Turning Faith-based Communities Into Water Conservation Leaders

Today we have a guest blog from Stacey Kennealy, Certification Program and Sustainability Director at GreenFaith in Highland Park, New Jersey. Stacey talks about engaging faith-based organizations in water conservation.

Interfaith water themed summer camp | GreenFaith

Children participate in an interfaith, water-themed summer camp, where they went ponding, did scientific experiments, and learned about different traditions’ rituals on water | GreenFaith

Water: For many people, connections with water represent powerful emotional or spiritual experiences. Organized religions place a high value on water – it’s in the Bible’s opening verse, and it shows up in the last words. In between, it is mentioned no less than 717 times. Water marks the start of prayer for every Muslim, is featured throughout the Torah, and imparts spiritual purification in the waters of the Ganges for millions of Hindus. So it should not be a surprise that a growing number of faith communities are working to help protect our rivers – the main source of clean water for millions of Americans.

GreenFaith is helping faith communities put these beliefs into action through their new Water Shield Program.

The idea is simple: turn a faith-based community into a “blue” leader by taking a top to bottom approach to water conservation. It is as important to teach and preach about the issue as it is to carry out action steps in the home and within the facility. GreenFaith provides everything a congregation needs to make this transformation happen.

Action steps at Water Shield sites have been varied and effective, and have included rain barrels, rain gardens, water-saving faucets and toilets, organic landscaping practices, green cleaners, water conservation signage, and conservation-minded policies for watering of the grounds, among others. There have also been many interesting and creative interpretations, as described in a recent Religion News Service article.

In New Jersey, St. Bernard’s Church was the first house of worship in the country to develop an interfaith water-themed summer camp, where children went ponding, did scientific experiments, and learned about different traditions’ rituals on water. At Church of the Atonement and Christ our Light parishes, members wrote their water conservation pledges on ‘droplets’ that were affixed to bulletin boards and hung on trees, creating community-wide engagement. The Islamic Society of Central Jersey held a workshop teaching the 600 children in their school to practice Wudu—a daily cleansing ritual for Muslims that is done before prayer—with just ¼ cup of water.

Through the Water Shield, GreenFaith also seeks to connect faith communities with leading nonprofits focused on water quality protection, including American Rivers, Clean Ocean Action, Celebrate Delaware Bay and Watershed Ambassadors. Participants in the Shield are encouraged to build relationships with these organizations, and, where possible, carry out hands-on projects with them, such as organizing an event through American Rivers’ National River Cleanup.

In its second year, the focus is on building regional partnerships, where the program can be adapted for the water issues facing a particular region. A local launch in Great Lakes-centered Wisconsin is underway, and the desert Southwest is next. In New Jersey, the birth place and current home of GreenFaith, the coming months will be focused on broadening the partnership with Sustainable Jersey to enable more municipalities and faith communities to collaborate to meet water conservation goals.

The hope, the dream, is that in just a few years’ time, hundreds of faith communities across the country will have earned the Water Shield, doing their part to protect one of the earth’s most precious resources.

Do you know of a faith community that might be a good fit for the Water Shield? Please help GreenFaith to spread the word by contacting Program Director Stacey Kennealy.