Stories of Resilience
Each of the stories below spotlight a community that has demonstrated commitment to resilience through the theme of the week. These are inspirational stories of churches that have become hubs of resilience in different ways. Use these in your community as places to draw ideas and inspiration or as anecdotes for sermons and small group studies.
Spotlight: St. Luke’s Eastport Episcopal Church, Annapolis, MD
WERE IT NOT for the “Shrove Tuesday Pancake Dinner Tonight!” banner and obligatory “Episcopal church in 1 mile” sign, you could drive past St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and miss the building entirely. Obscured behind a line of oaks and a hillock of native hydrangea, the sanctuary almost disappears into the landscape. For Rev. Diana Carroll, that’s the hope.
When Carroll moved to Annapolis, Md., in 2012 to serve St. Luke’s, the four acres behind the church, which abuts Back Creek, a tributary of the Chesapeake, were a tangled mess of brush. The church had planned to clear that land to build a large sanctuary and convert the current structure into an education building, but Carroll and members of the St. Luke’s Green Team suggested St. Luke’s keep its current sanctuary and use the five acres as “a sanctuary without walls.” As Carroll envisioned it, if the church restored the land, it would still be “a sacred space as had always been dreamed about for that location.”
For years, St. Luke’s has been involved in climate action, integrating climate literacy into its preaching and education while advocating for stronger climate policy at the Maryland State House. So in 2017, when the 120-person congregation received a total of nearly $2 million in grants—largely from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Chesapeake Bay Trust, plus small grants and donations through the church—to restore wetlands and a buried stream on their property that drained into Back Creek, they realized the project was a physical expression of their commitment to earthkeeping. With the help of an ecological restoration company, they coaxed back to the surface the stream that had been diverted through stormwater pipes and built a cascading streambed, with step pools and weirs—low dams to slow water flow—to filter the water as it makes its way toward Back Creek. They named the restored stream Bowen’s Branch, after a late congregant who cared deeply about watershed stewardship in Annapolis.
When I visited St. Luke’s in 2019, Carroll and I followed the curve of the stream to its mouth, which is now a living shoreline, a small coastal edge made of native plants and natural materials rather than a concrete seawall. In an age of climate crisis, marshes like this one are critical: As sea levels rise, marshes engage in a kind of dance with the rising tides through a process called accretion. This is especially important in a place like Annapolis, where waters breaching sea walls and submerging parking lots, roads, and sidewalks has become a frequent problem (only four such events were recorded in the early 1960s, compared to 63 in 2017). When the dock in downtown Annapolis floods, explained Carroll, the church’s marsh helps absorb the extra water. The marsh is also a carbon sink, more effective at sequestering carbon than the equivalent area of dry land.
By restoring their land to serve its intended purpose, the church created a climate sanctuary: absorbing higher tides, filtering polluted stormwater from extreme rain events, hosting displaced creatures, and drawing carbon out of the air. And while St. Luke’s sanctuary is high enough above sea level to be outside the floodplain, the same is not true for all Annapolis residents. The church is in solidarity with those neighbors, absorbing the water their houses cannot, holding a space for lament when devastation comes, and advocating for equitable climate solutions—an ecotone where the meditative ebb of human action meets the flow of steadily rising tides.
Before I leave St. Luke’s, Rev. Carroll tells me that the climate crisis and St. Luke’s response has strengthened her conviction that God uses the most unexpected people to do God’s work. “No one would have expected that such a small, financially struggling congregation as ours would have engaged in a $2 million project to do something that on the surface doesn’t actually benefit us. And yet it’s so clearly part of God’s mission in the world and God’s desire for the healing of the world.”
Text shared from Sojourners (https://sojo.net/magazine/april-2020/how-three-coastal-churches-became-hubs-climate-resilience)
Image from St. Luke’s Restoration of Nature (http://www.stlukeseastport.org/environmental-ministry)