Eco Ministry of the Cape Elizabeth United Methodist Church

“It was in December I had this vivid, strong dream. I saw a comprehensive environmental ministry being established in this space.”

Priscilla Dreyman addressing the Administrative Council in 2019

In the fall of 2019, our church formed an Eco Ministry, stemming from the inspiration of Priscilla Dreyman. In 2018, Priscilla had a dream that our congregation should focus on celebrating God’s creation and encouraged us to embrace Cape Elizabeth’s natural beauty, wildlife, and serenity by learning to be better stewards of protecting this precious gift we all have been given. The group was originally called “The Eco Dream Team”.

Pastor Priscilla presented her vision to our Administrative Council in February 2019 after having private discussions with then Pastor Casey Collins, Steve and Judith Hill, Mark Braun, and District Superintendent Jim McPhee. A few months later, after Pastor Casey retired, Priscilla was named a co-pastor for our church with Mary Jane O’Conner-Ropp, and the church’s “Eco Team” was formed in the fall.

Many meetings, sharing of ideas, research, and wish lists followed in the ensuing months and today the Eco Ministry is a vibrant, forward-thinking part of our church.

Book Discussions

In its early months of planning and gathering information, the Eco Team read a variety of books focused on our current environment and discussed these at each of their meetings. The books included Jim Antal’s “Climate Church, Climate World: How People of Faith must Work for Change”, Pope Francis’ “Laudato Si”, and Robin Wall Kimmerer’s “Braiding Sweeetgrass”. The discussions led to a foundation of knowledge on the extent of “climate crisis” and an understanding of what others are doing to help combat an increasing threat to God’s creation.

Dr. MacKenzie, right, making an observation during the 2019 retreat.

Planning for the Future

One of the team’s first initiatives was to hold a full-day retreat for the congregation, in the fall of 2019, as a way of introducing church members to a possible new direction the team had been considering for the future of the church. Dr. Susan MacKenzie of Maine’s Colby College led the retreat, beginning with a walk through Robinson Woods, part of which is on church property. Dr. MacKenzie is also a certified spiritual director, Maine guide, and church consultant.

The retreat was called “Life Stages of the Woods, Life Stages of the Church”. Throughout a 90-minute walk with 24 members of the church and friends, Dr. MacKenzie explained that within an ecosystem, everything biological, chemical, and physical is interconnected and interdependent. Likewise, she said, all churches survive when they help parishioners seek wholeness in mind, body, and spirit. She said nature thrives on diversity; it perishes in uniformity. Paralleling those thoughts to the retreat participants, she pointed out that churches also thrive on change; growth and evolution of mission leads to new realities.

Pastor Mary Jane O’Connor-Ropp admiring the interconnectiveness of the Robinson Woods trees.

Congregational Development for Tomorrow Grant

Following the 2019 retreat, the Eco Ministry applied for and ultimately received a Congregational Development for Tomorrow Grant from the United Methodist Church’s New England Conference. With the $5,000 grant, the Eco Team put in motion plans to coincide with the Earthkeepers’ “Extending God’s Table of Love into the Woods — and Beyond” initiative.

In applying for the grant, Lay Leader Steve Hill wrote,”Part of the church property sits adjacent to land owned by the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust and a portion of this land is part of a heavily used Cross Town Trail system. Many users of the trail system park in our parking lot. Within a few miles are three beautiful and amazing coastal parks as well as other trails and scenic areas. With these beautiful examples of God’s creation so close by, we want to use these as vehicles of spiritual growth, wonder, and climate change prevention, to build new collaborative partnerships with other groups and to reach out to and build new friendships with children, youth, and adults in Cape Elizabeth and beyond”.

The grant proposal went on to explain, “By sponsoring monthly nature walks and presentations, we will help participants to recognize and understand the importance of creation care and the interconnectedness of all living things”.

Walking in Robinson Woods

Lenten Initiatives

In 2020, as a way to involve the whole congregation to become more aware of helping to protect the environment and what they could do as individuals, Bruce and Sue Lind of the Eco Team prepared a list of 40 suggested practices — for the 40 days of Lent — everyone could try to become better stewards, including:

*** Meatless Mondays — eat less meat to reduce your carbon foot print. *** Shorten each shower to 4 or 5 minutes for a week. *** Make a point of turning out lights when leaving a room. *** Take cloth bags shopping. Lose the plastic. *** Turn your central heat down by one degree. *** Obey the speed limit when driving. Every 10 mph faster reduces fuel economy by 4 mpg. *** Write your congressional representatives and tell them how you feel about climate change.

Throughout Lent, church members were asked to share during Sunday “Eco Moments” which of the suggestions they were practicing. Click here for a full listing of the suggested ecological practices for Lent:

The following year for Lent, church members were each given a copy of Leah Schade’s book “For the Beauty of the Earth: A Lenten Devotional”. The book included a daily prayer thanking God for His creation and reminding people of how delicate it can be.

A Canada Goose taking flight on the Robinson Woods pond.

Mission Statement

In the fall of 2020, after a year of planning and discussions, the Eco Team adopted this Mission Statement:

As an expression of our faith that embraces the gift of God’s creation, the mission statement of the Cape Elizabeth United Methodist Church’s Eco Team is to create a compelling and fact-based awareness of the undeniable wonder and beauty of God’s creation and irreparable consequences our evolving climate crisis presents to current and future generations. Through worship and prayer, informative public discussions, nature walks, social activism and collaborative support from community organizations, schools, and faith communities, our goal is to create a realization that for life to continue on this planet, we must be a part of focused, meaningful change.”

Robinson Wood at sunrise

CEUMC EarthKeepers

CEUMC EarthKeepers Steve Hill, Pastor Priscilla Dreyman, Linda Webster and Bob Webster

In December of 2020, four members of the Eco Team — Pastor Priscilla Dreyman, Steve Hill, and Bob and Linda Webster — were commissioned as United Methodist EarthKeepers. EarthKeepers is a training program of Global Ministries and the United Methodist Committee on Relief. It is designed to equip United Methodist clergy and laity to lead their communities in environmental stewardship. All Global Ministries’ EarthKeepers are expected to launch environmental projects in their communities as part of their work.

At the time of the commissioning, Pastor Priscilla said, “What I took from it was the intersectionality between climate injustice, racial injustice, economic inequity . . . and I think that helps us be more intentional about that as we’re teaching within our church and beyond.”

Our four EarthKeepers, working with other members of the CEUMC Eco Ministry, worked on the establishment of plans to use Robinson Woods behind the church to create a place for connection with God’s creation, providing space for meditation, healing and retreats. With that goal, the Eco Team worked to present nature walks, environmental-based discussions for the congregation and community and calling the initiative “Extending the Table of God’s Love into the Woods and Beyond . . .”

“I think we have an opportunity” said Linda Webster, “to help the Cape Elizabeth community wake up to their white privilege and how they have some power that they can use to help with the racial injustice, economic injustice, and climate injustice going on.”

As part of the CEUMC EarthKeepers mission, Steve Hill created an Eco Team Facebook page on which he posts stories, discussions and links multiple times each week to raise awareness to advocacy opportunities and environmental and social injustice issues.

Linda Webster took on the role of chairperson for the Eco Ministry and as part of her planning and oversight, she has produced a monthly Eco Newsletter for the church, outlining the work of the team, offering a monthly prayer or scripture reading, providing revelant “eco tips” for a particular month, links to upcoming webinars and discussions, book reviews, and other environmentally related information.

Click here for more information on EarthKeepers:

2021 ecomaine Award

Pastor Priscilla with ecomaine Connunications Director Matt Grodin

For her work in establishing and guiding the church’s Eco Ministry, Pastor Priscilla in June 2021 was one of eight recipients to receive a 2021 eco-Excellence Award from ecomaine, a non-profit recycling and waste-to-energy organization. The award recognized Priscilla’s dream to create an environmental ministry and Eco Team within the CEUMC congregation that would focus on recycling and establish a greater awareness of the wonders of nature in Robinson Woods. Click here for ecomaine’s announcement of its 2021 eco-Excellence Awards (Pastor Priscilla is the last part of the video):

Nature Walks

The Rev. Grace Bartlett leading the Eco Ministry’s first Nature Walk

The primary focus of the Eco Team receiving the Congregational Development Grant in 2020 was to hold nature walks in Robinson Woods for the congregation and community, to be led by naturalists and ecologists. After months of researching and discussing possible themes and leaders for the walks and accompanying presentations, the plan was ready to be implemented in the summer of 2020, but COVID-19 put everything on hold for more than a year.

In August of 2021, the first “trial” walk was finally held, led by Maine Master Naturalist and retired minister, the Rev. Grace Bartlett. The walk began in the church’s Chapel in the Woods with a reading from 1 Corinthians 12: “There is one body but it has many parts. But all of its parts make up one body.”

Throughout the walk, Grace compared the scripture to life in the forest. “See the woods in its totality,” she said. “See it as a community and think why things are linked together.”

It was the beginning of participants being introduced to, as Grace pointed out, “the unique diversity of Robinson Woods and “a piece of land unique and well worth treasuring”.

Click here for more details and photos of Grace’s Nature Walk:

Following the walk, all participants gathered outside the church for a print-making session led by Pastor Priscilla and Deanne Burr, using ferns, leaves, flowers and stencils on blotted paper to make unique designs. While the participants worked on the art projects, members of our United Methodist Women prepared a lunch for all.

UMW members preparing lunch

The art project was also part of the plan for which the Eco Ministry applied for the New England Conference grant.

After the August 2021 nature walk with Grace Bartlett, the Eco Ministry began planning monthly walks for the remainder of 2021 and on into 2022.

Dr. Jim Paruk

A second walk was held in October 2021, led by Dr. James Paruk, associate professor in the Biology Department at St. Joseph’s College. The topic of the walk in Robinson Woods was Ferns, Firs and Fauna.

Jim Paruk with Nature Walk participants (Photo by Bob Webster)

The Rev. Grace Bartlett during the October Nature Walk (Photo by Mark Braun)

Grace Bartlett returned to lead a second walk in October 2021 with the theme “Time Travel: What’s Under Our Feet in the Forest”. Her explorations led to discussions about soil, fungi, flora, fauna, and the glacial till unique to Robinson Woods.

Linda Greer

In November of 2021, church member Linda Greer led a Gratitude Walk in honor of the season of Thanksgiving. Linda, director of Marshwood and Kittery Adult and Community Education programs and a member of the Maine Outdoor Adventure Club, encouraged participants to give thanks with each step, in silence, and to experience the sounds of the forest while taking in an even deeper gratitude.

Andrea Southworth

Andrea Southworth led a December 2021 walk, describing the changes that take place in Robinson Woods from fall to winter. Andrea is a biology and botany professor at Southern Maine Community College. The two-plus-mile walk to the ponds and back included 20 participants from the church and community.

Following the walk, everyone gathered back in the church to share their experiences while enjoying hot chocolate and cookies. Andrea and Pastor Priscilla also led a Christmas decoration workshop, turning pine combs, walnuts and dried clementines into ornaments.

Susan and Tom Hayward

The first walk of 2022 — twice postponed because of icy conditions — was in April, led by Maine Master Naturalist Susan Hayward and her husband Tom, a renowned Maine birder. The walk focused on finding the early signs of spring, both on the floor of the forest and in the canopy above. Findings included false lily-of-the-valley, star flowers, hobblebush, interrupted or cinnamon fern fronds, a mourning cloak butterfly, a pair of broad-winged hawks — all while listening to the songs of titmice, chickadees, herring gulls and flickers.

Jack Flanagan

There was a strange twist for the Robinson Woods Wildflower Walk in May of 2022 — the master naturalist scheduled to lead had a scheduling conflict and didn’t show up. However, one of the participants from the community who did show up took over and led a wonderful experience. He was Jack Flanagan, a master naturalist himself who also has a background in forestry. The success of the walk was also the vibrant interaction between the participants and Jack and with each other. It opened numerous conservations about the unique quality of the woods and discussions about such things as sarsaparilla, jack in the pulpit, dogtooth violets, mayflowers, wild geranium, blue bell lilies, hobblebush, wood anemones, and gay wings.

Tour of Portland’s Longfellow Garden

The Eco Team went on the road for its next nature walk, going to both the Longfellow Garden behind the Wadsworth-Longfellow House on Congress Street in Portland and the Longfellow Arboretum in Payson Park. Members of the Longfellow Garden Club led the tours, introducing the team to many ways in which to grow and care for native plants.

Zoom Presentations

In addition to the Nature Walks, the Eco Ministry has hosted a variety of Zoom presentations and discussions. In April 2021, in collaboration with the Maine Audubon Society, it hosted a live webinar led by Audubon’s Director of Education, Eric Topper. The theme “Bringing Nature Home” explored ways in which home gardens can attract a mulitude of birds, butterflies, pollinators and other wildlife.

In May 2021, in collaboration with the Bangor Theological Center, the Eco Ministry hosted a webinar with Bill Middlecamp, “Reimagining the Future”. Using an interactive simulation, Bill explored how environmental impacts we are experiencing today will impact our future lives. Bill, a commissioned United Methodist Earthkeeper, has degrees in computer science and meteorology and delivers presentations on environmental issues related to health, economics, science and solutions to the harmful changes the world is seeing.

Many members of the Eco Ministry had seen the award-winning documentary “Kiss the Ground” and in January of 2022, it hosted a Zoom gathering with team members and local agricultural experts to discuss the theme of the film, regenerative agriculture, and how it applies to climate change. The local experts included Penny Jordan of Cape’s William Jordan Farm, Jason Lilley of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, South Portland’s Spero Latchis of the Living Soil Network and a renowed expert on homeopathic medicine practices, and Cape’s Beth Owens of Judy’s Pantry and her husband Tony, both of whom follow guidelines for healthy soil in home gardens.

In February of 2022, the Eco Ministry hosted a Zoom presentation by Jim Paruk, a biology professor at the University of Southern Maine and St. Joseph’s College, about loons, Maine’s favorite bird. Much of the presentation and discussion stemmed from Jim’s book, “Loon Lessons: Uncommon Encounters with the Great Northern Diver”.

Eco-based Worship

Bringing its research and passion to Sunday worship, the Eco Team has led Sunday services on three occasions, the first spreading the word on the merits of recycling, composting, preserving open spaces, and water conservation. On another Sunday, team members each shared personal stories about why a particular tree brings them comfort and peace. In February of 2021 eight members of the team and congregation shared personal experiences of embracing the wonders of creation in a video presentation, “Walk in God’s World”.Click here to see the “Walk in God’s World” video presentation:

Spring Clean-up

Eco Team and members of the congregation during the Spring 2021 clean-up in the Chapel in the Woods

In the Spring of 2021, members of the Eco Team joined with others in the congregation for a spring clean-up in the Chapel in the Woods, including raking, weeding, pruning, sanding and restaining benches, and installing a bluebird house, bat house and two pollinator boxes for bees. Some swamp milkweed also was planted as the first step in introducing more native plants to the area in and around the chapel.

During the summer of 2021, more additions were made to the Chapel in the Woods — bird houses for screech owls, red-headed woodpeckers and chickadees, all constructed by church member Pat Acheson.

Linda Greer adjusting a pollinator box for bees

Assisting Eagle Scout

Jack McKibben

An extension of the Eco Ministry was Pastor Priscilla and Bob Webster working with Cape Elizabeth High School student Jack McKibben on his project to become an Eagle Scout. Jack worked with other members of his scout troop, scout leaders, relatives and friends to install a PVC drainage pipe covered with crushed stone and wood chips in the always wet ditch near the entrance to the Chapel in the Woods, cover the chapel floor and trail with fresh wood chips, install backs on the existing benches in the chapel, and adding two new benches.

“I really liked the idea of working in the chapel,” Jack said after finishing the project. “When I was in middle school we would come over to the woods and learn about nature. I have many memories of those times and they are special.”

Click here for more details on Jack’s Eagle Scout project:

Linda and Bob Webster testing the new backs on the benches with Jack McKibben looking on (red shirt)

What’s Next

The Eco Team continues to meet twice a month, looking for new ways in which to study environmental issues and convey what they have learned to the congregation and community. With the planned Nature Walks coming to an end in the Summer of 2022 (although others still may be scheduled), the Eco Team is looking to become more active in advocacy, in part communicating with state legislators on legislation that would help protect the environment and slow the progression of climate change. Other initiatives continue to be discussed.

If you have questions or would like to become part of the Eco Ministry, please contact Linda or Bob Webster, Steve Hill, Bruce or Sue Lind, Jeff Ward, Lili Acheson, Ted Haider, Carol Hubbard, Mark Braun, Joan Clinton, Grace Bartlett, Gail Parker or Pastor Priscilla.

You can contact the church by calling (207) 799-8396 and leaving a message or by e-mailing