In Your Midst

A Greening Congregation

July 2010

St. James does its part for Mother Earth

On Sunday, June 13, St. James Cathedral was pleased to receive a unique honor:  being  recognized as a “Greening Congregation” by Earth Ministry.  It’s a wonderful affirmation of a lot of hard work by parish staff, and by the St. James Environmental Justice group, to help promote a deeper understanding of care for creation as part of practicing our faith.  Earth Ministry’s mission is to inspire and mobilize the Christian community to take a leadership role in caring for creation.  In naming a Greening Church, Earth Ministry looks at four areas: facilities, education, community involvement, and prayer.  

Facilities.  We have made a lot of progress—some visible and some not so visible—in making our facilities more environmentally sound.  You’ve probably noticed some of the more visible changes.  We’ve stepped up our recycling efforts throughout our facilities, including separating out the compostable kitchen waste from the Cathedral Kitchen program and many other events.  We’ve reduced our use of paper products at social events, using and washing real cups, dishes and flatware as much as possible.  We’ve banned the use of bottled water at cathedral events, and have encouraged outside caterers to follow our lead.  We use environmentally friendly cleaning products wherever possible, and we serve only Fair Trade coffee at Cathedral events.

Some of the changes are less noticeable, but no less significant in their impact.  During the 1994 renovation of the cathedral, new energy-efficient systems for lighting and heating were installed, and protective insulating glass was installed over all the stained glass windows.  At that time, we also made some changes to the rectory building, converting it from oil heat to “waste” steam heat from the cathedral building.  As part of the 2005 renovation of the Pastoral Outreach Center, the former convent became the first building to have its lighting installed under the new Seattle Lighting Code, which included wattage limitations and occupancy sensors.  The Outreach Center also has low volume flush toilets, and we opted for heat pumps and outside air circulation rather than install air conditioning.  Many of these changes have also resulted in significant cost savings, making us not only better stewards of creation but also better financial stewards as well.

Education and Awareness.  It’s not enough to try to improve our institutional practices.  We have also worked hard to help raise awareness for our parishioners of the link between our faith and care for creation, and thereby encourage all of us to become more environmentally responsible in our own lives.  Many Catholics are just now becoming aware of the church’s teaching on environmental stewardship.  The teaching on caring for the earth, of course, starts right at the beginning of Genesis, where we read of the creation of each of the elements of the world—the heavens and the earth, the sun and the moon, the creatures of the air, land and sea, and human beings as well—and God calls each of them good.  Pope Benedict has written frequently and eloquently on our call to environmental stewardship, most recently in his address for the World Day of Peace on January 1 of this year, “If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation.”  Clearly, for Pope Benedict, environmental stewardship is not an optional, secondary matter, but essential to our core Christian call to become peacemakers.  As part of our education and awareness activities, we’ve sponsored an eight-week class, “God’s Creation Cries for Justice: Climate Change, Impact and Response,” and have had several other shorter presentations.  The Environmental Justice Group has been pleased to partner with the Health and Healing Committee to host two environmental health fairs, and has sponsored two local foods dinners.

Community Involvement.   Our world is interconnected, and we cannot be isolated actors in our efforts to help care for our world.  We have been very privileged to work with Earth Ministry and with other congregations on education and advocacy events.  We’ve participated in Environmental Advocacy Day at the state legislature in Olympia, and at the Step It Up March for climate action.  We have recently partnered with Clean Greens Farm, a local organic farm operated by New Hope Baptist Church, to promote community supported agriculture by serving as a distribution site for produce deliveries.  In August, we will be partnering with the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition to sponsor an educational and prayer tour of the Duwamish River, to help bring awareness to the presence of this very toxic Superfund site right here in our city.  And we’ve recently added a new Project H.O.P.E. (Heal Our Planet Earth), to help share good green ideas and practices.

Prayer.  Finally, and most importantly, none of the above would be possible or effective without the power of prayer.  We have begun a tradition of an annual Taizé prayer service for climate action, calling together several of our brothers and sisters from other Christian traditions to pray that we become better stewards of the earth.  Most recently, we held a special Taizé prayer service to pray for the ongoing oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, praying not only for resolution of the crisis, but also for conversion of our own hearts away from our own patterns of waste and overconsumption.

We are proud to be recognized by Earth Ministry for these efforts, but there is much, much more to do.  The award we received is not for being a “green” congregation, but for being a “greening” congregation.  The work of greening continues, and is never done.  We encourage you to join in this effort. To find out more about the work of the Environmental Justice Group, go to  or contact Patty Bowman at 206-382-4515, pbowman@stjames-cathedral.

 Patty Bowman is the Director of Outreach at St. James Cathedral

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