Interfaith Organization Unites People Over Shared Concern for the Environment


You may have heard a story about three blind men who met an elephant. One touches the tail, one the feet, and one the tusks. Each understands different interpretations of the same idea.

This concept, that an underlying truth ties various beliefs together, is what drives Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake. The organization bring together people from different religions to work together to express respect for the Earth. IPC offers workshops, gathers volunteers, and organizes social action to promote a healthy environment.

“We strengthen the biblical foundation for restoring creation, whether it’s the faithful or biblical restoring of God’s creation,” said IPC Co-Founder Charlie Conklin of Towson Presbyterian Church.

Though the organization began at a Christian conference in 2004, it was renamed and expanded to be inclusive of all religions in 2014, when Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin joined.

“No one religion owns the Earth. No one religion on their own can heal the Earth,” said Cardin, who is a former IPC chair. “We’re all implicated in its degradation and all obligated for its healing. It doesn’t make any sense to do it alone.”

Some of IPC’s programs includes interfaith nature walks, rain barrel and community solar workshops, and trash pickups. Last November, IPC took a tour of Baltimore to record and shed light on the city’s toxicity and how that destroys the community.

“We only have one planet,” said Stu Stainman, IPC green leader at Beth Am Synagogue. Beth Am was one of IPC’s original 13 congregations, which represent eight different religions.

Stainman said the partnership has allowed Beth Am to learn from others, coordinate, and complete projects.

Beth Am congregants clean up trash with Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake. Courtesy of Bonnie Sorak.

“I enjoy working with people of other faiths,” Stainman said. “It shows me how much more we have in common than differences.”

Other synagogues IPC works with are Har Sinai-Oheb Shalom Congregation, Chizuk Amuno Congregation, Congregation Kol Shalom, Lubavitch Center of Howard County, and Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, according to Bonnie Sorak, IPC outreach coordinator.

“It’s an amazing group,” said Cheryl Snyderman, Chizuk Amuno’s director of gemilut chasadim (“acts of loving kindness”). “They are there to support you.”

Snyderman said Chizuk Amuno committed to IPC to create green projects. In turn, IPC funded its storm remediation system, gardening activities, and a trip for young professionals to go to the National Aquarium to clean. It also held a session on solar energy with Pearlstone Center.

Chizuk Amuno, Snyderman said, shares IPC’s goal to clean the state’s waters for safety and health.

“Being involved with them gave us a structure with which we could be successful doing something environmentally friendly,” she said. “Without their support, I don’t know how much would happen.”

One of IPC’s upcoming programs is a training session Feb. 17 from 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. in Baltimore at The Episcopal Church of Christ the King to explain how congregations can partner with the organization.

“More congregations are recognizing that this is an existential moment and to continue to be relevant, especially to young people, they need to join this growing movement. IPC’s goal is to have every congregation take some meaningful tikkun olam action,” Sorak said.

Sorak’s proudest accomplishment at IPC is the One Water Partnership, which allows congregations to qualify for $500 to help start an environmental ministry or support one that is already running. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation awarded a grant to IPC last year to build additional hubs.

“The founding members felt that people of faith have a deeply religious and moral call to care for the Earth. … When we do evaluations of our interfaith programming we consistently hear the most positive feedback about the experience of sharing of prayers and exchange of religious ideology,” Sorak said. “The people who attend our events find value in learning about both the differences and commonalities within faith communities.”

IPC does face a challenge, though, in scheduling events for all faith traditions, Sorak said. Different religions have services on different days of the week, which can be tricky, but making sure that their events are inclusive is valuable.

“It’s inspiring to see how other traditions approach the Earth, what their theology is, how it addresses the Earth’s advantages,” Cardin said.

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