Members of environmentally conscious parishes of several denominations gathered in an outreach mission house in Montreal June 3 to commemorate a venture that began in the same place 10 years before.
While the first pioneers in what is known today as the Green Churches Network were unable to make it to the 10th anniversary gala dinner, Norman Lévesque, executive director of the network, said several of them told him they were amazed by what has grown from their first modest efforts.
It all began in 2006 with a small group of members and supporters of the United Church of Canada at St. Columba House, a United Church outreach to residents of the Point St. Charles district of Montreal, a low-income area now attracting some more upscale residents and development. The mission hired a student, Fannie Couture, who organized projects in recycling and composting as well as a garden along the side of the building.
The Green Church project became a priority for Patricia Murphy, then director of St. Columba House, and the project gradually drew in local United Church congregations and groups, with support from the local United Church governing body, the Montreal Presbytery. Several United Church congregations in the Montreal area came on board in various ways.
At the same time, an Anglican parish in the West Island suburb of Dorval, St. Andrew and St. Mark was launching a project that would make it a pride and joy of the Green Church coalition, which by then had become an ecumenical group. A geothermal heating system replaced three oil-burning furnaces, ending a source of winter pollution and saving on heating costs. Eight wells were drilled about 150 metres deep and polyethylene pipe was installed, through which a fluid is pumped that brings warmth in winter and the reverse in summer.
From 2009 on, the Green Church network became even more ecumenical. Lévesque, a Roman Catholic layperson, became co-ordinator of the project. The ecumenical aspect of the program was highlighted at the first Green Church Conference, attended by 150 people in early 2010 at Église St-Charles, a Roman Catholic church in “The Point,” not far from St. Columba House.
Later that year, the project became Green Church Program of the Canadian Centre for Ecumenism, a Montreal-based organization with national and international outreach (which celebrated its 50th anniversary a couple of years ago). The two organizations operated from the same quarters and Lévesque was on the staff of both; at one point, he was both Green Churches co-ordinator and interim director of the Centre for Ecumenism.
Projects of the network have included a Green Church Toolkit with ideas for parishes that want to go green. It has also helped get a Quebec wine accredited as a mass wine, so that parishes-often Catholic, with strict rules in this regard-don’t have to import wine, usually from California. A second Green Church Conference was held at Église St. Nicéphore in Drummondville, east of Montreal, in 2012; it was attended by about 130 people. A third conference, in Quebec City in 2015, included the Roman Catholic archbishop of Quebec (the diocese in and around Quebec City) among its speakers.
Along the way, the Green Church program continued to broaden geographically and ecumenically, picking up parishes from Ontario, Nova Scotia and British Columbia, and some Quaker and evangelical members.
Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’s encyclical last year on the environment and human ecology, was a shot in the arm for the Green Church program. Lévesque and others put together a leaflet summarizing the main points of the leaflet in illustrations. Lévesque said the network is still receiving inquiries because of Laudato Si’.
The Green Church Network and the Canadian Centre for Ecumenism decided last year to go their separate ways. The network became an autonomous charity again and moved its headquarters into the basement of a Catholic church in Laval, just north of Montreal.
Just in time for the anniversary celebration, the network received its federal charity registration number, which allows it to receive donations from individuals, religious communities and foundations and to qualify for government grants.
Harvey Shepherd is about to retire as editor of Anglican Montreal.