Michelle recognizes, in reading the FCG mandate, the importance of celebrating achievements is part of the process, and so they use social media to share announcements. They also have a newsletter. As well, the certificate hangs in the hall so that congregation members can see it when they come in.
“Share what you do. That’s how you bring people in,” Michelle says. “It’s a collaborative effort, people don’t have to be at every meeting. It’s about taking in other people's experience and their knowledge.”
GSS Certification: A Useful Tool
Concerning the certification process and associated checklist of actions to complete, “What we enjoyed about it is that it’s a great way to move forward without having to do everything perfectly, Michelle says. “These actions allowed us to focus on one thing at the time, which is really helpful.”
Michelle reports that the team appreciated the way the tasks in the checklist were laid out across the various different areas identified, such as, in the worship space, in the community, the building itself. “It allows you to move through a given area or decide this is an area where we have to do more,” she says.
“It's been a great process. I am sure we would have found projects to work on, but I don’t know we would have done so so comprehensively. I don’t know we would have covered that much ground; the certification sheds light on all different areas.”
Michelle says she appreciates how all the tasks are connected to something — the bigger picture — and would like to see that message emphasized: WHY we are doing this, why it’s important.
“When I first looked at it, I did say, this is really well laid out, but I didn't have the experience. I was wondering if we are ticking off things or is this really connected to something? And as we went through the list, we found it was connected.”
For Michelle, another understated benefit of the program is its spillover: “As we make changes here, they spill into our own homes, transforming how we care about our own community. The program is helpful in that it gets you thinking. Even if you have not tackled the big things, it's the process of questioning and changing the mindset. Now the mindset wants to learn a bit more.”
To those interested in participating in the program, Michelle offers the following advice: ”Take one step at a time, don’t overwhelm yourself. Secondly, nurture relationships in your own community. Not only do they have relationships, but everybody comes through a relationship.”
Excited about the possibilities that await thanks to engaging with the next steps of the GSS Certification program, Michelle offers this parting thought: “The greatest lesson from this is that it offers a lot of hope. It transforms our mind and our relationship of caring for God’s creation.”