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Church in Puerto Rico embraces Earth-friendly practices

Presbyterian Hunger Program highlights an Earth Care Congregation and promotes resources for Earth Day and Earth Day Sunday

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

Primera Iglesia Presbiteriana en Bayamón in Puerto Rico has a facility equipped with solar panels to provide emergency power for people when the area is impacted by emergencies, such as natural disasters. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) now has its first Earth Care Congregation in Puerto Rico.

Primera Iglesia Presbiteriana en Bayamón is in its first year as an official ECC, which are churches that demonstrate they are active stewards of the Earth by following, tracking and promoting environmentally friendly practices.

“Our interest in obtaining the certification was to motivate other congregations to follow the steps in broadening the Good News of Jesus through Creation care,” said Gloria D. Lozada-De Jesús, coordinator of the Earth care team for Primera Iglesia Presbiteriana.

Churches around the country take part in the program, which is led by the Presbyterian Hunger Program.

Participating churches show their commitment through worship and discipleship, educational efforts, facilities management and outreach activities. They also take the PC(USA)’s Earth Care Pledge.

Over the last few years, the congregation of Primera Iglesia Presbiteriana has taken part in various activities, including Bible studies (coordinated through the Ecological Ministry of the Presbytery of San Juan), and also has taken steps to reduce or eliminate the use of plastics in gatherings, said Lozada-De Jesús.

The church also does recycling and educates people about energy-saving practices.

“The challenge to Creation care is similar to other places in terms of you need to reach the conscience first for people to be willing to make a change, specially making the connection to acknowledge Creation care as a matter of faith,” Lozada-De Jesús said. “It’s like a conversion itself.”

One of the church’s most significant efforts is a solar panel project, Lozada-De Jesús said. As part of the project, “Centro Autosustentable” (Self Sustainable Center), solar panels were installed at a property that people can turn to for emergency power, such as during times of disasters. It provides “solar power to charge portable devices and to power a refrigerator to store prescription medicines” and other important products, such as food for special diets.

The church also hosts a community laundry facility to help the community in emergencies and other times.

The church hosts a community laundry facility to assist the community. (Contributed photo)

“At its inception, the Centro Autosustentable and the community laundry were two separate projects and were in two separate premises,” Lozada-De Jesús said. “We are in the process of consolidating both projects in one premise, so the community laundry is not solar powered yet.”

PHP has worked with the church on other endeavors.

“In 2022, the Presbyterian Hunger Program was thankful for the opportunity to work collaboratively with Gloria and Neddy Astudillo, as they co-founded Red Latina, a group of lay and ordained leaders and allies working to create holistic environmental ministries throughout Latinx churches,” said Jessica Maudlin, Associate for Sustainable Living and Earth Care Concerns for PHP. “We know that while too often the Latinx voice is missing from the climate change conversation, they are among those already experiencing the deeper impacts of the climate crisis in their communities. Puerto Rico has been an all-too-present example of this reality. We are so thankful for the witness of Primera Iglesia Presbiteriana and are humbled to accompany them in combating the climate crisis.”

In just a few days, the importance of caring for the Earth will be in the spotlight as various churches, individuals and groups hold activities celebrating Earth Day on April 22 and Earth Day Sunday on April 23.

Gloria D. Lozada is the coordinator of the Earth care team for Primera Iglesia Presbiteriana en Bayamón. She is pictured at an ecological Bible study organized by the Ecological Ministry of the Presbytery of San Juan. (Photo by the Rev. Dr. Neddy Astudillo)

At Primera Iglesia Presbiteriana, the Earth Day activity will be a Bible study about trees. It will be held in an open-air park in coordination with Ministerio Ecológico.

“Prior to 1970, there were no legal or regulatory mechanisms to protect our environment,” Maudlin said. “In the spring of that year, Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-Wisconsin) created Earth Day as a way to force this issue onto the national agenda. And it worked! More than 20 million people across America celebrated that first Earth Day. As people of faith, we know that we have a responsibility to be good stewards of Creation and part of that stewardship is celebrating the gifts of Creation, and Earth Day is the perfect opportunity to take intentional time to do so.”

Along with highlighting Primera Iglesia Presbiteriana, PHP is promoting an Earth Day Sunday resource by one of its partners, Creation Justice Ministries. Also, as part of a partnership with Unbound: An Interactive Journal of Christian Social Justice, a series of articles about Earth care and how to combat the climate crisis will be published by Unbound April 22-29.

Go here to learn more about Earth Care Congregations. Read a 2022 Presbyterians Today article by Maudlin about ECCs here.

The Presbyterian Hunger Program is one of the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries. Its work is made possible through gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing.

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