Philadelphia Water Department working with houses of worship

This blog post features a recent project and grants initiative from the Philadelphia Water Department, but stormwater is an issue across the state, particularly as rainfall events become more intense.  Many of our cities have combined sewer outflow.  Torrential rain events lead to boil water advisories in Pittsburgh many times each year, and they also have green infrastructure plans.  Ask your local water department about stormwater abatement, click through to some how-tos below, and check out this LWV newsletter about several projects, including at member congregation Grace Lutheran Church in State College.  Document your changes so you can tell the story in your congregation, share it with us, and even submit it to the national IPL Cool Congregations Challenge (for activity completed in one calendar year), or get certified through the National Wildlife Federation under their Sacred Grounds certification program. 

As the world gets warmer, cities will increasingly suffer from extreme heat events. The hard construction materials used to build cities soak up heat, causing an “urban heat-island effect.” Building new green spaces is one of the best ways to fight the worsening heat in cities.

The Philadelphia Water Department’s Green City, Clean Waters plan is a 25-year effort to manage stormwater in the city by building new green “tools” around the city. These tools include specially engineered trees, rain gardens, and planters. While the first priority of Green City, Clean Waters is to manage stormwater, new urban green spaces have a heat-reduction effect. Keep reading to learn about a church in Philadelphia that used a PWD grant to build green spaces on their property (first appeared on the Philly Watersheds blog). If you know a house of worship that’s interested, read more or contact Erin Williams.

[Read the original article on the Philadelphia Water Department blog]

Bethesda Presbyterian Church sits on a large plot of land in Northeast Philadelphia’s Bustleton neighborhood. The church’s monthly stormwater fees—higher than they would like—reflected the property’s large proportion of impervious surfaces, which put a considerable burden on the local sewers during storms. (More about how stormwater fees work.)

Fortunately, Joan Wilson, a church elder, was determined to reduce that stormwater charge.  “Financially, we needed to take a look at what could be done,” Joan said. “I prayed a lot about what we should do as a church.”

Those prayers were answered when a congregation member put her in touch members of the Philadelphia Water Department’s Stormwater Management Incentives Program (SMIP) team.  This program offers grants to non-residential property owners, including nonprofit institutions like houses of worship, interested in improving their property with green stormwater infrastructure investments.

While many green stormwater installations simply look like gardens to most people, they actually protect local waterways by soaking up polluted runoff from parking lots, roofs and other rain-repelling surfaces.  In addition to receiving grant funding and design assistance, participating houses of worship can get credits toward their stormwater fees—credits that, in the eyes of Bethesda Presbyterian, seemed heaven sent.

Bethesda’s Path to Stormwater Salvation
After getting approved for a SMIP grant, they called AKRF, an engineering firm that specializes in green projects and has offices on Walnut Street.  The firm’s experts came out to survey the church grounds and followed up by drafting plans for a rain garden.  After many visits and tweaking the plans to fit Bethesda’s needs, they settled on their goal: four rain gardens fed by downspouts that would funnel rain from the roof and parking lot.

[Learn about downspout planters
including how-to plans]

During every step, the church was intimately involved.

Every month, Joan updated her fellow church elders, held quarterly church-wide town hall meetings, and provided updates in the Beacon, their church bulletin. The Garden Committee—a natural fit for the effort—even worked alongside the engineers, picking plants and trees to be planted in the gardens.

It was through this process that Bethesda’s congregation began to see the project as something more than a way to save money on their water bill.  Green stormwater tools, they learned, come with extensive environmental benefits; their church’s rain gardens would help to keep over 35,000 gallons of polluted stormwater away from the Pennypack watershed during a typical, 1-inch rainstorm.  Over the course of a year, that adds up to more than 1.5 million gallons of runoff managed right there in the church gardens.

[Learn about a whole range of functional and good-looking
stormwater management
tools.  Includes handout link.]

Given that urban runoff represents one of the biggest sources of pollution impacting local rivers and creeks today, doing so much to help Philadelphia’s waterways is now a point of pride at Bethesda: their gardens cut back on pollution, minimize stream bank erosion, and reduce flooding.

‘For the Community We Serve’
On top of all the good the gardens are doing for local waterways—the source of Philadelphia’s drinking water—they’re also a beautiful, natural addition to the church grounds.

Buzzing with important pollinator species like honeybees and butterflies, the flower-filled bowls of landscaped green space even provide an opportunity for youth and other members of the community to learn about nature and the importance of protecting our water.

[Choose native plants that support birds, bees, and butterflies —
they are gifts for your human neigbhors, too.]

It wasn’t easy, but they learned so much along the way in creating this new green space in their community.

“Suddenly, I found myself being an environmental person, and a partial engineer!” Joan said. “I learned a lot in the beginning, and then I prayed some more.”

They also had a “wonderful team of people that really worked with Bethesda Church because they were committed to make this project work, and they went above and beyond.”

Joan’s faith played a huge role in keeping her motivated throughout the project.

“On this journey, I can say, as the Lord is my witness, that I felt God was leading us to do this, for this church, for the community that we serve, and for the broader population, because anyone who can positively influence the water supply—what’s going into our rivers, our streams—should do what they can,” said Joan.

“Every time I went, ‘Why did you allow yourself to get involved in this?’ the Lord put someone in my path to help me. He wanted this to happen here. I believed that in my heart, and I still do.”

Tips from a Green Stormwater Disciple
Joan has a few recommendations for other faith-based organizations thinking of installing green stormwater tools (often called GSI by engineers and developers) on their properties.

  • First, she says to make sure you know what you can truly commit to, financially.
  • She also reminds houses of worship to be flexible, remembering that there will be changes that impact cost and time frame.
  • Finally, she says, “Recognize that it’s not only savings, but environmentally how important this is to the community that we’re all a part of, and will continue to be, going forward…And pray!”

Did you know…
Green infrastructure grants are just one way that faith-based and nonprofit organizations can get help from the Philadelphia Water Department. Your house of worship can also get a 25-percent charity discount, just for being a nonprofit. More here.

To learn how you can get a grant for managing stormwater at your house of worship or nonprofit institution, read more or contact Erin Williams.

Get SMIP-inspired by checking out our Stormwater Pioneers honorees. These businesses and organizations were recognized by the City and the Philadelphia Water Department for using green stormwater investments to protect our waterways and improve their communities.

In memoriam: John Roe

John Roe served as a member of the PA IPL Board from 2012-2015.  While factual, that is such an inadequate expression of the truth that it feels empty.

John joined the Board and became our Treasurer just a we we became an independent 501c3, and needed to move from informal Excel-driven records to something formal that would could continue to grow into for years to come.  Many people faced with this task would have done a couple of web searches, asked a few folks who might know a little bit more than they, and quickly assented to whatever seemed manageable — or simply declined the “honor” of serving as Treasurer in the first place.  Not John.  John did not do things part way.  John taught himself a great deal about nonprofit bookkeeping, and then nonprofit financial software, and sought solutions that would allow PA IPL to be nimble, but also as functionally transparent as good management requires, despite the challenge that we are a statewide organization and could not possibly build in sufficient oversight for financial records housed in just one place.

Similarly, he singlehandedly moved us from a rag-tag startup’s antiquated website to WordPress, building in sufficient backup and more robust technical assistance.

Most importantly, though, there was never a time in John’s service when he was not thinking deeply about our mission, and, in his example, challenging members of the board, staff, and volunteer leaders to lean into the hard parts, to find ways to develop and shape our voice, to speak and act as people truly rooted in faith, responding to the challenge to care for the Earth and the fullness thereof, the Earth and all who live therein. (Psalm 24)

John died at home, with family, in the darkest hours of the morning on Friday, March 9, 2018.  We miss him.

It is with gratitude for the gifts John cultivated and shared, with sadness that he no longer inhabits our Common Home, and with recognition that his leadership lives on in the hearts of so many at PA IPL and far, far beyond that we share his obituary, along with some links to his work and writing.  The obituary appears last.

John read and reflected on Laudato Si: On Care for our Common Home deeply, and led a 6-session ecumenical study of the text.  Read his reflections.
Reading Laudato Si
Chapter 1: Our Common Home
Chapter 2: The Gospel of Creation
Chapter 3: The Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis
Chapter 4: Integral Ecology
Chapter 5: “Escaping the Spiral”
Chapter 6: “It is we who need to change

John’s TEDxPSU talk debuted in 2015 and as he was developing the Math for Sustainability course, that led to the book which will be published in May 2018 (links below in the obituary for the book and website)

More about John’s life from John himself.
This obituary was published in Centre Daily Times on Mar. 17, 2018.  The link will take you to the page, where there is an online guest book.

John Roe October 6, 1959 March 9, 2018 John Roe — teacher, mathematician, rock climber, theologian, activist, and follower of Jesus — has departed from family and friends as well as the pain of cancer and has begun “a more focused time of peace and joy” with his Lord.

John was born and raised in England and was fascinated by mathematics from an early age. As a teenager he received a classical education at Rugby School, where he discovered his gift of expository teaching and experienced one of the big surprises of his life by becoming a Christian. At the University of Cambridge, John earned degrees in mathematics and played guitar in a Christian rock band. His doctoral research was conducted under Professor Sir Michael Atiyah at the University of Oxford, where he remained for a post-doctoral fellowship. As a visiting researcher in Berkeley, Calif., John met Liane Stevens, whom he married in December 1986. John taught mathematics at Jesus College, Oxford until 1998, when the family, now including two children, made a major move to the United States.

At The Pennsylvania State University, John was a professor of mathematics for 20 years, serving as Department Head for five years. John’s deep faith and study of Scripture motivated him to follow the example of Jesus by promoting equitable treatment of those without privilege and by welcoming marginalized individuals, including his younger child, who identified as transgender. His passion for the outdoors and rock climbing inspired his advocacy for the environment and sustainability, and he became a U.S. citizen in order to vote in the 2016 election.

John reflected with honesty and grace about his cancer journey, which began with diagnosis and extensive treatment at the age of 54. Links to John’s blogs about faith and sustainability, math, rock climbing, cancer, and transgender individuals can be found on his website.

John was an author of over 50 academic publications, including several books. His most recent and cherished project was the undergraduate textbook Mathematics for Sustainability, to be published by Springer in May 2018 [book website; review at the American Mathematical Society

John was devoted to his family: Liane, his wife of 31 years; his older child Nathan; his mother Judy Roe; his brother and sister-in-law Tim and Lindi Roe; and members of his extended family. He was preceded in death by his beloved younger child Eli (Miriam) Roe and his father Michael Roe. A memorial service will be held on Sunday April 8, 2018, at 3:00 p.m. at State College Presbyterian Church (132 West Beaver Avenue, State College). Donations in John’s memory can be made to MAP International, providing global health care to people in need; The Reformation Project, promoting inclusion of LGBTQ people in the church, and Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light, responding to climate change as an ethical and moral issue.

February newsletter: For the love of children.

Today, on this Valentine’s day, we invite you to love the next generations.  Love them by loving their world, and also by celebrating their examples, by reading with them, studying with them, and helping them find ways to act in hope.  We’ll help with a bouquet of new resources.  Select one you like, and learn a bit more.  Continue reading

1000 Teachings Sermon: One in one thousand.

This sermon was given by Greg Williams, Board President of PA IPL, at his home church, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in  Altoona, PA, on February 4, 2018, the fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B (lectionary page) and is part of the 1000 Teachings #EachGeneration movement.  We’re delighted to share it with all of you.

In preparing to give today’s homily, I was particularly struck by the reading from Isaiah.  Isaiah has always stood out for me because of the beauty of the images and poetry of the writing, all written at several very dark times for the Israelites — times of despair not unlike our present times. This passage in in Isaiah 40 stood out for me:

It is the Holy One who sits above the circle of the earth,
The Holy One who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in:

In this description of The Holy One, Isaiah paints a picture of an omnipotent, creator God who somehow made the vast panoply of stars that fill the night skies. Human lights have now dimmed those heavens but it would have been overwhelming and humbling to the Israelite nomads and shepherds who slept under those star blanketed skies, who saw them move through the night sky hour to hour, day by day, and season to season.  Of course it would appear that those heavenly lights were being continually stretched across the heavens by an all-powerful hand.

I have not had many opportunities to be in such a dark-skied place, but I have a vivid memory of being an 18 year old, of sitting on a mountain side, above a deep canyon in the Black Hills of South Dakota on a long August night, and being humbled as I watched the heavens turn over my head. I felt small and awestruck. I believe in the big bang theory of the creation of the universe in terms of  how the universe expanded. But I, and many scientists, still wonder whence came this creation. I still see God’s hand there in mysterious ways.

This Holy One is not only omnipotent creator but also loving and benevolent sustainer as the one who “spreads the heavens like a tent to live in.”  This Creator made the heaven into a protective home to sustain this earthly part of his creation, and the humans who needed a tent to survive the cold nights of the desert would have fully understood that metaphor.

My view of humans and creation, and the miracle that this planet sustains us,  is shaped by my faith in this Holy One but also by my life as a science teacher and a naturalist. From that viewpoint, the heavens really are a tent in which we live. The thin layer of atmosphere that makes life possible on earth for us humans and our fellow travelers, developed over time and through the forces of evolution. In the early life of earth, gases that are noxious to life, as we know it, dominated and the planet was barren for billions of years.  It was the eventual emergence in the ocean soup of life in the form of one celled cyanobacteria and the miracle of photosynthesis they carried, that decreased the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and increased the amount of oxygen. Billions of these floating creatures absorbed carbon dioxide and through photosynthesis transformed it into sugars for themselves and created abundant oxygen for the atmosphere in the chemical process.  Somehow, a balance between those two gases developed an atmosphere that carbon-based life — like us— could breathe. Astonishing.

That thin layer of perfectly balanced gases also allowed just the right amount of sun and heat to penetrate earth’s atmosphere and reach the earth, warming the planet during the day, but also allowing heat to escape at night so the planet didn’t get too warm. Amazing.

This balance continued for millions of years and evolution brought along humans. We benefited from this garden of Eden.  We created cultures, civilizations, and came to know God, by many names and in many religions.  All those traditions were filled with gratitude for the created world and thought of humans as stewards.

In the modern world, progress tipped those fragile balances of oxygen and carbon dioxide, of heat at day and cooling at night, and of reaping the fruits of our home without harming it. Within the last couple of centuries, human civilization “developed” in size and sophistication to the point where we could extract raw energy from the earth. We began with coal that would heat our houses and power our factories and our trains. We found oil which lubricated our machines, and refined into gasoline that would power vehicles and engines of all sorts. Though there were killer pea soup fogs of London in the 19th century, and the Donora, Pennsylvania killer smog of 1948 that decimated a whole industrial town near Pittsburgh, the price —even when you added in black lung disease— wasn’t so high that it tarnished the economic boom that came with use of these fuels.

Until relatively recently, little did we realize that there were invisible consequences from all the carbon dioxide released in the burning of these fossil fuels.  For two hundred years, we have been tipping the delicate balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide. That thin layer between us and the vast universe has been changing. The atmosphere has been becoming more of a greenhouse than a tent, so that the heat of the sun can still penetrate and warm the earth but just a little less heat exits the bubble around us. The earth’s temperature has been climbing and almost every year sees another record global temperature.

This growing global temperature so far totals a couple of degrees – which might seem survivable. However, it is now evident this temperature increase is melting polar ice which leads to rising ocean levels.  This has led to Change in our Climate systems. These changes in weather patterns – more hurricanes, more severe weather, more droughts, more wildfires seem to be weekly occurrences somewhere on our planet. Somehow, we have made “the tent to live in” into a sauna where the rules of what we can expect in daily weather have changed radically and dangerously.

Scientists, using incredibly complex computers, have spun out dire forecasts of an unlivable future that worsens year by year. Unless humans make changes —do-able changes to renewable energy and a less wasteful life— these forecasts will become an unthinkable reality. Life on earth may well be imperiled and it may be true that, like Walt Kelly popularized in a Pogo comic strip “we have met the enemy and he is us.”  

Many humans are showing a hubris not that different from the Jewish story (shared by the Abrahamic traditions) of indifference to Yahweh that led to the Great Flood of Noah. Tragically this is creating a threat to their own existence. Many see no limits to our use of the earth. Many exercise little to no self restraint as to how we treat this planet. Many certainly don’t treat it like the sacred gift to us from our creator.

As is God’s wont, we have been given prophets who tell us to repent —to turn away from our wasteful and destructive ways. Pope Francis, in the eloquent and prescient encyclical, Laudato Si’, makes the case that many have elevated “progress”, “the gross national product,” “the good life” above our relationship with God. He even calls out our blind trust in “technology” and our over-confidence that technology can fix this problem of global warming (in spite of the fact that unbridled technology helped create the problem!).  He speaks up for the poor who are the first to feel climate change —living near sources of carbon pollution, or huddled on the edge of rising oceans. Pope Francis mourns the rapid extinction of our fellow creatures— evident everywhere around us as humans gobble up all the resources and displace more and more species.

There is another group of prophets who have been crying for justice for themselves and the upcoming generations that particularly speak to my grandparent’s heart. This is a group of 21 young people, aged 10-21, who are, in an act of prophecy,  suing the United States government for the grave threat to their future that is climate change. The suit, Juliana v. the U.S., has been moving through the courts for the last five years.  It was due to be heard in US District Court tomorrow [February 5, 2018] but has been delayed by the present administration’s request that the suit be dismissed. The government’s lawyers are saying that such a suit will disrupt the administration’s ability to deal with more pressing problems and it could well be the “suit of the century.”

The bravery of these young plaintiffs and the eloquence with which they speak of the dangers of climate change give me the hope that comes with prophecy. They are speaking not only for themselves but also for my granddaughter, Talula, who is five. I tremble when I think of her future. I have nightmares of what lays in front of her. Perhaps you have similar fears for a youngster that you love. But I must respond with hope – I believe in the Jesus in today’s Gospel from Mark who, with all of the town gathered around Andrew and Simon’s front door, drove out demons within. I believe, that, with God’s help, humans can control the demons that threaten our own existence.

I am committed to spreading that hope.  My homily today is one of a thousand sermons called for by the United Church of Christ’s support of these plaintiffs. Similar teachings or sermons have been coordinated or inspired by Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light, at Howard United Methodist Church in Howard, PA;  at Trinity Lutheran Church in State College; and at the Episcopal Church of the Nativity and St. Stephens in Newport, PA. I ask you to join me and them in praying. Please pray that this trial is allowed to proceed and that it truly does become the trial of the century. Please join me in praying that the courts do find that future generations have a right to life, liberty and property unhindered by the vast dangers of unbridled human hubris that are causing global climate change.  

Let me end with this hope-filled statement of faith in our God and Savior and our ability to be part of the solution.

May 2, 2013 “The Episcopal Church of America, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Church of Sweden (Lutheran) meeting in Washington, DC this Easter season to celebrate our commitment to hope in the face of climate change do state that:  “As Christians, we do not live in the despair and melancholy of the tomb, but in the light of the Risen Christ. Our resurrection hope is grounded in the promise of renewal and restoration for all of God’s Creation, which gives us energy, strength and perseverance in the face of overwhelming challenge. For us, this promise is more than an abstraction.  It is a challenge to commit ourselves to walk a different course and serve as the hands of God in working to heal the brokenness of our hurting world.

January 2018 newsletter: Greening and Growing in the Dark

Photo credit: Darlene O’Neal, Bellefonte PA

somehow, in some way,
it has managed to survive –
pampas grass in the snow

— Matsuo Bashō, 17th c, Japanese

It is winter – and it is 2018 – and so it’s understandable that we seek evidence of ‘survival,’ perhaps against all odds.  At Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light we know that surviving – even thriving– is most fully realized when we can reach for meaningful action, companions in the work, the sense of fullness that comes from prayer, ritual and meditation, and always, always, generative hope.  Here are some ways we are cultivating all of these around the state right now – we hope you’ll join in! Continue reading

1000 Teachings sermon: Urgency

This sermon was given by The Rev. Rebecca S. Myers, LSW, at The Church of the Nativity and St. Stephen’s, Newport, PA, on January 21, 2018, the third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B (lectionary page) and is part of the 1000 Teachings #EachGeneration movement, and we’re delighted that she has shared it with all of us.

Audio version of the sermon.

And immediately they left their nets and followed him. Mark 1:18

Earlier this week, The New York Times reported that 2017 was one of the warmest years on record since weather records have been kept, which began in 1880. Kay Cramer also sent the Environmental Stewardship Committee a link to a carbon calculator and I once again calculated my carbon footprint.

I have been trying to reduce my personal carbon footprint over the past few years. I drive a pretty fuel efficient vehicle and often walk to the church rather than drive. I love to hang my clothes out to dry when the weather is conducive to do so. I choose sustainable electricity through PA PowerSwitch. If offered, I choose carbon offsets when I fly or take the train. And last summer, I installed a heating/cooling system similar to what we have here in the church. The new system runs on electricity, which in my case is using a sustainable electricity source. My fuel oil furnace is a backup when it’s especially cold.

So, while I’ve personally reduced my carbon footprint, it turns out it’s still 17.30 metric tons. What’s known as our secondary carbon footprint is the highest part of my footprint at 6.07 metric tons. This is carbon created when I use banks for credit card payments or buy clothing and shoes, use my cell phone or buy electronic equipment.

Next comes my car at 5.56 metric tons for nearly 21,000 miles during the year. Finally, comes my home at 5.51 metric tons, mostly from my oil furnace. My 17.30 metric tons of carbon is nearly one ton more than the average for a person in the United States and it is over 14 metric tons greater than the average for a person in the world! The amount I should try to be at is 2 metric tons per year in order to combat climate change!

I do have urgency around addressing climate change and doing my part.

In our Gospel today we hear more about how Jesus called his disciples. What struck me as I read this passage is that when Jesus asked a person to follow him, according to Mark, they IMMEDIATELY followed him. They dropped whatever they were doing and followed him.

They didn’t run a background check on Jesus, first. They didn’t gather their advisers together and discuss whether they should follow Jesus or not. They didn’t find their job replacement. They didn’t check it out with the government or religious authorities of their time… they just stopped their lives and followed him.

Somehow they knew that being in the presence of this man from Nazareth was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Somehow they knew that following Jesus was necessary for life, not only for themselves, but also for those around them. Maybe they didn’t fully understand all of this, but they knew that following Jesus was the most important action they could take in their lives.

There was an urgency about being with Jesus…about being in his presence. God had come into the world and the most important thing was to follow him…to be near him.

This past week, I learned about some young people who live in that same urgency of those long ago disciples. They live in urgency about continued human life on this planet that God has created for us; this earth that has everything we need for our lives.

In 2015, these 21 young people who are now ages 10-21, filed a lawsuit against the government of the United States. They charged that the government’s failure to address climate change robbed them of their future. The lawsuit states that this group of young people:

…represent the youngest living generation, beneficiaries of the public trust. Youth Plaintiffs have a substantial, direct, and immediate interest in protecting the atmosphere, other vital natural resources, their quality of life, their property interests, and their liberties. They also have an interest in ensuring that the climate system remains stable enough to secure their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, rights that depend on a livable future. A livable future includes the opportunity to drink clean water, to grow food, to be free from direct and imminent property damage caused by extreme weather events, to benefit from the use of property, and to enjoy the abundant and rich biodiversity of our nation. Pg 40 No. 96

By 2100, these Youth Plaintiffs (many of whom should still be alive), and future generations, would live with a climate system that is no longer conducive to their survival. No. 97

These young people are urgently trying to save our home. They are not waiting around to see what happens next. They are taking action immediately.

And lest you think that only the young are fearful of losing their future, another article I read recently reported on a study that showed that day-to-day increases in air pollution, even at what are considered acceptable levels, cause the deaths of approximately 20,000 people who are elderly each year…that is more deaths than caused by HIV/AIDS.

As disciples of Jesus Christ, we understand urgency. We understand immediacy. Let us join these young people in protecting and preserving the wonderful world God has created for us.


Rev. Rebecca includes the following links with her sermon on the Church of the Nativity and St. Stephens website