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.