Living Laudato Si’: Maryland Parishes Host Home Energy Workshops

Many individuals struggle to make concrete commitments and steps to reduce our ecological footprint. So when the Maryland Jesuit parishes Holy Trinity and St. Ignatius reflected on how their faith communities could respond to the Pope Francis’ clarion call to respond to climate change, they looked for pathways to help parishioners move from prayer, reflection and awareness raising to action.

After a series of environmental justice educational, theological, and advocacy oriented presentations in the fall of 2015, Holy Trinity parish in Washington, D.C., wanted to find a way for parish families and households to put the teachings of Laudato Si’ into practice. Working with the Greater Washington D.C. branch of Interfaith Power and Light (IPL), Holy Trinity parishioners John Hisle and Mary Lou Rife organized a household energy efficiency workshop to offer community members practical ways to reduce their carbon footprint. 

St. Ignatius Baltimore parishioner Annette Argall worked closely with IPL to host a similar workshop in Baltimore. Coming off a series of successful educational events and environmental justice advocacy initiatives in the fall, Argall recognized that a workshop focused on improving home energy efficiency was a good first step for home owners in their faith community. The workshop at St. Ignatius invited in Retrofit Baltimore, a local nonprofit that helps make older homes more energy efficient. Attendees learned how energy audits can help households identify steps for significant cost saving and energy reduction. Argall and her husband signed up for an energy audit after the workshop, learning that they are eligible for a rebate from their utility company if they make some of the recommended energy efficiency improvements.

IPL moderated the Holy Trinity workshop and, with guidance and input from parish sustainability committee, developed a panel that included representatives from a solar energy company and clean energy purchasing company. Panelists offered concrete steps that parishioners can take, walking through their home to assess and resolve the largest sources of energy inefficiency. Attendees received encouragement to start with simple and easy improvements: recycling all the time or exploring ways to remove food scraps from the landfill waste stream by composting. Panelists offered ways to make sustainable decisions as a family. Parishioners learned about opportunities to purchase solar and wind energy, rather than fossil fuel sources. They also heard about the benefits and challenges of installing solar energy cells in individual households.

Kate Tromble, social justice pastoral associate at Holy Trinity parish, found the home energy efficiency workshop to be useful at the individual and parish level. “For individuals,” Tromble noted, “the workshop made people aware that some energy options that seemed to be unrealistic were more possible than they thought.” The workshop also encouraged the parish sustainability committee to begin asking questions about energy use at the parish, beginning a conversation with the Archdiocese about how they negotiate energy contacts and enlisting Holy Trinity in a pilot program to explore shifting parishes toward clean energy.

Both parishes continue to explore ways to live out the call of Laudato Si’. This fall, they’ll both repeat the household energy efficiency workshop in an effort to educate more parishioners. Holy Trinity will continue the conversation with the Archdiocese about clean energy purchasing and they are developing additional programming that orients parishioners towards caring for creation: an eight-week study group examining Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical; active hiking and contemplative time in nature; a challenge to parishioners to develop new organic garden spaces in their homes; and a project to eliminate the use of bottled water both in the parish and in parishioners’ personal lives.

Interfaith Power and Light has state chapters organized across the East Coast. To connect with IPL resources in your area, and explore the possibility of hosting a similar workshop, visit their website. For spirituality and reflection resources on care for creation with an Ignatian focus, click here.

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