Congregations make a pledge to help restore Jones Falls Watershed

About 15 faith congregations, including Beth Am Synagogue, St. Ignatius Catholic Community, and Mount Lebanon Baptist, have committed to the One Water Partnership program.

The program aims to curb stormwater runoff in the Jones Falls Watershed — the fastest source of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay — through a series of initiatives, including planting 150 trees in the watershed and installing up to 5,000 square feet of rain gardens on congregational grounds.

Several of the congregations from the Baltimore region gathered at Mount Lebanon Baptist Church Sunday to make a commitment to improving the environment and restoring clean water in the Jones Falls Watershed.

“This is the night where they get to meet each other and form bonds, coordinate and feel like they’re all having an impact on their local watershed,” said Bonnie Sorak.

Sorak is outreach coordinator for Interfaith Partners of the Chesapeake, which has been working with partners Blue Water Baltimore, University of Maryland Extension and Interfaith Power & Light to organize the One Water Partnership program for the past year.

She said the program was established about a year ago after the organization hosted a grant from a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

The partnership will work over a two-year period, installing rain gardens, performing energy audits, planting trees and engaging the community in education to curb pollution.

Each congregation has signed on for at least six actions, Sorak said.

The first two involve signing a commitment to the program and forming a “green team,” which volunteers to coordinate, lead and publicize initiatives and events happening in the community.

The others require the communities to build momentum by encouraging awareness about environmental situations through activities and fostering a connection to nature; planning activities and projects to improve and care for the surrounding environment; and what Sorak refers to as “going forth,” taking the efforts beyond the congregation and into the broader community.

“It’s really important because it’s going to take all of us to solve these problems, and many-a-time, people in faith have been left out of the conversation,” Sorak said. She said many people are motivated by doing something good, and caring for the world and doing good is the crux of most faiths.

“The environmental groups and faith communities haven’t always worked together and this is a way to really solidify that relationship and build trust together.”

The Rev. Tormod Svensson, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Lutherville-Timonium, agreed. In the current political climate, he said, there’s been less focus on “care of creation.” He said it’s become even more vital for faith communities to come together for the preservation of the Earth.

“It’s not a Christian or a Jewish problem,” Svensson said. “It’s a human problem.”

The Rev. Franklin Lance, pastor of Mount Lebanon Baptist Church and executive director for Central Maryland Ecumenical Council, said his congregation has planned to show educational videos on bio-retention and restoring the watershed and will host workshops and nature walks in hopes of reaching people outside the congregation and in neighborhoods including Mondawmin.

“We believe it’s much more important to have a tactile approach, so people can walk, see, feel hear, touch and smell [the outdoors] so one gets a much better appreciation of the impact of the earth … and the greater the feel for it and this jewel that we’ve been given,” he said.

“It’s a very simple thing: We need to take care of the Earth. It’s our home. It keeps us. It sustains us.

“If we don’t take care of it, we’ll lose it,” he said. “And we can’t get it back.”

bbritto@baltsun.com

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bbritto@baltsun.com

twitter.com/brittanybritto

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