‘We really hope that we can help you delve more deeply into your long-term plan. This is about you – the faiths – finding out what works for you and your theology and helping you channel your assets, your investments and your influence.’ – Alison Prout, INCR
With these words, moderator Alison Prout, Director of the International Network for Conservation and Religion (INCR), set the scene for the latest in our Faith Long-term Plan webinar series, which focused on Managing assets: Buildings, Construction, Healthcare, Purchasing and Consumption.
The three speakers included Rev Susan Hendershot, President of Interfaith Power & Light, Rev Dr Alfred Bailey, Minister of Mission and Outreach at the New Psalmist Baptist Church in Baltimore, and Peter Nitschke, Faith Program Specialist at Plastic Bank, an organisation working to create a regenerative, inclusive and circular plastic economy. Watch a recording of the webinar below.
The webinar began with a brief exploration of faith consistent assets, what we mean by this and why they are important. Faiths own and manage a huge number of buildings, and not just places of worship. They are involved in the ownership of healthcare facilities, schools, colleges and hospitality venues, to mention a few. There must be a clear and consistent approach to asset management that is rooted in faith values around connection with the environment and protection of the natural world.
Rev Susan Hendershot spoke about how communities can come together around their shared asset – a building. Interfaith Power & Light was founded 20 years ago as a religious response to global warming, and the organisation strives to achieve a healthy, thriving natural world where humans live in balance with their environment .
Interfaith Power & Light’s ‘Cool Congregations’ programme allows congregations to make changes in how they manage their places of worship and how they use energy in their own individual homes. There are Carbon Calculators available, one for congregations and one for households, that allows congregations to see their progress regarding energy use and their carbon footprint. There’s also the opportunity to plant trees in places like Tanzania to offset carbon usage and practice stewardship.
An impressive 59 emissions reports have been filed since the calculators were launched in June 2020, and 47 congregations have become certified, meaning that their energy use has been reduced by 10% or more.
By getting involved with the Cool Congregations project, congregations are able to demonstrate community leadership. Rev Hendershot rightly says that ‘different stories inspire different types of action’, and this is why there are lots of stories available on the Interfaith Power & Light website – to inspire communities and prompt action.
Moderator Alison Prout mentioned the Friends House in London, a Quaker hospitality venue and conference site with office accommodation, housed in a large listed building. Its sustainability work includes a ten-year strategy that encompasses all areas of management such as travel, food purchasing and energy use.
Conference centres need catering (conferences are often hungry work!), and the Quakers who run Friends House decided to set up a programme where ex-offenders bake cakes, flapjacks and other goodies for the venue, in order to provide these people with stable and secure employment.
The Plastic Bank
Peter Nitschke leads the Faith Programme of Plastic Bank, engaging people of faith to reduce their plastic footprint as part of their spiritual journey. Plastic Bank is a social enterprise, rather than a faith group, and aims to eliminate ocean plastic and improve the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable people.
Currently, 8 million tonnes of plastic are going into the ocean every year and Peter says that by 2050, ‘the amount of plastic and the number of fish in the sea will be the same’. Only 10% of plastic currently being used is recycled, out of a potential 40%. Plastic Bank also wants to empower the waste pickers who are some of the poorest people in the world.
It has already set up 350 collection points in five countries, where people can bring their plastic to be recycled, and it works with over 6,000 informal plastic collectors. Peter says: ‘The plastic we collect is sold back to the industry as a raw material and industry partners pay a premium price that we then give back into the communities of waste collectors. We should become the people the planet needs today, to address our environmental problems’.
Plastic Bank works with other groups to provide resources like clean water, cooking oil, mobile phone coverage and many more essentials. In Haiti, parents can pay for their children’s school tuition in plastic bottles.
Peter ends by saying: ‘Faith leaders can raise awareness in their communities. All faiths teach about environmental protection – all people of faith use plastic. We have a responsibility to put faith teachings into action. Let’s all be part of the solution and not the pollution.’
A healthcare sanctuary
Rev Al Bailey, the Minister of Mission and Outreach for the New Psalmist Baptist Church in Baltimore, Maryland, spoke of the 33-acre campus and 3,000 -eat sanctuary his church has at its disposal.
He said: ‘We must look at how faith-consistent use of assets relates to conservation and can help you formulate your long-term plan. Look at how your faith seeks to better care for creation and how your principles translate into practical practices throughout your community.’
When the pandemic hit, Rev Bailey and his church decided to help the most vulnerable populations in their local communities, while at the same time conserving resources in an environmentally sound way. They partnered with local healthcare providers and turned their campus into a satellite healthcare facility.
Although the church was closed, it was still helping people as their building asset had been transformed into a location for COVID-19 testing. Over 3,000 people have now been tested for coronavirus at the New Psalmist Baptist Church. The church is currently looking into becoming a place for flu shots and COVID antibody testing, and has also provided fresh food for 5,000 families (around 13,000 people) during the pandemic.
Rev. Bailey says: ‘Your faith long-term plan must have an Infinite mindset and just cause. It must work for the interests of our faiths, for all humanity and for all creation’.