Interfaith Group Finds Willing Partners for Restoration Projects Across the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Youth from Shrine of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church remove trash from the Jones Falls stream, which runs right alongside the church property. Trash from the church’s parking lot and numerous surrounding paved surfaces, roads, schools and shopping plazas empties into the stream. Photo by Bonnie Sorak/Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake

On a chilly fall day several weeks ago, volunteers from five Maryland congregations came together in the Cherry Hill neighborhood of Baltimore to plant 90 trees.

The planting was unique for two reasons: It drew a team of Catholics, Baptists, Presbyterians and Conservative Jews. And in the space of three hours, they managed to get all the saplings into the ground and hold an interfaith service, too.

“It was a very effective and powerful experience,” said McKay Jenkins, a member of Baltimore’s Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church and one of the volunteers at the planting. “This is not something a couple of do-gooders at one church can do.”

That multiplier effect is the idea behind Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake, a 5-year-old nonprofit organization that brought together the five congregations to plant Cherry Hill’s trees. Elsewhere in the vast Chesapeake Bay watershed, which extends from western New York State into central Virginia, the group has gathered volunteers, often across the religious spectrum, to work on restoration projects, ripping up pavement, installing water gardens and, yes, planting trees.

Members of the One Water Partnership enjoyed a bus tour to learn how other congregations in the Jones Falls watershed are working to reduce pollution and conserve energy. Photo by Avery Davis/Interfaith Power & Light

Its work recently landed Interfaith Partners a $1 million grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The money is intended to educate an additional 100 congregations about stormwater management and help 36 of those worship communities install green infrastructure on their properties to lessen the flow of pollutants into the bay.

Interfaith Partners already works with Protestant and Catholic churches, Jewish synagogues and Buddhist temples, mostly in Maryland, but the group hopes to expand into Lancaster County, Pa., about 50 miles above the point where the Susquehanna River, freighted with runoff from farms and paved surfaces, spills into the Chesapeake Bay.

At a time when many congregations are divided between urban and rural, liberal and conservative, rich and poor, black and white, the nonprofit, based in Annapolis, Md., is finding it can bring people of faith together around a common core: a shared watershed.

“We want to ignore man-made boundaries and see the God-made boundaries that unite us, like a watershed,” said Jodi Rose, executive director of Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake. “We have a responsibility to take care of these shared resources.”

The new grant will not actually award churches money for green projects. It will instead allow Interfaith Partners to reach more congregations and offer them more significant ways to clean up waterways. In some cases, it will also pay for technical assistance and design of those remediation projects from partner groups such as Blue Water Baltimore and Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.

“We see our role as helping congregations graduate beyond changing lightbulbs and hosting recycling days and move into high-impact work that serves as a demonstration for the whole community,” said Rose.

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Source: Religion News Service