GreenFaith institutions take on water conservation in their communities

Posted on by Stacey Kennealy, GreenFaith Certification Program and Sustainability Director

GreenFaith’s Water Shield Program is helping religious communities across the state take on water conservation. St. Bernard’s Church in Bernardsville hosted an interfaith water-themed summer camp, where campers explored a pond, conducted scientific experiments and learned about different traditions’ rituals on water.

For many people, connections with water represent powerful emotional or spiritual experiences.

Stacey Kennealy is GreenFaith’s Certification Program and Sustainability Director.

A  growing number of faith communities are not only praying for the protection of clean water, but are also putting their beliefs into action. Through its Water Shield Program, an environmental merit badge for faith communities, GreenFaith is helping this take shape in religious communities across the state.

Want to get involved? Green Faith is offering a webinar on May 27 for faith communities that would like to learn more about this opportunity.

As members of Church of the Atonement in Tenafly prayed on one recent “Water Shield” Sunday: “Instill in us the desire and will to conserve water in our daily lives, at home, work, school and play, and in our church life; and grant that we (may) be faithful stewards of your good gifts…”

If New Jersey’s 7,000 houses of worship follow this lead, the Water Shield has the potential to make a big impact.

The Water Shield program is designed so that communities can earn their certificate with a month of water-related activities. It all begins with an action plan, detailing action steps the congregation wishes to take in the building and on the grounds. It then culminates in a “Water Weekend,” when a community completes its “water makeover” through:

  • A worship service on water
  • Religious education classes on water for all ages
  • Distribution of a household commitment form, where members pledge to take water conservation steps at home

The idea is simple: turning a faith-based community into a “blue” leader requires a top to bottom approach to water conservation. It is as important to teach and preach about the issue as it is to carry out action steps in the home and within the facility.

Paul Kaufman, green team leader at Temple Emeth, with Temple Emteth Cantor Ellen Tilem and Rabbi Steven Sirbu.

Action steps at the institutions have included rain barrels, water-saving faucets and toilets, organic landscaping practices, green cleaners, water conservation signage, and conservation-minded policies for watering of the grounds, among others. There have also been many interesting and creative interpretations, as described in a recent Religion News Service article.

St. Bernard’s Church was the first house of worship in the country to develop an interfaith water-themed summer camp, where children went ponding, did scientific experiments, and learned about different traditions’ rituals on water.

At Christ our Light Church in Cherry Hill, a mother and son hang ‘droplets’ on a tree. Each droplet has their water pledges for their home written on it. Photos Courtesy of GreenFaith

At Church of the Atonement and Christ our Light parishes, members wrote their water conservation pledges on ‘droplets’ that were affixed to bulletin boards and hung on trees, creating community-wide engagement. The Islamic Society of Central Jersey held a workshop teaching the 600 children in their school to practice Wudu—a daily cleansing ritual for Muslims that is done before prayer—with just ¼ cup of water.

Through the Water Shield, GreenFaith also seeks to connect faith communities with leading nonprofits in the state focused on water quality protection, including American Rivers, Clean Ocean Action, Celebrate Delaware Bay, Pinelands Preservation Alliance, and Hackensack Riverkeeper. Participants in the Shield are encouraged to build relationships with these organizations, and, where possible, carry out hands-on projects with them.

As the Water Shield progresses in its second year, the coming months will be focused on broadening the partnership with Sustainable Jersey to enable more municipalities and faith communities to collaborate to meet water conservation goals. So far, both Tenafly and Cherry Hill are on board, with at least a dozen other municipalities waiting in the wings.

Do you know of a faith community that might be a good fit for the Water Shield? Are you from a municipality that would like to receive points within Sustainable Jersey for work within the faith community? Contact me at skennealy@greenfaith.org.

Stacey Kennealy is Certification Program and Sustainability Director at GreenFaith, a Highland Park-based non-profit organization whose mission is to inspire, educate and mobilize people of diverse religious backgrounds for environmental leadership.

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