Mennonite Creation Care Network (MCCN) has selected Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship, Taftsville, Vt., as the recipient of its first annual Art and Jocele Meyer Award and a $500 donation. The award recognizes both exemplary creation care at the congregational level and the liaison’s role in communicating with the broader network.
Taftsville’s creation care liaison is Heather Wolfe, a dietician and wellness coach who has also authored the forthcoming Herald Press book, Sustainable Kitchen: Recipes and Inspiration for Plant-based, Planet-Conscious Meals. Wolfe has been in the role since 2016 and has spearheaded a number of initiatives.
Pastors, creation care liaisons and others at work on congregational creation care will have a chance to meet Heather and learn about what has worked at Taftsville in an online format. MCCN will host a webinar entitled, Nurturing a Culture of Creation Care in Congregations at 1 p.m., January 9. Heather will provide the featured input with time for questions and discussion. register here
Making use of MCCN’s resources
Taftsville is a good illustration of the way MCCN can serve a congregation. While the energy and initiative was entirely Taftsville’s, from my perspective at MCCN, it is gratifying to see a congregation make maximum use of our resources and apply them in their own context.
Many of the church’s actions stem from completing MCCN’s Greener Congregation Score Sheet. The scoresheet encourages congregations to look at creation care from multiple angles, from identifying green leaders to landscaping decisions to worship. The results can provide a road map for years to come.
In 2016, Taftsville had a budget surplus because they were without a pastor at the time. They decided to invest in solar panels. A grant from MCCN’s Pam De Young Net Zero Energy Fund enabled them to install more panels than the church needed and to donate this energy to local nonprofits they wanted to support.
Native plants and edible landscaping followed. In the fall of 2017, the church held a workday to put in gardens that used principles of permaculture and edible forest gardening.
Twice a year, MCCN proposes a shared practice to give churches a sense of joining an effort beyond their own contexts. Taftsville holds the distinction of having completed all four of the shared practices MCCN has suggested so far. These included holding a river clean-up, improving their building’s energy efficiency, holding an intergenerational conversation on climate change and sharing a sustainable foods potluck.
The intergenerational dialog took place just before the climate strikes in September 2019. Younger adults expressed some anger at the hand their generation was being dealt. They also said they would like to see the Church avoid consumerism and name the way a changing climate is contributing to migration. Older adults offered encouragement that it is possible to survive national crises and make positive changes.
Communicating how and why
Attention to communication is another element that makes Heather an outstanding creation care liaison. Helping people understand what is possible and why it should be done is a part of the work that is often overlooked. Taftsville has a creation care webpage on its website that reviews the steps they’ve taken. A bulletin board was another initial step. Even the green cleaning recipes they use at the church are posted for others to borrow. Heather is also a diligent email correspondent, sharing the congregation’s efforts with our network.
Steve McCloskey, Taftsville’s pastor, says that one of the first things he knew about the church before his initial interview in 2017 was that they had chosen to install solar panels.
“I saw life in the church” he said, reflecting on what drew him to accept this pastorate in 2017. “I saw that this church is not just thinking about themselves as a congregation, but asking, ‘How can we be part of a solution to a broader problem?’” To him, it showed a seriousness about loving one’s neighbors, even if the neighbors were on the other side of the world or still unborn.
Steve says his role is often to help clarify the connection between the Bible and an emphasis on caring for the earth.
“Jesus never says you should put LED light bulbs in your home or ride bicycles. Why does our faith imply that we should make decisions that are healing to the earth? I like wrestling with those questions, and Heather does a good job of keeping those questions on our minds,” he says.
“I’m always giving credit to the Holy Spirit which moves among us. We are just vessels of this Spirit at work in our congregation,” Heather concludes. She is grateful for the ways creation care has made the church visible to the local community and attractive to new attendees.
“People associate our faith tradition with care for creation,” she says.