Flora, Fauna, and Faith

Good Shepherd Catholic Church is tucked away near the beatific historic grounds of Mount Vernon in the southeast region of Fairfax County. Swathed in lush tree canopy, it’s hard to imagine that the church sits between some of the highest degraded streams in the county, or that a number of its congregants have little or no access to trees, meadows, nature. Director of Social Ministry Susan Grunder and Director of Hispanic Ministry Leah Tenorio want to change that narrative.

ANS has been partnering with Good Shepherd on a number of initiatives to elevate engagement and environmental stewardship. Caring for God’s Creation is one of the seven themes of Catholic Social Teaching and one for which Pope Francis has been a strong advocate. Good Shepherd is dedicated to ensuring its congregants not only Care for Creation, but also have the opportunity to access nature, explore the outdoors and learn about the importance of our environment and its impact on their own health and habitat.

This past summer, Good Shepherd sponsored a watershed walk and wetlands nature lesson at Huntley Meadows Park. Families brought their little ones to learn more about our natural environment, the critters (big and small) and plants that depend on us, and the vital cycle of life that sustains us all. I was there to help connect participants to actions they could take at home, at school or around their community to help sustain our natural environment.

Our adventure started at the Norma Hoffman Nature Center where our guide, naturalist Kat Dyer taught attendees about our local watershed, our soil, and critters that make their home in the park. After touching a beaver’s tail and our famous VA clay soil, laughing at some tadpoles, and learning about how to do our part with pollution, our group was ready to explore the great outdoors.

Our youngest guests were fantastic trash ambassadors, pointing out and scooping out litter as we hiked our way to the wetland boardwalk.  Once at the boardwalk, attendees were awestruck by the lush beauty of the wetland. Families witnessed snakes slithering, turtles swimming, and egrets flying. It was a beautiful day to explore all the wonders of this earth and the importance of preserving a wetland like Huntley Meadows for all to enjoy.

The power of hands-on engagement cannot be taken for granted. To inspire people and the next generations to Care for Creation and protect our environment, caring leaders need to continue to work with their communities to provide opportunities like this one. Prior to entering the forested path, one young man exclaimed that he didn’t like forests and found them scary. At the end of our journey, the same young man said he was no longer afraid and loved being part of the day. Let’s remember to continue inspiring our friends, our neighbors, the faithful, the next generation.

Contact Good Shepherd Church: http://www.gs-cc.org/

Contact Friends of Huntley Meadows: http://www.friendsofhuntleymeadows.org/

About Monica Billger

Monica Billger is ANS' Northern Virginia Advocacy Manager. She works with grassroots advocates, elected officials, and agency staff to advance environmental protection in Fairfax and Loudon Counties.
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