Alumni Stories

Stewarding the Environment through Eco-Faith
Phoebe (Congalton) Morad '95

In Alaska, there is a barrier island named Shishmaref, where 600 or so residents will soon have to move to the mainland because the sea is recapturing the island in inches every day due to the melting of the ice and permafrost. Phoebe (Congalton) Morad ’95 is working hard to stave off the flow of climate change refugees in similar situations and to help save the earth by combining her Lutheran upbringing with her deep interest in the environment.

Phoebe is Executive Director of Lutherans Restoring Creation. A self-professed “tree hugger,” the Falmouth Academy alumna strives to bring awareness on how to speak from the pulpit about climate change and other environmental issues. She connects people to materials, organizes prayer vigils, creates activities for youth conferences, and basically is thinking all the time about how to help congregations become more environmentally aware.

“I hope to share a message of hope and add elements of faith to the conservation conversation,” she said.

Always an outdoor enthusiast, Phoebe became more interested in the environment at Falmouth Academy. She recalled that science teacher Dr. Susan Oleszko-Szuts assigned the book The Life and Death of the Salt Marsh. “And it has stuck with me,” said Phoebe. “Dr. Oleszko got us out of the classroom and exposed us to science in the real world.”

As an undergrad at Sarah Lawrence, Phoebe participated in the Marine Biological Laboratory’s Semester in Environmental Science, taught by Jerry Melillo and John Hobbie.  She also went to the School of International Training in Australia to study Natural and Human Ecology. 

Subsequently, Phoebe was the Education Awards Manager at Earthwatch Institute, where she awarded matching grants for independent school teachers to participate in field research projects. She also served as Community Operations Manager for South Shore Habitat for Humanity.

Today, she works to incorporate an ethic of caring for creation more fully into worship, educational programs, responsibility for buildings and grounds, lifestyles of members at home and work, and the public ministry, such that “earthkeeping” and justice for the whole Earth community becomes integral to the identity and purpose of the church.

An example of Phoebe’s work is widespread. Hearing about potential budget cuts for the EPA, she helped organize prayer gatherings at SuperFund sites across the country. “We wanted to show that people appreciate the EPA and hope it continues its work.”

She said, “I see my position as providing a missing link – speaking about the environment in the language of the Lutherans. In other words, incorporating eco-faith into the stewardship of a congregation.”

She noted that “There is a whole movement of professors, pastors, and community members figuring out how to help the Lutheran church in America serve as an instigator for environmental justice. Our group hopes to amplify the works done in churches to spread the word.”

Holding a Master’s in Public Administration, Phoebe did a research project investigating the "social capital" of her congregation to determine what factors were preventing her relatively liberal church community from simple changes, like ending the use of Styrofoam cups at coffee hour. She realized the lack of progress often came from simply having no catalyst.

“There was my calling: stop feeling isolated as the token ‘tree-hugger’ and work to integrate some of my awareness into existing missions of the congregation. Make it part of our faith conversation and not a guilt-trip or response to outside political pressure.”

Phoebe wants us all to be better stewards. Advancing the message by providing information, like the New York Times article on Shishmaref mentioned above, via the web site she oversees, provides a resource of opportunity and narrative that brings awareness of environmental issues to the community. To see this resource and other things Phoebe is involved in, check out her website, Lutherans Restoring Creation.

To learn more about communities like Shishmaref, you are invited to see the screening of “An Inconvenient Sequel,” jointly offered by the Woods Hole Research Center and Falmouth Academy, November 30 in the Simon Center for the Arts. Seats are limited and must be reserved. Call the Falmouth Academy community hotline to make your reservation, 508-457-9696 x200.