Episcopal Church Creation Care Supports Climate Resistance on Aquidneck Island

by Nancy Bryan

Six congregations in Portsmouth, Middletown and Newport will partner with the diocese’s creation care ministry in a climate resistance pilot project that has won $18,000 in grant funding from The Episcopal Church’s Task Force on the Care of Creation and Environmental Racism.

“One of the central focuses of our work will be on the well-being of environmental justice communities on Aquidneck Island, what kinds of impacts climate change is going to have on these communities, and how Episcopal churches can help,” said Emily Eggington Skeehan, a member of St. Mary’s, Portsmouth, and project manager of the Aquidneck Island Parish Resilience Pilot Project.

The grant funds were allocated by the 2022 General Convention. The task force selected twelve grantees, including the Diocese of Rhode Island, based on applications submitted in the spring, and the grant awards were approved by the church’s Executive Council at its meeting in Providence in June.

In the next year, the diocese’s creation care ministry team will use the grant funds to help the six participating congregations be prepared for climate emergencies and ready to address the needs of their most vulnerable neighbors during extreme weather events.

“For example, churches could stock cots, sheets, toiletries, and non-perishable food, consider installing showers in a bathroom, and work with local emergency management so that people know that they can come to that particular church,” the grant proposal reads, noting that due to environmental racism, “low-income communities … have less capacity to bounce back from severe weather events than more affluent areas.”

Other grant-funded activities will include parish formation programs and creation-centered liturgical events, including two water-focused pilgrimages. One, planned for this fall, will visit Aquidneck Island watersheds. Next spring, the second will explore the Atlantic Ocean and the arms of Narragansett Bay surrounding the island.

The creation care ministry team also plans to hold its third annual Conference for Creation Care in the autumn of 2024, at which it will present the results of its Aquidneck Island project.

The team’s second conference will take place on September 23 at All Saints, Providence. Learn more and register online.

Rhode Islanders Attend Episcopal Youth Event

From July 4-8, seven youth from the Diocese of Rhode Island attended the Episcopal Youth Event in Baltimore, Maryland. This event, usually held every three years, is a gathering of youth ages 15-19 from around the world who assemble to learn, laugh, and worship together.

The Rev. Scott Lee and his wife, Ashley, served as their chaperones.

Together with their chaperones, the Rev. Scott Lee and his wife, Ashley, the Rhode Island contingent traveled with youth from other dioceses in Province 1 of the Episcopal Church, including the Dioceses of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. The arrangement, Lee says,  provided Rhode Island youth with an opportunity to create strong bonds with other Episcopal youth from New England. “They laughed together, worshiped together, and were able to hold serious conversations with one another about faith,” he says.

Worship is often a highlight of EYE, and this year was no different. “While the worship services were absolutely Episcopal services, they were unlike anything happening in our churches,” Lee says. “Young people have an energy about them and when that energy is driven by faith, it is profound.”

Books Through Bars Finds a Home at St. Barnabas, Warwick

Books Through Bars Finds a Home at St. Barnabas Warwick

Late in 2021, Providence Books Through Bars, an all-volunteer organization that sends books to people in prison all over the country, knew they needed a different space from which to work. For almost a decade, the group had been working out of a volunteer’s garage. But lack of heat or access to facilities made the work of sending over 1,000 packages of books to inmates across the US difficult. 

Volunteer Therese Zink was worshipping at St. Mark’s, Warwick at the time, and asked the Rev. Susan Wrathall whether space might be available in an Episcopal church building. Wrathall suggested St. Barnabas in Warwick where the Rev. Scott Lee, the church’s rector, was happy to make room for the program. 

Hosting Providence Books Through Bars “extends the congregation’s ministry to care for those in prison. It allows us to live into the call to love others as Christ loves us; to care for others in the ways that Jesus makes clear in Matthew 25,” Lee says. “It allows us to acknowledge that this is part of our call as Christians and a simple way to tell people ‘you are not forgotten.’” 

At St. Barnabas, Books Through Bars moved into a space four times larger than their previous garage home early in 2022. The new “upgraded” space, as Zink calls it, includes ample room for book storage and tables for packaging and labeling. The location, on the first level of the building, allows volunteers to move in and out without carrying bins of packages up or down stairs on their way to the post office.  

Dr. Zink, a professor of family medicine at Brown University, says the parish is a great host. “Several vestry members worked with us to find the right space. Having access to internet and cell phone service is critical to our work,” she says. “I’ve … moved my membership to St. Barnabas because I was so touched by the engagement the vestry and Father Scott exhibited in the possibility of hosting Books Through Bars.”   

In its new digs, Books Through Bars has dedicated one room to fiction, and another to non-fiction and its mailing operation. The organization maintains a database of inmates’ previous choices along with the regulations and restrictions at specific prisons. The group has between 5,000 and 8,000 titles on hand at any one time, and mails approximately 500 books a month in packages of two to four paperbacks each. 

Books Through Bars is open to volunteers on Sunday afternoons following worship and coffee hour at St. Barnabas. The congregation has welcomed volunteers to attend coffee hour, and the group has reciprocated by hosting coffee hour for the congregation.  

Teens in the congregation find the program a good fit for their community service hours, and two high school volunteers from another part of the city have begun attending the 10:00 service.  

Books Through Bars accepts donations of paperback books, but not hard covers. Inmates – on average 150 or so each month – write to request books within a certain genre or area of interest rather than by specific title. One prisoner, with an interest in reading “the classics,” has requested and read about 1,000 books. 

Financial donations help cover mailing costs and the purchase of books not already on the organization’s shelves. Manga and anime are both popular genres that frequently require purchase.  

Providence Books Through Bars was founded in 2003 by Dirt Palace, a Providence feminist artists’ collective, and is a 501 c3 non-profit. It is associated with the national Books Through Bars organization.  

Creation Care – Summer 2023

Meet Reverend Dante A. Tavolaro, Rector of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Greenville, RI. Dante joined St. Thomas Church in June  2020, just as COVID became a factor in all of our lives. Nevertheless, as a “first time” Rector, he has found his role in this great parish to be fun, sometimes challenging, and often surprising…especially with the start of COVID.

Fortunately, Parish Life has returned to more normalcy and he’s thrilled to see that parishioners are again active and even more involved in their church. One surprising outcome from COVID is the development of a new project, now a permanent fixtures in parish life, that might not have been anticipated or recognized for its potential reach. Although many parishioners continued to send their annual or monthly contributions, “Zoom Worship” minimized the regular Sunday collections. Consequently, the Parish was struggling to pay bills.

However, a group of parish leaders concerned about the future of the community came up with a wild idea and approached Dante with their plan to open a Thrift Shop. After a good deal of discernment, the Vestry gave the approval to launch this new ministry to raise funds for the parish, help many in the community, and encourage the reuse of goods. Not only has it become a successful fundraiser for St. Thomas, it has also been a driving force in reuniting St. Thomas parishioners and the community of Greenville. The Thrift Shop and its outgrowth of projects has led to a refugee ministry, a partnership with other community outreach organizations while providing a sense of community for people looking for connection with others, and a (hopefully) emerging program with the local high school honor society.

But, you might ask, what does this have to do with Creation Care beyond reusing older goods and helping teenagers get their service points? Through what began as a small project has led to greater connections in the Greenville community, a greater awareness of how our use of goods affects our environment as well as how our individual use of earth’s resources affect everyone. The thrift store project has also brought the community to see how some locations—even within this village—suffer more environmentally than other areas due to environmental mistreatment.

Dante serves on the Board of the Rhode Island Environmental Education Association (RIEEA), an organization committed to developing Environmental Awareness through a variety of formal and informal Education Programs such as working with teachers and community organizations to provide environmental literacy for their communities, support organizations in making connections with others doing the same work, working with state legislators to pass legislation that supports Environmental Education in RI, and provide opportunities for individuals to get involved in meaningful projects of Environmental stewardship. In this role he hopes to encourage more Communities of Faith become deeply involved in finding ways to protect our environment.

Dante’s work is not a new effort on his part, however. He has always been a strong supporter and investigator of environmental concerns. While in Junior High School, he explored our relationship with watersheds and ecology and developed projects to better understand the health of the Blackstone Valley River. More recently he has partnered with Shareen Knowlton, Director of Education at Roger Williams Park Zoo to create projects around environmental concerns as an avenue to encourage Creation Care. His concern for the environment leads him to speak regularly about this fragile earth, our island home, identifying steps to reduce our individual footprints while encouraging others to care for “Our Earth” on systematic levels as well. He believes in the church’s untapped potential for awareness of environmental concerns making strong connections between the Cross and the need for faithful people to make sacrifices in their own life out of our responsibility as stewards of the earth. During the COVID shut down we witnessed how quickly creation could begin to heal. The Church could encourage her members to make the difficult sacrifices to give creation room to heal again. He also believes that there are opportunities to work with local elected officials to enact public policy which privileges care of creation.

Meet a team member: Christopher Schillaci

Chris is Co-Chair of the Creation Care Committee, a life-long Episcopalian, and former Junior Warden at St. Johns on the Point.  Chris grew up in Melbourne, FL, and was an active member of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church — attending youth group, annual mission trips, and singing in the choir. Chris moved to Rhode Island in 2014 and  serves as the Regional Aquaculture Coordinator for NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service based out of NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center Narragansett Laboratory. In his role, Chris works with federal and state agencies, industry, and members of the scientific, academic, and NGO communities to support sustainable aquaculture production and restoration in the waters off New England and the Mid Atlantic. He holds a Master’s degree in Natural Resource Management and Environmental Conservation from the University of New Hampshire- Durham and a Bachelor’s degree in Conservation Biology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is a nature enthusiast and loves to spend summers hiking and on the salt ponds fishing and digging for quahogs with his spouse Alison, their son Maverick, and their three dogs, Hunter, Linda, and Tucker. Chris and Alison also enjoy traveling. Th­ey frequently visit Argentina, where Chris’s uncle was recently consecrated as the Anglican Bishop of Argentina.

Caring for the Earth at St Augustine’s

The Rev. Beth Sherman, Vicar of St. Augustine’s, Kingston, and Kathie Gibson, a St. Augustine’s parishioner, are remarkable examples of what individuals can do for environmental ministry by coming together with others to care for God’s Creation. Recognizing that they, as individuals, could not solve every environmental problem we face, each woman placed great value in identifying meaningful, achievable ways, to protect our environment. Over time, their efforts to reach other environmentally concerned individuals grew and enabled them to implement programs with significant impact.

As Vicar of St. Augustine’s, Beth Sherman also serves as Episcopal Chaplain at the University of Rhode Island. Through this role she involves numerous students in activities that raise their awareness of the importance of environmental stewardship. Kayaking Wood River, hiking in potentially at-risk areas or visits to the Frosty Drew Observatory in Charlestown on Friday evenings leads students to greater appreciation for the universe as well as awareness of their responsibility to promote ecological concern and action among their peers.

Beth has also committed herself to involving St. Augustine’s parishoners in numerous programs that  encourage awareness of how each can help save the environment and work for environmental justice. These include a year-round garden that provides herbs and tomatoes for the local food pantry and  a labyrinth on the parish grounds. Although a labyrinth preceded her arrival, she encourages its use and is fond of watching the children from the URI Childcare facility walking it while contemplating where God is leading them to care for the Earth. Additionally, Beth encourages the building and utilizing of compost piles, shows films about the environment and encourages parishioners to petition political leaders to make wise environmental decisions. She is also a strong supporter of efforts toward greater energy efficiency.

Kathie Gibson has always been concerned about the environment, but she seems to have taken this work on full-time after retiring from her teaching career. It was then that she got involved in forming the Rhode Island Chapter of Interfaith Power & Light (RI IPL). Interfaith Power &  Light is a national organization whose mission is to inspire and mobilize people of faith and conscience to take bold and just action on climate change. IPL is also a source of information on worthwhile and effective actions for environmental issues.  Check out its website at https://www.interfaithpowerandlight.org/.  Activities of the Rhode Island Chapter can be found on Facebook at RI-Interfaith Power Light.

First Creation Care Grant Awarded

Creation Care Grant Awarded to All Saints, Providence

The Creation Care Ministry of the Diocese is pleased to announce the first award given from the Creation Care Mini-grant Program.

All Saints, Providence, has received a $1500 grant to create an inviting urban oasis for reflection and the healing of God’s creation. The deadline for applications has been extended to July 15. 2022.

This is an example of a project valuable in itself and a model for others to employ.

Other applications eligible for $500 to $1500 mini-grants include projects around:

  • Food security and access to locally produced food (i.e. the creation of community gardens and or farm shares on church owned lands, obtaining permits/equipment needed to host farmers markets on church owned lands, obtaining permits/equipment needed to prepare community meals in church facilities).
  • Energy efficiency (i.e. efficiency audits of church owned facilities, insulation/weather-proofing of church owned facilities, replacement of church owned energy intensive equipment).
  • Climate resiliency (i.e. rain gardens for stormwater management on church owned property, flood risk reduction strategies/retrofits for church owned property and facilities, generators and/or heating equipment to support community charging stations, warming stations, etc. on church owned property).
  • Environmental Stewardship (i.e. community/green space clean ups including Christian fellowship components, organic waste recycling at churches, invasive/exotic removal on church owned property, planting native plants and grasses on church owned property).
  • Environmental Outreach and Education (i.e. curriculum development focused on environmental education and stewardship for faith-based communities, development and/or hosting environmental focused programming for faith-based communities).
  • Theological reflection on Creation Care (i.e. development of creation care focused lessons for adult and youth formation classes).

The Creation Care grant period has ended as of July 15, 2022.  Questions about the Mini-Grants can be answered by emailing creationcareedri@gmail.com.

United Thank Offering (ECW)

United Thank Offering: A partner with The Episcopal Church Women

 The United Thank Offering (UTO) is a ministry of The Episcopal Church created to fund innovative mission and ministry projects.  From its initial collection in 1889 led by Ida Soule and Julia Chester Emery, the ministry has focused on gratitude and the importance of making a thank offering to remember that all good things come from God.  Since its inception, the ministry has grown exponentially through the grassroots efforts of dedicated coordinators/organizers and faithful participation by all Episcopalians.  Thank offerings are collected in parishes, dioceses, and provinces, as well as at The Triennial meeting and General Convention.  These funds are then awarded by the UTO Board annually as grants for loving, liberating, and life-giving work through innovative parish and diocesan ministries that help people live more fully in the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement.  The United Thank Offering has become synonymous with the Blue Box, a tangible reminder that encourages individuals to pray daily, give thanks to God, and make a thank offering into the Blue Box.

Contact the Chairperson for the UTO in our diocese to get your Blue Box and to know about the UTO ingathering in the Diocese of Rhode Island.

Your ECW diocesan board is the center for our local UTO ministry.

You may donate to the UTO by sending your check to The Episcopal Church Women Diocese of Rhode Island. Make your check out to Episcopal Church Women RI, write UTO in the memo line. Thank You!

National UTO information:

Facebook: @UnitedThankOffering or www.facebook.com/unitedthankoffering

Sign up for UTO E-News

Eucharistic Visitor

The Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island licenses lay people to serve as Eucharistic Visitors. Training for this ministry is conducted by the Diocese.

The Ministry

A Eucharistic Visitor is a lay person authorized to take the consecrated elements in a timely manner following a Celebration of Holy Eucharist to members of the congregation who, by reason of illness or infirmity, were unable to be present at the Celebration of the Eucharist. A Eucharistic Visitor acts under the direction of the member of the clergy exercising oversight of the congregation or other community of faith.

Training and Licensing

Individuals wishing to serve as Eucharistic Visitors should do the following:

  1. Meet with your clergyperson to discuss the ministry of a Eucharistic and your desire to serve in this ministry.
  2. Ensure that you are currently a confirmed/received communicant in good standing in your parish.
  3. Contact the Diocesan Eucharistic Visitor Trainer at diohouse@episcopalri.org
  4. Ensure that your Safe Church certification is up to date.
  5. The church office must run a background check.
  6. After above requirements are complete, you will be ready to apply to the bishop’s office for a license. Please work with your parish clergy to submit the Eucharistic Visitor License Request.