Finding Faith in Nature
Westmount Park United Church’s climate change initiative
By Patricia Dumais
Climate change, its effect on our environment and probable dire consequences if not addressed, are very much on the minds of many Westmount residents.
“The status quo is rather despairing for many people”, explains Reverend Neil Whitehouse of Westmount Park United Church. “They feel overwhelmed by the problem, may not understand the science, but nevertheless want to do something, if not for their sake, but for that of their children and grand-children. But what and how?”
With Sunday worship attendance in decline, Reverend Neil Whitehouse had pondered alternatives to re-engage the local community. Having studied zoology at the University of Liverpool, the Reverend has always had a keen interest in nature. He thought, “Christian tradition is pro-nature and many people feel spiritual in nature — why not combine the two?” With this in mind, Reverend Whitehouse instigated the vision for a Faith in Nature Centre with the goal of celebrating our earth and sharing our common concern for nature and humanity.
Reverend Whitehouse presented his concept for Faith in Nature at the first monthly Climate Café held on Friday, December 11, 2015 at the time of the Paris Climate Summit. Over 30 participants attended the Café and were invited to register their interest and ideas for the program.
At the Café, Reverend Whitehouse presented examples of what a Faith in Nature Centre could mean, the first being education and the need to vulgarise scientific language, making it more accessible to people, to get a conversation going. This would be done through lectures and discussions with guest speakers as well as presentations of films on various relevant subjects.
The second involves the production of food — the concept of getting back to the earth with the experience of growing our own food and enjoying the fruits of our efforts. He presented a plan to convert the front lawn of the Church into a flower and vegetable garden. Taking this idea further he suggested the possibility of eventually installing a rooftop garden on the flat part of the Church roof. This could even be a joint project with another organization.
Christian tradition is pro-nature and many people feel spiritual in nature — why not combine the two?
Reverend Neil Whitehouse
A third initiative would entail incorporating solar power to light and heat the Church. A more costly endeavour but with a big advantage, as surplus power could eventually be sold to the “grid”. Another attractive idea stemming from this would be to subtly illuminate the beautiful Kelsey stained glass windows that adorn the Church.
The fourth initiative involves contact with animals to encourage respect for animal life. There are frequent animal and plant blessings at the Church and parishioners are encouraged to bring their pets to services. A special animal festival is planned for Saturday, September 17.
The fifth and last initiative is appreciation of the local environment by way of guided nature walks.
Attendees reacted favourably to these initiatives and chose the front lawn flower/vegetable garden and the nature walks as their preferred first projects.
Following the success of the first event, a second Climate Café meeting took place on the evening of Friday, April 22. The date was chosen in honour of Earth Day and the signing of the Paris Climate Accord that took place that same day in New York City.
Just prior to the beginning of the meeting, guests could peruse a couple of display tables set up with ecological themes. Louise Chênevert had photographed a selection of native Montreal-West trees, along with their respective flowers and fruit, and assembled all into a beautiful calendar. She had literature and samples of tree leaves and fruit to examine and invited participants to join one of her upcoming Tree Tours.
Bird-watcher Steven Rosenstein brought along his collection of local stuffed birds toys — each gives out a call when squeezed. These enabled participants to match the call with the bird and, in many cases, find the mystery bird behind certain calls. Steven gives Bird-Watching Tours in Westmount as well as Salamander Searches on Westmount Summit.
The Climate Café evening started off with the delightful sister-brother singing duo Juliana and Jesse James Just Costa who entertained the audience with some of their original urban-folk songs as well as a couple of classic favourites. Coffee, snacks, wine and beer were available to help us all relax after a hectic week.
Next was a presentation by Jonathan Théorêt, Director of GRAME (Groupe de recherche appliquée en microécologie), a multidisciplinary, non-profit environmental organization founded in 1989. Jonathan first explained the goal of GRAME, that is to advocate sustainability while keeping in mind long-term global issues, notably climate change, by promoting renewable energies, public transport, energy efficiency and the use of fiscality to implement the protection of the environment. He added that the group has a community dimension to its mission as it is currently mandated by the Lachine Borough to run the Éco-quartier Lachine.
Climate change is a human dilemma. We are first of all animals — we are of nature.
Jonathan Théorêt, Director of GRAME
Jonathan then engaged the audience in a lively discussion about sustainability. He queried participants about their local concerns — loss of green spaces and trees, air and noise pollution from highways, lack of efficient environment-friendly public transportation and too much waste were top of list. He explained how small groups of people like ourselves can make a big difference in our neighbourhood, citing the citizen-driven “ruelles vertes” (green lanes) as one example.
He underlined the need to educate and provide incentives, financial and otherwise, to encourage people to adopt better habits when it comes to the environment. He went on to explain how the benefits of natural ecosystems are rarely taken into account or quantified when it comes to their positive impact on our wellbeing. They are rarely part of the economic equation and must be considered.
He finally reminded us that, “Climate change is a human dilemma. We are first of all animals — we are of nature.”
MC Reverend Whitehouse then stepped in to guide us through an exercise designed to get participants to know each other better. He then presented those in charge of spearheading the two community environmental initiatives that were favoured at the first Climate Café and invited participants to take part.
Clare Hallward described with enthusiasm the vegetable/flower garden to be created on the Church front lawn and the work and resources needed to see it succeed.
Charlie McLeod of Scout Canada’s Tamaracouta Environmental Sciences Centre explained his plan to train local nature walk guides based on training supplied by the Centre.
In closing Reverend Whitehouse thanked attendees, announced the next Climate Café for Friday, May 20 and invited participants to spread the word about the Cafés and their projects.
The Climate Cafés are open to all, young and old. You need not be a member of the Church nor live in Westmount.
The next Climate Café takes place on Friday, May 20 from 7 pm to 9 pm
at Westmount Park Church, Webster Hall
4695 de Maisonneuve West, Westmount (corner Lansdowne)
Entrance is free and snacks and beverages are available.
For more information contact Reverend Neil Whitehouse at 514 937-1146 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Feature image: Michael Walsh
Images of Reverend Neil Whitehouse and animal blessing:
courtesy of Westmount Park United Church
Image of Jonathan Théorêt: courtesy of GRAME
Image of flower and vegetable garden: New Brunswick Tourism via StockPholio.net
Patricia Dumais, artistic director, award-winning graphic designer specialized in brand design is co-founder of Visionnaires, publishers of Westmount Magazine. Patricia develops visual concepts and ensures that all deliverables follow our publication’s standards and reflect the editorial voice. You can connect with Patricia on Linkedin, Twitter and Pinterest. or by email at email@example.com.