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St. James Episcopal Church's new rain garden was given a University of Maryland Extension Bay-Wise certification.
St. James Episcopal Church's new rain garden was given a University of Maryland Extension Bay-Wise certification. (HANDOUT)

COLLEGE PARK — In speeches at the White House and the Capitol in late September, Pope Francis emboldened the U.S. and its lawmakers to act in favor of the environment — a stance the pontiff has made clear since the release of his encyclical in mid June.

Following the pope's lead, 85 congregations of various faiths throughout Maryland — including one in Carroll County — participated in Climate in the Pulpits, a three-day effort from Sept. 25 through Sept. 27 that culminated in a call to the state legislature for renewal and magnification of laws designed to protect the environment.

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The laws in question are the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act and the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, both part of the Maryland Climate Action Plan. The congregations asked legislators to renew the former act, which expires at the end of 2016, and amend the latter to require that electric companies derive 25 percent of their retail sales from renewable energy sources like wind, solar, geothermal and ocean power by 2020. The current standard requires 20 percent of retails sales from those sources by 2022.

"We've talked about environmental concerns and environmental issues in the parishes," said Father Ty Hullinger, a Roman Catholic priest and pastor for three parishes in Baltimore, all of which participated in the effort. "To be quite honest, before the advent of Pope Francis we really didn't spend a lot of time talking about that."

Within the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Hullinger added, the churches "probably weren't looking at these issues the way we should have."

St. James Episcopal Church, at 1307 North Main St. in Mount Airy, was Carroll County's sole representative at Climate in the Pulpits. The Rev. Kristin Krantz said that after she became rector of St. James in early September she decided to devote one of her first sermons to "the care for creation," she said.

Because she felt that an environmentally conscious message would be a good fit for the congregation, Krantz began publicizing Climate in the Pulpits among the parish through resources including bulletin inserts.

Although Krantz, who served as interim rector at Memorial Episcopal Church in Baltimore in 2014 and this year, was new to the parish when she decided to adopt the cause represented by Climate in the Pulpits, she said she didn't get any pushback, though people were wondering about what direction she would go.

"I know that people did care about [the environment]," she said. "Part of preaching is you have to know your audience."

Although St. James doesn't have any "green" projects in process now, Krantz said, the church received University of Maryland Extension Bay-Wise certification for a new rain garden in September. Krantz said that project had been in place before she joined the church.

In addition, the church's contract for electricity is for wind power, which Krantz said is more competitive and often less expensive.

Climate in the Pulpits was held at a time when the majority of Catholics in the state report believing in climate change.

A survey of more than 1,500 Marylanders by George Mason University and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that nearly two-thirds of Roman Catholic responders are at least somewhat sure that climate change is happening and support state and local government initiatives to protect against its harmful effects.

The survey also found that more than half of Catholic responders said they, their families and their communities are vulnerable to potential health impacts of climate change. Many Catholics reported implementing pro-environment actions such as buying energy efficient appliances or adjusting thermostats down in the winter and up in the summer.

As of 2010, Catholics made up the largest religious denomination in Maryland, with nearly 840,000 adherents, according to a study from the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies.

The Climate in the Pulpits effort was expected to directly reach 10,000 worshipers of faiths ranging from Catholicism to Judaism to Episcopalian, according to Brooke Harper, the Maryland Outreach Coordinator for Chesapeake Climate Action Network. The network partnered with Interfaith Power & Light, which encourages congregations in the Washington metropolitan region to respond to climate change through green actions, to create Climate in the Pulpits.

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For congregations pushing state lawmakers to beef up environmental legislation, Climate in the Pulpits organizers are providing petitions that adherents can sign and send to representatives. St. James participated in these petitions, Krantz said.

Congregations not addressing specific environmental legislation plan to incorporate teachings like encyclical study or creation care, which emphasizes mankind's position in environmental stewardship, into special workshops and sermons, according to Harper.

Times Staffer Brian Compere contributed to this article.

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