Call me old fashioned or even nostalgic but the Catholic Church has been going environmentally “green” for centuries. They are called “parishes.” Having grown up in the city of Philadelphia in the Irish-centric enclave called Gray’s Ferry…we were environmentally conscious and did not even know it. We walked to church, there was no need to drive to our parish church, it was only a few blocks over one way or the other. Not only did growing up Catholic in the city provide “eco-friendly” elimination of the need to use automobiles and consuming gas, it also contributed to the much advocated by physicians, the aerobic activity called walking. Even better, when walking to and from Church…we were usually with other individuals and we held conversations, which contributed even more to the entire well being of our solipsistic parish community were we all lived, prayed and went through life together.
Aside from the obvious need to cut down on our carbon footprints, perhaps the return to a structure that is central to a neighborhood is the more obvious adaptation that is needed in the Church. When Catholics exited the urban environment in the United States, they were caught in this misnomer that “bigger is better…even bigger is best….and biggest is well….the biggest and bestest.” Now of course we realize that the notion is not always true or beneficial to a parish community of prayerful intimacy within our parish communities. Liturgies are sometimes more like the weekly shopping frenzy at Wal-Mart, parish parking lots are jammed with single driver cars, traffic police and parish priest alike direct mobile confusion and there is a need to” get them in” and “get them out” before the next Mass.
When we think about parish planning and development of the manner in which the Catholic Church serves its communities…maybe it is time to take a retro look at the old neighborhood parish type of planning and structure. Additionally, perhaps as a society we should encourage architects and urban planners to look back and reconsider the positive aspects that “parish” and “neighborhood” settings offered to a community.
When we plan a parish community, perhaps it would be wise to develop a plan of “micro-parishes”, where the overall parish complex and overhead is more manageable for the community. Especially true is the need for a location for the Church that is within an ambulational distance from homes and work environments. This is perhaps where the dialogue needs to come into play. As we regentrify, or renovate our city areas the parish church is already a central focus to the neighborhood. It is the suburban communities that need to especially realize the benefits of Catholic micro communities as more beneficial to the entire spiritual and theological development of a Catholic parish.
Micro-parishes I suppose used to be called, “missions”, but there was a very pragmatic and sensitive aspect to the structure that made sense…namely…Don’t go overboard, and keep the parish structure manageable. Perhaps there would be a better response to our parish spirituality if the parish priests did not have to minister to the Mega-parish of 2500 families.
In the 21st century our Catholic Church is called to not only a spiritual, but also an ecological response to the world’s issues and crisis’. There is no better way to participate in the community of global faith than for the Catholic Church to embark on an ecological “skinny” plan to conserve and preserve resources, spaces and materials. As we plan new parishes, let’s use the best architectural planning to utilize all of our natural resources to the best advantages. Build parishes that are organically a part of the community and not just another structure that is inaccessible except with planes, trains or automobiles, and finally make our parishes ecologically responsible for the conservation of all resources especially those that are environmentally friendly.
Going green in a parish might mean the development of a neighborhood community garden, where parishioners might learn about the planting and consumption of health foods and vegetables. It also might mean planning our liturgies around cycles of “natural” light and not exploiting electricity or carbon fuels. Whatver it is means that the Church is called to good stewardship and preservation of natural resources and we need to begin on a local parish level.
The spread of Christianity was initially a “grass-roots” movement. Today more than ever the Church needs to recognize the need to return to spiritual, economic and social grass roots values so that our culture and environment might be preserved.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.