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The religion of recycling
Many local churches are pairing faith with the environment
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Going green at church is an idea now coming to fruition at local churches.

More pastors feel they can rally around the concept of environmental ethics, which connects science and religion.

“I think the drought has done an awful lot to make us aware that we need to be better stewards with all of our resources and I think this will give a new sense of responsibility,” said the Rev. Tom Jones, pastor of congregational care and older adults at Gainesville First United Methodist. “We recycle within the life of our church in some areas; we do need to do better for sure and be more considerate of the resources that we have.”

A group of five churches organized an environmental event called “Stewardship and Sustainability: A Challenge for Faith & Science,” a dialogue for Earth Day 2008 with guest speakers the Rev. Dr. Holmes Rolston III, Bryan Norton and the Rev. Dr. Bill Coates.

Along with First United Methodist, participating churches include First Baptist Church of Gainesville, Cumming First United Methodist, Grace Episcopal Church and First Presbyterian in Gainesville.

The churches hope to bring awareness to the many environmental issues everyone faces today, but some of the congregations involved with the Earth Day events have already begun thinking green.

“We have been recycling and resource sensitive,” said the Rev. Dr. David McDonald, senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church. “Not too long ago we put up an additional recycling bin behind the church for the members and folks can leave stuff there. We also, with the drought last year ... instituted a policy where we use the Purel-type stuff in the public bathrooms, to encourage people to use that and not water.”

McDonald added that the church recently had an energy audit performed by Georgia Power and “are in the process of evaluating and seeing what additional things we can do to help out ... leadership in the church has talked about becoming a green church.”

First Baptist has started a comprehensive plan for recycling, and Coates said he has requested to eliminate Styrofoam containers where possible.

The church also has reduced the amount of water used in its baptismal pool and drilled a well for all the church’s water needs.

“People are beginning to realize and finally wake up to the fact that resources are in trouble,” said McDonald. “It is environmental and coming from the faith perspective. Our Presbyterian heritage does encourage us ... in the area of stewardship, to not just think about the stewardship of finances and giving to the church but also the stewardship of natural resources that God has given us.”

The speaker for the April 13 interfaith service will be Rolston, a pastor and a professor of philosophy at Colorado State University. Rolston is known as the “father of environmental ethics” and was awarded the Templeton Prize in Science and Religion in 2003.

“I hope that our churches and educational institutions will find a way to forge an alliance to encourage us to develop environmental ethics,” said Frank Armstrong, who was instrumental in bringing Rolston to Gainesville and putting together the events. “It’s not just an option program right now, it’s a very compelling issue.”

The public forum at First Presbyterian will be moderated by former Episcopal minister the Rev. Mike Freeman. He will be joined by panelists Rolston; Norton, who is a professor of philosophy at Georgia Institute of Technology; and Coates of First Baptist.

The panel discussion will touch on topics focusing on water shortages, climate change, deforestation and air and water pollution.

While Armstrong, a member at First United Methodist, said it’s great to see local churches recycling and concerned about energy consumption, he thinks environmental ethics go much deeper.

“I think all the churches try to be as ecological as they can, but that is not really the point here,” said Armstrong, who has served on the board at the Elachee Nature Center since 1982. “We’re not just trying to get churches to recycle, we’re trying to develop a theology of environmental ethics and we are trying to get science and religion to cooperate in that project.

“I hope we will start thinking about it very seriously — what’s the basis of our decisions, are we doing it for the dollar bottom line or do we have some other things in mind that are very important to us? And that is where religion comes in.”