Growing environmental concerns urged one Longmont congregation to make a commitment for change, that commitment earned Central Longmont Presbyterian Church an award that has them standing out as leaders in the region.
Central Longmont Presbyterian is one of many congregations that belong to Presbyterian Church U.S.A. The Longmont chapter has one purpose, “to know Jesus and bless the community,” according to the church’s website.
Central Longmont takes this purpose seriously and extends it to helping the Earth. As a member of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., Longmont’s chapter learned of a program within their larger church community that focused on an eco-friendly approach to worship and ministry.
The Earth Care Congregation program allows churches to make a pledge to take care of God’s Earth through four categories: worship, education, facilities, and outreach, according to the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. website.
The process for gaining recognition was not as simple as signing up. Central Longmont had to commit to several changes, said Jennifer Haratsaris, the Earth Care coordinator at Central Longmont and member of the church for 20 years.
“We had a real energized group of our members … that came together and decided to form an Earth Care team,” Haratsaris said.
Deirdre Butler, a member of the church since Sept. 2019, joined the Earth Care team just prior to the pandemic. Her mother instilled a love of nature in her from an early age that inspired her to volunteer for wildlife and conservation organizations throughout adulthood.
Passionate about taking care of “the only home, the only planet we have,” Butler believes educating the next generation so that caring for the planet becomes “second nature and an obvious first consideration in all that they do,” is an important step, she said.
The church leaders agreed with the idea and the Earth Care team set out learning more about how best to teach an entire congregation to help make eco-friendly choices.
“What Earth Care is all about is a natural expression of what we understand what it means to be a church and what it means to be Jesus’ followers. This is a natural progression for us so a majority of the people in the congregation see this as something that just makes sense,” Pastor David Barker said.
In early March, Central Longmont joined 276 other Presbyterian Church U.S.A. congregations nationally, and one of three in the region in becoming an Earth Care Congregation, according to a news release.
“It is exciting that CENTRALongmont Presbyterian Church is one of the 276 churches that chose to dedicate themselves to intentional care of God’s earth this year. Particularly in a time of much uncertainty and worry about the future, this congregation’s activities, and commitment, even in the midst of navigating limitations brought about by COVID-19, brings hope to their community. We believe that CENTRALongmont Presbyterian Church will inspire others to respond intentionally to God’s call to care for the earth,” says Jessica Maudlin, Associate for Sustainable Living and Earth Care Concerns for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
“I think that it means a lot because it is not an easy thing to achieve, it really does require a commitment from the leadership of the church and the congregation,” Barker said. “This constitutes a fundamental change in the way we go about the things that we do.”
Robin Edwards, a member of Central Longmont for the last 30 years, was so excited about the project that she joined as quick as possible.
“I was eager to learn more about protecting our environment,” she said. “I love to be out in nature, to explore beautiful places, breathe clean air and view wildlife in their natural habitat. It is important to me that everyone should have this same opportunity both now and in the future … The more I learn, the more I care, the more I want to do what I can to make a positive change. There is so much beauty on this earth and it is up to us to protect it.”
Among those things is incorporating lessons for caring about the Earth during Sunday worship, Haratsaris said. Last year the church focused two days of worship on the idea. Beyond services, the Earth Care team has maintained an educational component throughout the pandemic through daily eco-friendly tips to utilizing local parks for book clubs and Bible studies, she said.
Part of the education component involved teaching church members how they could make lasting changes in their own homes.
These sustainable practices tied into the church’s Matthew 25 program.
“Matthew 25 is an initiative of the Presbyterian Church (USA) rooted in Jesus’ admonition to his followers to care “for the least of these” (25:31-46). Being a Matthew 25 congregation means that CENTRALongmont is committed to acting boldly and compassionately to serve people who are hungry, oppressed, imprisoned, or poor. ” according to the church’s website.
The church focuses on dismantling structural racism and eradicating systemic poverty, Barker said, adding that he recognizes that no one church alone can do that, but focusing on what the church can do within its own community.
“This fits with the Earth Care because those three go together. Environmental issues are interlocked with issues of racism and issues of poverty. If you are going to deal with one and do anything in a holistic fashion, you are ultimately going to end up deal with all of them,” Barker said.
The church is continuing its efforts to gain the Earth Care recognition this year, an accreditation awarded on a yearly basis. This year, it hopes to farm a small plot of land, lent by a member of the church, and donate the harvest to Westview Presbyterian’s Round Pantry.
“One of our main outreach focuses is an initiative ... we are calling The Giving Gardens. It will bring home how caring for the earth is related to our food system and eradicating poverty,” Haratsaris said.
Edwards said she was excited to participate in the gardening project “to make a positive impact on the world. I am excited to grow pesticide free produce for the community, to continue to explore new ways to reduce our waste through composting and to embrace the idea that less is more.”
“This church, we really understand our identity as people of faith in terms of responsibilities and obligations we have to the community as a whole. One of the ways that we can manifest that responsibility to the broader community is choices that we make in how we live,” Barker said.