St. Mark and the Ecophilians Among Us

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Did you know that there are Ecophilians in Newport Beach?

Were you aware that Ecophilians are making a positive impact?

Are you wondering what an Ecophilian is?

An Ecophilian is a member of the environmental focus group at St. Mark Presbyterian Church.

“About 15 years ago there was a church-wide naming contest for the group that was specifically focused on the environment,” explained Judy Gielow, longtime church member, volunteer and Ecophilian.  “The winning name was ‘Ecophilians,’ which is derived from  ‘Eco’ meaning habitat or environment, and ‘Philia’ meaning friendly feeling for.  We consider everyone in the church to be a member, but some of us meet regularly to plan activities.”

The stated mission of the Ecophilians is to “Educate, motivate and provide action opportunities for the St. Mark congregation and the wider community in support of environmental sustainability in the context of Christian values.”

Founded in 1962, St. Mark has always been aware of environmental concerns, and the new church campus is a perfect example of their continuing ecological emphasis.  St. Mark moved to its current location in November 2007 and during its two-year building process, Ecophilians gave important guidance in terms of energy-saving design and environmental sustainability.

St. Mark is as eco-friendly as possible.  Besides using recyclable paper products and recycling Sunday bulletins and other items, additional environmental actions have been taken, including: use of native plants to reduce water consumption, eliminate pesticides, and protect a diversity of wildlife; state-of-the-art irrigation that prevents runoff from the church; use of plant material filtration to clean drainage; daylight and views in 90 percent of building spaces to reduce lighting needs; and planting of 530 trees throughout the property.

Church members recently planted a vegetable garden next to the preschool, with the harvest to be donated to local non-profit kitchens.  (The church also has a small composting operation that it hopes to expand in the coming months to provide natural fertilizer for the campus.)

St. Mark was seeing and thinking ‘green’ long before it was popular, and is the first church in the United States that enrolled in the Audubon International Signature Program, and has been designated as a “green” Low Impact Development.

“From Genesis throughout the Bible, there are exhortations as consider the lilies of the field.  In one translation of the Bible it says that after God created people, He told them to be good stewards and tend the garden,” Judy said. “The Presbyterian Church is very environmentally inclined, seeking peace with God, interpersonally and with the environment, which is God’s creation. We should appreciate it and hold it as sacred.”

Even Vacation Bible School had a green theme at St. Mark this summer.

“We were fortunate to find just the right curriculum for us,” said Susan Thornton, Christian Education Director at St. Mark.   “It was called ‘ReNew: The Green VBS’ and the stories were based on the Parable of the Sower. The kids learned about God’s call to care for the earth and all who inhabit it, and to think about practical ways of doing this, such as: recycling, borrowing instead of buying, walking or biking instead of driving, planting a garden, making compost from household waste and purchasing locally grown food when possible.”

Susan explained that for the past seven years St. Mark has held their VBS in the late afternoon and early evenings instead of the traditional morning-only approach.

“We wanted it to be intergenerational,” Susan said.   “We liked the idea of the whole family being able to participate.  It’s always been really well received.   Our junior high and high school students always help us, and this year they cooked our dinners, which were healthy, local and organic.  Everything went really well and everybody loved it.”

The Ecophilians supplied the speakers for the adults during the week of VBS and some of the topics covered were:  restoring the rainforest, replanting native plants after fires and the importance of bees.

“I was the onsite naturalist for the kids, I introduced them to a native plant each night to touch, feel and get excited about,”  said Judy, who brings a wealth of knowledge to St. Mark from her 25 years on the board of the Environmental Nature Center.

Besides being green and beautiful, St. Mark, (www.stmarkpresbyterian.org) is an inclusive community with open arms and open minds and the stated mission:  “To act as God’s hands and voice, as agents of reconciliation and companions in our commitment to Jesus’ vision.”

This mission resonates with new and longtime members alike.  Judy and her husband, Tom, have been members of St. Mark for 41 years.

”It’s a comfortable place for us, it’s a wonderful church family,” she said.  “Our family grew up here and still attends.”

Cindy can be reached at [email protected]dy.com

 

 

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