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Charlotte congregations are doing more for the environment than you might think

Raised beds of edible landscape at Christ the King - Charlotte 9feb23.jpeg
Chapel of Christ the King
Raised beds of edible landscape at Chapel of Christ the King, an Episcopal church in Charlotte.

Religious leaders and environmentalists agree on their advice for faith groups in Charlotte, a place where congregations have shaped people, roads, universities and hospitals for more than 200 years.

Educate yourself and build a community to take care of this place, they say, because it’s a sacred gift. The good news is that many congregations already have programs underway.

Charlotte is one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States, and the Rev. Amy Brooks Paradise, GreenFaith’s organizer for North Carolina, says it’s especially important to bring together people of all faiths to focus on the environment.

“This city talks about how it’s a thriving, growing metropolis, and people are moving here all the time,” Brooks Paradise said. “We welcome all this growth, but it also has a negative impact. It strains our infrastructure, and it strains our waterways.”

Climate justice work in Charlotte

Brooks Paradise partners with several local environmental organizations and faith groups to address concerns and launch initiatives. Congregations are launching green teams and taking steps toward change, and GreenFaith is mapping these programs.

Educational programs and community gardens are in place at the Shalom Green project, supported by the Jewish Federation of Charlotte. Gardens are also in place at the Hindu Center of Charlotte, the Muslim Community Center, Missionary Baptist Church, Park Road Baptist Church and other congregations, Brooks Paradise said. These gardens help reduce waste and support community members who lack access to food.

At the Chapel of Christ the King Episcopal, a project is underway to turn the entire property into an edible landscape. Education programs at Covenant Presbyterian and First Presbyterian manage environmental book readings and hikes. Groups at Holy Comforter Episcopal and St. Peter’s Episcopal have coordinated postcard mailing programs to the North Carolina Utility Commission, demanding a better carbon plan from Duke Energy.

Caldwell Presbyterian Church, Myers Park Baptist Church and the Unitarian Universalist Community of Charlotte all have installed solar panels, she said.

Where faith and the environment intersect

“Science helps us grasp how things work in the world,” Brooks Paradise said. “Religion teaches us how we want to be as people in that world,” she said, and nearly every faith tradition teaches that humans’ role is to take care of the ecosystem they live in.

“We’ve allowed ourselves to think about the environment as a commodity to be exploited, rather than a gift to be treasured and cared for,” Brooks Paradise said. “So, if we dig back into the scriptures, they all teach that the Earth is a sacred gift.”

Rev. Amy Brooks Paradise, GreenFaith’s organizer for North Carolina.
Nicole Rojas
Rev. Amy Brooks Paradise, GreenFaith’s organizer for North Carolina.

She said she understands the obstacles people of faith face when trying to speak out about environmental issues, but that speaking out is key to creating change.

“This is not a political thing. And we’ve allowed it to be politicized,” she said. “We have to be really clear to say that doing things that destroy the planet is wrong. And that’s not to say we have all the answers, but we want to partner with people who are going to help us find those answers.”

One environmentalist working to find those answers is Tyler Hallman, who leads a new conservation biology program at Queens University of Charlotte. “The most important thing in the environmental movement is educating people,” Hallman said.

He agrees that people need to come together across belief systems to protect nature. In Charlotte, for example, progress on greenways is strengthening biodiversity — and he said there is more to be done.

Individual efforts and collective programs eventually add up, according to Hallman, but people are often discouraged when they feel like their individual choices don’t impact the issue. “The only way that positive change can occur is if everyone buys into that individually. If enough individuals make the same decisions, then it will have a large impact,” he said.

Healing benefits of nature

Brooks Paradise and Hallman both offered hopeful solutions that they would like to see implemented in Charlotte. Nature-based solutions provide human needs while also protecting the environment, Hallman said, and include projects like wildlife habitat areas in neighborhoods, greenways and walking paths, and planting more trees to strengthen the city’s iconic tree canopy.These increase biodiversity and benefit city residents.

“Experiencing nature has all sorts of benefits, both to your cognitive function as a person, and to your overall psychological well-being. If you’re not doing well one day and you go for a walk in nature, it’s going to improve your mindset, you'll feel better, and your cognitive function improves,” Hallman said.

Tyler Hallman leads a new conservation biology program at Queens University of Charlotte.
Tyler Hallman leads a new conservation biology program at Queens University of Charlotte.

Brooks Paradise and Hallman hope people from all faith groups and those who are not religious will educate themselves and get involved locally. Many people have spiritual or personal connections to nature, Brooks Paradise said. “I don’t think you have to be religious to experience the wonder and awe and beauty of nature,” she said. “And that’s why we can invite people in regardless of their faith tradition, and say, ‘Isn’t this worth protecting? Isn’t this worth something to you?’”

Hallman shared a similar experience. “When I go outside and see beautiful mountains, it’s one of the most beautiful things in the world. I think that’s the closest I’ve ever come to feeling really spiritual or connected,” he said. “And I don't think that there should be any conflict between religion and science. If both are appreciating the natural world, for one reason or another, then everybody should come together and support the conservation of that natural world.”

Kayla McDuffie and J.J. Jones are students in the James L. Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte, which provides the news service in support of community news.

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