South Charlotte

Faith program focuses on the environment

It's easy to talk about wanting to help the environment.

Kate Green, 65, and the Rev. Amy Brooks, 49, actually are living their principles.

Green, a member of Myers Park Baptist Church, and Brooks, minister at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Lake Norman, applied and were selected to participate in GreenFaith Fellowship, which has its headquarters in New Jersey.

GreenFaith Fellowship is a religious-environmental education and training program with applicants from diverse traditions of faith throughout the nation. Graduates return to their communities to be influential speakers and leaders for religion-based environmentalism.

Green's sponsoring institution is Myers Park Baptist, while Brooks' is Mecklenburg Ministries, a nonprofit interfaith organization in Charlotte that includes numerous congregations.

Attendance at three residential retreats is among the key components of the program. The retreats focus on environmental stewardship, spirituality and environmental justice. GreenFaith fellows also write about environmental issues.

Green, who has completed all three retreats, says the environmental justice retreat involves touring a toxic site. She traveled to New Jersey to see the implications on local communities of cleaning up pollution in the Passaic River, which is contaminated by dioxins from manufacturing.

Green said the experience was both horrifying and inspirational. "It was a real eye-opener for everyone," she said.

The other retreats were in Pennsylvania and New York.

Brooks said her readings led her to realize the civil rights and environmental movements are intertwined. During segregation, African-Americans, often denied the use of public spaces like parks, lacked access to green space.

Green's main environmental interest is "helping people connect the dots between social justice and environmental justice," she said, while Brooks said her interest is in "equipping people to know how they can actually make a change in their life."

At Myers Park Baptist, Green is part of efforts to start a community garden and promote energy efficiency. Brooks' small congregation in Lake Norman doesn't have its own facility yet, but if it does get one Brooks says LEED - Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design - certification will be a goal. Brooks has solar panels installed at her Huntersville home.

Brooks, noting that environmental discussion is often framed by sacrifice, says, "We're not really giving anything up. We are making room for a new way to be."

Green's environmental passion even prompted her in the 1990s to legally change her last name to fit her commitment to green principles, a move friends and family supported.

Tuition for GreenFaith Fellowship is $1,500, not including travel costs. Meals and lodging are provided. Fellows' sponsoring institutions offer financial assistance, or if that isn't possible, offer other support.

Green and Brooks serve on a committee organizing a regional interfaith environmental conference and training sponsored by several groups. It's planned for October at Myers Park Baptist Church and Friendship Missionary Baptist Church and will attract seminary students, clergy and lay leaders. Registration will be $50, with scholarships available. Seminary students attend free.