Believing that creation care is central to its theology, the Episcopal Church has for years encouraged its members to work for environmental justice and protection. This is true not just on the national level, where an entire department advocates for everything from policies mitigating greenhouse gases to the development of renewable energy, but also in local congregations.
Here in San Marcos, the Environmental Stewardship Committee of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church has been at work for more than two decades, offering creation care activities and study materials to the parish and advocating environmental awareness in the day-to-day operations of the church.
Now, under the leadership of Tamara and Jack Downey, a group of parents at St. Mark’s has created the Youth Environmental Stewardship program, an effort to involve the children of the parish in the work of creation care.
“We hope to provide an outlet for environmental education specifically toward the Texas Hill Country area and service opportunities for children,” says Tamara Downey, Director of Children and Family Ministries at the church. “Many of our parents were the driving force behind creating a group to encourage awareness and service.”
At their first meeting on a Sunday in late March, the kids and their parents gathered on the back portico of the parish hall to enjoy pizza and to go over the instructions for the scavenger hunt that would follow. The focus that day was pollinators, and the kids were to look around the church campus to see what they could find amid the wildflowers and blooming mountain laurels. Though they didn’t see any hummingbirds that day, most of the children were successful in spotting a variety of insects.
A former teacher herself, Downey will be relying on others to help create opportunities for the participants in the future. “We have many Texas Master Naturalists at St. Mark’s and others that have those same interests in creation care,” she says.
Jack Downey, too, will play an important role in the program. “Jack is a project and education program director at Headwaters on the Comal in New Braunfels and a Texas Master Naturalist,” Tamara says of her husband. “He is providing educational pieces created by this non-profit.”
In writing about what he calls “nature deficit disorder” among children, Richard Louv has noted, “We cannot protect something we do not love, we cannot love what we do not know, and we cannot know what we do not see. And touch. And hear.” As Tamara Downey and her fellow parents at St. Mark’s know, encouraging young children to see, touch and hear the world around them is indeed the first step in enabling them to love and care for that world.
Text and photos by Susan Hanson, Outreach Committee Chair and editor of The Loop.