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Faith and Environment Network builds cohesive ‘green’ voice

As the new outreach coordinator for the Faith and Environment Network of the Inland Northwest, Shelli Pitner seeks to connect people in the faith community to build “critical mass” around creating “a cohesive green voice in the region.”

Shelli Pitner
Shelli Pitner

“Many think they will do something some day, but all we have is this moment,” she said.

“People in generations X, Y and Z are all busy, but we all need to learn to live with the earth.  We are the disposable ones.  The earth will be here after we have gone,” she said.  “The least we can do is leave the earth better for the next generation.”

She is ready to infuse energy into the newly independent nonprofit, which was started in 2006 under the Interfaith Council of the Inland Northwest. 

Her commitment to simple living meant not seeking a full-time teaching position and committing to live on income from AmeriCorps through the Palouse-Clearwater Environmental Institute and the network.

Her first task has been helping several agencies and churches plan an event for Earth Month, “Are You Called to Care?”

From 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Saturday, April 5, at Salem Lutheran Church, 1428 W. Broadway, resource leaders will offer  congregational leaders practical advice on how to make their lives and buildings more earth friendly through energy-efficiency inspections, repairing leaks to reduce water bills, using compact fluorescent light bulbs and planting drought-tolerant plants that require less watering.

Courtney Rush, volunteer coordinator with the Palouse-Clearwater Environmental Institute, is keynote speaker.

Shelli said the network seeks to “break down barriers that keep people recreating the wheel, spinning their wheels, staying caught in ruts” by providing resource sharing and networking opportunities.

For example, she said congregations can connect to barter skills of members who are plumbers, electricians, or landscapers, so they can share skills with other churches and in the community.

To facilitate such contacts, the Faith and Environment Network website will be launched by April 15 to serve as a clearinghouse for congregations and nonprofits to network and share ideas.

The group will also prepare traveling exhibits and slide shows that can be set up and shown in congregations, schools and community centers.

Shelli said the network encourages recycling, green building and low-maintenance, water-smart landscaping with indigenousplants, and simple actions, such as using cloth grocery bags and low-energy light bulbs.

During 17 years in Coeur d’Alene, she was administrator of Coeur d’Alene’s Children’s Peace Camp and Neewahlu Environmental Education Center on Kidd Island Bay from 1989 to 1993. 

With community volunteers, she helped develop a curriculum that was later adapted for teams of high school teens in the Interfaith Council’s Camp PEACE (People Everywhere Are Created Equal) to challenge bullying and bigotry.

Through Neewahlu, which was started through Unity Church of North Idaho and later became independent, she led environmental educational programs.  As an employee of the Coeur d’Alene School District, she worked at Kelley Creek Environmental Center to provide environmental education for sixth graders. 

To grab the attention of children, Shelli often started environmental education dialogue by holding up a bottle of water and saying it was the same water dinosaurs drank.  Her point was that there is no new water on earth:  “Water keeps recycling, so we need to keep it clean,” she said.

“We need to live with the earth, not just on it,” she said.  “We need to think about seven generations.  It’s our job and privilege to care for the earth, to live as an example for others to follow.”

Shelli, who grew up in a Lutheran church in Lewiston, began attending a Unity Church in Walla Walla and now attends Unity Church of Truth in Spokane.  She holds an associate degree in business management from Lewis and Clark College in Lewiston, a bachelor’s degree in education from Gonzaga University and a master’s degree in education from Lesley University.

She was also involved in environmental education in King County through the Green Team and People for Puget Sound.

When her mother had a stroke and her father needed help in Lewiston, Shelli moved to Spokane.  She began doing substitute teaching and private tutoring, and served on the board of the Faith and Environment Network.

Her son’s health sensitivities helped stir some of her awareness about the need for responsible living that honors “who we are, who is around us, our different beliefs and respect for the earth.”

Her faith through Unity Church emphasizes “the Christ within as motivating, authenticating and empowering each person.  Unity encourages us to take responsibility for our personal beliefs,” she said.

“We are involved in the world, providing healing, peace outreach and environmental responsibility,” said Shelli.

“We need to stop constantly doing and listen through our hearts,” she added, telling how her involvement with the homeless at The Lord’s Table in downtown Seattle opened her heart, mind and arms.

Shelli calls for intersecting concern about environment with concern about the economy and homeless people under bridges.

“If we are stewards of the earth, each of our actions affects everyone in every instance of daily life,” she said.

The Faith and Environment Network is developing “A Covenant of Commitment” for congregations to answer the “call to care” by being living examples of environmental stewardship.

For information, call 294-3944 or email faithandenvironmentnetwork@gmail.com