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From North Carolina to Scotland: Earth Care Congregation partnership reaps benefits

Churches team up in stewardship of the earth

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

The Ardrishaig Parish Church in Scotland has become an eco-partner with the Montreat Presbyterian Church in North Carolina. (Photo by Bill Seaman)

LOUISVILLE – If you’ve ever been to Montreat, North Carolina, it’s easy to get caught up in the beauty of the mountains, trees and streams. The small community has drawn many visitors for spiritual re-awakening, prayer and a place to call home.

It was an easy choice for Bill Seaman, a retired environmental scientist, who moved to Montreat in 2007. He and his wife quickly connected with the Montreat Presbyterian Church. Before long, the couple became involved in the church’s environmental initiatives.

“We had been casting about in terms of what we could do in regards to earth care ministry,” said Seaman. “One of our many retired ministers convened a small group of us to do some planning. As we were determining our mission, we learned there was an earth care congregation program within the denomination.”

Seaman says worshipping in the Blue Ridge Mountains certainly contributed to their cause.

“Anyone who lives here and those who visit have the opportunity to enjoy this natural environment. It is so unique in that we are in this wonderful forest cove,” he said. “In 2010, our church was still reeling from a split. There was a lawsuit taking place and developing the earth care ministry was a way to start rebuilding the church identity.”

Montreat Presbyterian Church was designated as an “Earth Care Congregation” in 2011 by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) It was the second church in North Carolina to receive the distinction. It is status was renewed each year, most recently last spring.

“As I developed the Earth Care Congregation in our church, I came across the concept of Eco-Congregations, first in Canada and that led me to find similar congregations in Scotland,” he said. “So I did some comparison between the PC(USA), Scotland and Canada and got a lot of good background information.”

In 2015, Seaman, joined by six members of the church, traveled to Argyll, Scotland, where they met with members of the Ardrishaig Parish Church, about 75 miles west of Glasgow. Aridrishaig is one of more than 300 Eco-Congregations of the Church of Scotland.

“We met with a half a dozen members on a bright, crisp, sunny day and we hit it off immediately,” he said. “The Church of Scotland has its own climate change officer and he is headquartered in Edinborough, yet took time to be with us.”

The meeting led to a joint agreement or “twinning” statement of cooperation for Earth Stewardship between the two churches.

(left to right) Adrian Shaw, climate change officer for the Church of Scotland, Bill Seaman, Jean Hodgson, leader of the Eco-Congregation Program at Ardrishaig Parish Church, Gill and Martha Campbell of Montreat Presbyterian Church. Behind them are the waters of Loch Fyne, seen by worshippers as they leave the building.

In the statement, both churches said the loving care of creation is both their responsibility and great joy. “For some time we as individual communities of faith have sought to honor and protect God’s gracious gift of creation by making important adjustments to our personal lifestyles and that of our churches. We have further engaged in efforts within our local spheres of influence to promote awareness of earth care issues and to seek to effect change in policies and behavior within the larger community.”

The two churches say they have learned from and been encouraged by the work of others and have been able to present a “united witness for earth stewardship” within their particular nations. Under the agreement, the congregations pledge to share ideas and successful practices in caring for creation.

“We realize environmental issues are global and as people of faith, we need to be reaching out to share information and work together. One of the key things we committed to do is be in prayer for each other,” said Seaman. “It’s a powerful thing to know they are lifting us up in prayer. Now, every Sunday, in the church bulletin under prayer concerns, we list our various church missions and one is our eco-partner in Scotland.”

“We are all connected—as people of this one earth, our home, God’s good creation. I am heartened to hear of this great example of earth care ministry, where one local PC(USA) church has reached out in order to be inspired by and journey with another congregation in another part of the world,” said Rebecca Barnes, coordinator for the Presbyterian Hunger Program. “It helps to know we are not alone in doing challenging, ongoing work of making the world a better place. I think this is fabulous, how these churches compliment and support one another.”

“I spent my life in academia and yet in my retirement, I’m always on the lookout as to how to harmonize science and faith,” said Seaman. “A lot of people say they are at odds but that’s not the case. I bring my science in to help undergird our programs with facts. Faith is that mysterious part of life in that you can look at creation and realize it is more than just a collection of molecules.”

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There are currently 190 certified Earth Care Congregations in the PC(USA). Churches interested in receiving certification must take the Earth Care Pledge and complete a number of activities and projects in the fields of worship, education, facilities and outreach. Click here for more information.


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