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.

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.

St Augustine’s is buzzing

On Saturday, April 25, the grounds of St. Augustine’s, Kingston, became home to a hive of 10,000 bees, in their latest initiative.
The Rev. Beth Sherman, vicar, has long been interested in bees, but has not actually kept them until now. She teamed up with friends of the congregation, Judy and Diane Landry, to take a beekeeping class, and began to make plans. Now that the hive has arrived from Georgia, they are keeping an eye on the queen, hoping that she and the hive will accept their new home.
When the hive is fully established, the bees will begin producing honey, and it is expected that the honey can be harvested starting in 2021. Sherman would like to expand this effort, bringing in more hives, and selling the honey. She and her fellow keepers are thinking of “Wholly Honey” for a brand name.
Bees play a critical role in the natural world, and in the production of our food, as primary pollinators. Recently bee populations have been in decline due to pesticides, environmental issues, and other problems. The hive at St Augustine’s will require careful monitoring to help it stay healthy and to thrive.
St Augustine’s occupies an acre of land on the University of Rhode Island campus, and the congregation is committed to the stewardship of that land as God’s creation, having had it recently certified as a Natural Wildlife Habitat. A butterfly garden has been planted and earlier in April, bat houses decorated by the congregation’s children were installed.

Ten Ways to Care for Creation as a Congregation

Ideas for your congregation, compiled by the Creation Care Task Force of Diocesan Council

The Creation Care Task Force is a group appointed by Diocesan Council for the purpose of responding to 2018 General Convention resolutions on the priority of creation care in all our churches. As a start, we’ve developed a list of 10 ways (well, 10 plus one more) your congregation can care for creation. Look for more information as our mission develops.

  1. Recycle everything possible!
  2. Have a free energy audit done on your building (Contact National Grid or RISE — the regional program administrator for National Grid’s EnergyWise home energy services in Rhode Island.).
  3. Eliminate disposable/single use items. Use china, glassware, silverware and ceramic mugs for coffee hour instead.
  4. Treat your church’s lawn with organic fertilizer, and use environmentally friendly cleaning products in your church (see EWG.org for a list).
  5. Make all meetings paperless (Send documents in advance by email and project others on a screen.).
  6. Create a seasonal worship bulletin template with a weekly changeable insert to save paper on printing.
  7. Designate one Sunday a month as “Carpool Sunday” when church members are encouraged to share rides, build fellowship and save gasoline.
  8. Replace all lightbulbs with long-lasting, energy-efficient LED bulbs.
  9. Start a vegetable garden (use compost from coffee hour) or a flower garden (for prayer).
  10. Install programmable thermostats to regulate energy use in times of limited occupancy.
  11. Install solar panels, electric car charging stations or rain barrels — they all help maximize natural resources.

Interfaith Power and Light

RIPL President, The Rev. Anita Schell, Rector of Emmanuel, Newport with the Governor.

Rhode Island Interfaith Power and Light is a group that advocates for action taken to mitigate the impact of climate change, especially on our most vulnerable citizens. Made up of 29 churches around the state, including several Episcopal Churches, it seeks to:

  • raise awareness about climate change and related spiritual teachings
  • assist religious communities in promoting energy conservation, energy efficiency, renewable energy and other forms of sustainable living
  • advocate for public policies that will effectively minimize global warming

They provide resources about congregational greening certification, food and faith, energy resources, etc.

Visit their website at www.ri-ipl.org




Episcopal Ecological Network

The Episcopal Ecological Network (EpEN) is a nationwide network within the Episcopal Church USA that coordinates with the Peace and Justice Ministries Office of the Episcopal Church USA. As such we are part of the worldwide Anglican Communion and find our roots in the Celtic Spirituality of this tradition. As the grassroots network of Episcopalians from around the United States, the EpEN is helping the Episcopal Church in the USA to advocate and articulate protection of the environment and preserving the sanctity of creation.  This network extends throughout the various congregations, Dioceses and Provinces of the Church and includes interaction with other Christian churches in the USA and around the world.

To learn more and find resources visit: http://www.eenonline.org


To Serve Christ in All Creation

The environmental crisis is at heart a spiritual issue. This Study Guide is designed to assist each parish in forming a Discussion Circle, through which each participant can examine the roots of his or her connectedness with God’s creation, both in scripture and in our Christian tradition. The core content explores some of the issues of greatest concern for New Englanders and for people of faith everywhere, for whom the degradation of the environment is an issue of justice for all.

This Study Guide explores ways to live out the promise of our baptism and participate in God’s mission to restore all people and all creation to unity with God and each other in Christ. In support of the Pastoral Letter issued by the bishops of New England, it seeks to:

  • Increase awareness and acknowledgement of the urgency of the planetary crisis in which we now live
  • Develop cohesive groups that celebrate the gifts of creation and honor the sacredness of all of creation.
  • Help these groups take action in ways that meaningfully demonstrate gratitude for the gifts of creation.

The Discussion Circle approach aims at engaging people of faith in conversation around their core values and spiritual connections with God’s creation. The process used to conduct the group seeks to model the same values we need in caring for creation: Respect, care, and affirming the value of each creature. The objective is NOT for each group to come to agreement or consensus on the issues raised in the Pastoral Letter. It is rather to create a fun, engaging, informative and empowering setting for congregants of our churches to deepen their personal understanding of what it means to “Serve Christ In All Creation.” Through a shared dialogue, they will gain insights into how their fellow participants may interpret the same ideas in different ways. The Discussion Circle process also seeks to motivate participants to take action in ways that have the most positive impacts in their spheres of influence: within their church community, their personal lives, neighborhoods and workplaces. The hope is that a core group of interested and willing people will form within each church, and that this group will continue to seek ways to celebrate the gifts of creation and honor the sacredness of all creation as integral to the work of the church.

DOWNLOAD To_Serve_Christ_in_All_Creation
73 page guide for congregations and dioceses