Applying the Good Book to the earth's good

April 22, 1994|By Frank P. L. Somerville | Frank P. L. Somerville,Sun Staff Writer

Mike Tabor, an organic farmer active in a Jewish environmental organization, met with a group of like-minded environmentalists yesterday on land near Gaithersburg where they plan to raise vegetables this summer for Washington's homeless.

Tomorrow, members of Towson Presbyterian Church's Earth Corps will gather at a church-owned camp site on Kauffman Road near Parkton for a stream cleanup.

And at Silver Run in Carroll County, St. Mary's United Church of Christ is helping to monitor contamination of well water from a toxic landfill in nearby Pennsylvania.

The efforts are related. Marking today's 24th annual celebration of Earth Day, a broad coalition of Roman Catholic, Protestant and Jewish leaders is encouraging 53,000 congregations across the country to participate in a three-year, $4.5 million campaign to bring the power of religious faith to environmental concerns.

Paul Gorman, director of the 2-year-old National Religious Partnership for the Environment, based in New York, said it took nearly five years of "summit meetings" and considerable diplomacy to achieve the church and synagogue commitment to the goals of Earth Day.

But a firm biblical foundation for the interfaith unity had already existed. The Christian and Jewish congregations receiving new Earth Day kits this week share the words of the 24th Psalm: "The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein."

Not all kits are the same, although all contain similar guidelines for integrating environmental goals such as energy conservation into sermons, worship, Sunday school classes, land use, and building maintenance and construction.

Each of the four groups that formed the partnership -- the U.S. Catholic Conference, the National Council of Churches, the Evangelical Environmental Network and the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life -- wrote, printed and distributed its own materials.

As diverse as the publications are, the same urgency runs through them.

"The ecological crisis hovers over all Jewish concerns," says "To Till and To Tend," a manual being sent to every Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist synagogue in the country. Orthodox Jewish leaders also plan to meet and discuss participation.

"For Catholics, these are matters of powerful urgency and major consequence," says "Renewing the Face of the Earth," a 50-page resource handbook mailed to 19,000 parishes by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"Many environmentalists, especially the young, have a powerful spiritual yearning that motivates their [environmental] activities. A proper understanding of God's care for us can answer their heart's cry for meaning and provide the framework from which to work for environmental healing," says "Let the Earth Be Glad," a manual sent to 20,000 evangelical Protestant churches.

"God's Earth, Our Home," the manual distributed by the National Council of Churches, says, "Today, with all creation in peril as never before, we believe that God the Creator and Redeemer calls faithful people to . . . take up the challenge of protecting the vulnerable earth."

Mr. Tabor, who has a home in Takoma Park and a 60-acre farm at Hancock, said the purpose of yesterday's meeting in Gaithersburg was to keep alive a project of the late Rabbi Eugene Lipman, who supplied vegetables to the homeless from his one-acre garden.

"The meeting went well," Mr. Tabor said afterward. "We laid out the garden and agreed on what seed we need." Three area synagogues are involved.

As an active member of Shomrei Adamah (Keepers of the Earth), a national Jewish environmental organization, Mr. Tabor leads workshops in the Baltimore and Washington areas on such subjects as "Our Deep Agrarian Roots -- The Job Descriptions of Our Patriarchs" and "Greening the Synagogue."

Jeanne Ruddock, a member of Towson Presbyterian Church's Earth Corps, said the Gunpowder Conservancy will assist with the stream cleanup from 10 a.m. to noon tomorrow at the congregation's 262-acre camp near Parkton.

Another environmental project of the Towson church is a "Resource Notebook" containing sections on youth activities, music, advocacy, policy, worship and recipes.

Suggestions in the kits, which are being distributed through the National Religious Partnership on the Environment, include car pools to churches and synagogues, a vegetarian diet once a week and hymns celebrating the land, air, water and all life.

The annual April 22 celebration of Earth Day began in 1970 as a teach-in on the environment, the result of a September 1969 speech by Gaylord Nelson, then a Democratic senator from Wisconsin. Mr. Nelson, 77 and retired, is a counselor to the nonprofit Wilderness Society.

Mr. Gorman said the national ecumenical partnership began with an "Open Letter to the Religious Community" issued in January 1990 by 34 prominent scientists, including Carl Sagan, Stephen Jay Gould and Nobel laureate Henry Kendall.

Religious leaders who responded positively to their challenge included Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, Greek Orthodox Archbishop Iakovos, California evangelist Robert Shuller and Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel.

The partnership's projects include development of seminary curricula and clergy meetings.

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