Davidson church earns environmental award

At Davidson College Presbyterian, little changes have added up to national recognition for caring about the environment.

Instead of using paper plates, the youth group washes its dishes at its weekly meals. Church groups try to buy organic and fair-traded T-shirts for church programs. The church has switched incandescent light bulbs to energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs where it can.

In April, the environmental ministries of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) recognized DCPC as an Earth Care Congregation, one of 42 nationwide that have received that designation, according to the denomination's website.

The denomination has almost 11,000 congregations, and DCPC is the only church in the Charlotte area to be named an Earth Care Congregation.

The award recognizes churches that meet specific criteria, said Linda Steber, the church's director of Christian education.

Church members began discussing the connection between faith and the environment at a congregational retreat in early 2009, Steber said. A few months later, they worshipped outdoors on Earth Day.

"It was so wonderful, and it touched everybody," Steber said. "You experience God's creation in a different way."

The church implemented outdoor and environmental activities into vacation Bible school that summer and organized a "Green Group," which brought in speakers to talk about green living and how faith intersects with care for the environment.

"Then we thought, 'What can we do to go further?'" Steber said.

Church leaders began the Earth Care Congregation inventory, an extensive accounting of environment activities and changes the church has made. Now that they've received the designation, Steber said, church leadership will continue to promote environmental awareness and care.

She does not want the church to lag in environmental action.

"I'm hoping by doing this we are helping to be a leader in helping people realize this is important," Steber said. "We're not ignoring the idea that God gave us a great responsibility (for creation). Faith and the environment are not opposed to each other.

"We need to learn from each other and work together," she said.

The congregation has plenty of ideas for future projects, ranging from hosting a hazardous-waste pickup day to setting aside Sundays where congregants are encouraged to walk or bike to church.

The church recently asked members to bring in unused coffee mugs. As soon as it signs up enough volunteers to wash dishes, the church will switch to using the mugs instead of the disposable cups it now uses.

"Those are just little steps and goals, and I hope people will connect the idea and understand that if we're made in the image of God, and God is a creator, we are to help care for the creation in the same way God so lovingly cared for creation," Steber said.

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