The author, Mallory McDuff, shares the stories and strategies of church leaders and members and religious environmentalists to make ecojustice a priority for the church and create a clean and safe environment for everyone. Throughout history, the church and its members have played key roles in social change, from the abolition of slavery to the civil rights movement. A study by the PEW Forum on Religion and Public Life showed strong consensus for environmental protection across religions, in contrast to issues such as abortion and gay marriage.
With two very young daughters in tow, McDuff traveled across the country to document environmental actions grounded in faith. These stories also tell about the long-term economic gains for churches and communities from investing in green technologies, buildings and skills. McDuff highlights eight key ministries: protecting human dignity, feeding the hungry, creating sacred spaces, responding to natural disasters, promoting justice, making a pilgrimage, educating youth and bearing witness.
The work of churches often occurs in our buildings, and a large portion of church funds goes to maintaining these facilities. Improving the energy efficiency of our buildings is a moral imperative to address the climate crisis as well as to free up funds for other efforts. In one example, McDuff tells us about North Carolina Interfaith Power and Light and their work with La Capilla de la Santa Maria church, a Spanish-speaking congregation, to produce an energy-efficient worship space. The program at La Capilla also included a focus on green jobs training. During the installation of solar panels, members could build their skills. Experience in solar installation can be very marketable.
Another chapter focuses on loss and resurrection on the Gulf Coast. As one member said, “The church was the catalyst for getting things back in order after Katrina, not the government.” The stories McDuff discovered along the Gulf Coast include the congregation of Saint John Baptist Church, which integrated energy efficiency into their rebuilt church; Desire Street Ministries, which rebuilds churches and educates youth; and the Jericho Road Housing Initiative, which focuses on energy-efficient affordable housing. At University Presbyterian Church in Seattle, members committed to engaging people of faith in environmental advocacy. Working with Earth Ministry in the Pacific Northwest, they are bringing their faith and moral voice to bear witness for the environment and at the same time increasing their relevance in a region described as the most unchurched in the nation.
McDuff quotes Kenneth Woodward, whose book “Making Saints” defines a saint as “someone through whom we catch a glimpse of what God is like — and of what we are called to be.” McDuff shows that a focus on God’s Earth is transforming people and congregations and creating more relevant and powerful ministries. The stories collected in “Natural Saints” are a testimony to people doing the work of saints.
ALISON BENNETT is an elder at Saint Mark Presbyterian Church in Rockville, Md., and leader of Saint Mark Presbyterians for Earth Care.