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Archives Faith & Ecology efforts continue to grow

May 1, 2019

By Darcy Fargo
EditorFaith and Ecology

WATERTOWN – Seven years after the first Faith and Ecology group was started in the Diocese of Ogdensburg, there are now three such groups working to connect their faith with their duty to protect God’s creation.

“The idea originated with Father Paul Beyette,” said Sister Bethany Fitzgerald, a Sister of St. Joseph and coordinator of the diocesan Faith and Ecology groups. “He called me and said he was referred to me as someone who would have an interest in ecology. He wanted to get a group going.”

Father Beyette connected Sister Bethany with an up-and-running environment group in Plattsburgh, and Sister Bethany knew of an individual in the Lake Clear area who was also interested in connecting faith and science.

The first Faith and Ecology group, located in Lake Clear, was born.

“We started out with seven or eight people,” Sister Bethany said.

A group later formed in Watertown and another formed within the last year serving Canton and Potsdam.
Sister Bethany noted each group has its own goals and focus areas, but all three aim to connect ecological and environmental science with our call as Christians to care for God’s creation.

“I think there’s a misconception that this call to care for our common home is just a Pope Francis thing,” she said. “The church has been saying a lot about this since way before Pope Francis. There are articles going back to Pope John XXIII. Pope John Paul II talked about it. Pope Benedict will likely be remembered historically as the ‘Green Pope.’ He wrote a lot about these issues.”

The Faith and Ecology groups typically study these church teachings along with current environmental science. They then try to come up with ways to share the message and implement changes.

“We talk a lot about the connections between faith and science,” said Faye Martin, a member of the Watertown group

“It’s nice to have a group that prays together and learns together” added Susanne Arens, a member of the Lake Clear group.

The Lake Clear Faith and Ecology Group, the longest running group, focuses its efforts on actions individuals can take to reduce their impact on the environment and education.

“Lake clear has done a lot of work with youth and information sessions, and we’ll probably continue in that direction, though we’ve talked about other possibilities, too,” said Arens. “Not everyone is involved in group life, but everyone can be involved in caring for what’s around them – the people around them, the environment around them. We talk about ways we can do that.”

“We’re more grassroots people,” added Richard Arens, also a member of the Lake Clear group. “We try to spread the word to repurpose and reuse things; clean up your local environment.”

The Watertown group manages the Faith and Ecology group social media presence and frequently hosts workshops, retreats and educational events.

“We want to share the most current science and share church teachings,” said Martin. “We’re trying t increase our reach. There’s a lot of good information out there, but it’s only useful if people see it.”

The Canton group, founded last May, has formed committees based on member interests and goals.

“We did some visioning and strategic planning,” said John Tenbusch, a member of the Canton group. “Out of that, we created three different committees that are just getting off the ground. One committee is reaching out to every faith group in St. Lawrence County. We’ve identified 160 faith communities. We want to connect with them, say ‘hi, we’re out here, and we’re interested in working on issues of faith and ecology. What are you doing, and how can we work together?’ Another committee is looking to address single-use and non-recyclable plastics, working with St. Lawrence Environmental Management and possibly Save the River. The third committee is looking at helping residents whose water is bad. We see an awful lot of people buying water at Walmart. We want to help those people figure out what’s wrong with their water and how to fix it. Doing so would save them money at Walmart and it would keep a lot of waste out of the environment.”

Tenbusch, along with Keith Zimmerman, also a member of the Canton group, have been bringing their professional experience to aid all three Faith and Ecology groups develop goals and action plans. Both work for St. Lawrence Environmental Management and have extensive experience in strategic planning, implementing programs and accessing resources.

All three Faith and Ecology groups try to work collaboratively, as well as with other faith communities and with organizations and entities within the Diocese of Ogdensburg.

“We see a lot of collaboration,” said Sister Bethany. “We see members from Lake Clear in Watertown, we see Watertown people in Canton – there’s a lot of commonalities. But we’re also not just working by ourselves. We’re always asking, ‘with whom can we collaborate?’ We’ll have representation at various events with diocesan youth ministry or campus ministry. We’ve participated in Earth Week in Plattsburgh, and we’re on a planning committee for an interfaith, intergenerational faith and ecology event. Maybe our group ads a spiritual component to an event or a group who may be approaching this issue more from a general concern for the planet. We add the ethical and moral elements from our religious tradition. But there are a lot of groups with similar concerns. We all have something to add, but it’s better if we work together.”

Sister Bethany said local environmentalist Curt Stager says that faith and morality component is critical.

“Curt Stager was once a climate change denier, but he researched it and came to believe the science,” Sister Bethany said. “He came to us. He believes we need to see this issue – caring for the environment – as a religious, moral and ethical issue for people to make changes.”

While the Faith and Ecology movement has grown in the Diocese of Ogensburg, organizers say they’d like to see the group and its work reach more and more people.

“We’re still finding our way, and we’re still looking to grow,” said Zimmerman. “If anyone is interested in participating or learning more, I encourage them to contact us.”

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