For Ginger Vanderveer, it all started with a light bulb.
“Some years back, we had a fundraiser selling energy-saving kits at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Oak Park, Ill.,” Ginger remembers.
This was the first project for the ELCA congregation’s newly formed Green Team and, as a member, Ginger was happy to do her part.
She had no idea how purchasing one of the kits would change her life.
Ginger began using the bulbs at home and says, “I was hooked on the immediate savings from the compact fluorescent light bulbs in the kit.”
So was Good Shepherd.
“We started adding bulbs in high-use areas at church and pre-programmed our thermostats. The savings in the first year (2001) were over $1,000.”
That was how Ginger discovered that caring for the environment makes good business sense.
A Family Project
Excited by how effective and affordable the compact florescent bulbs were, Ginger shipped a boxful to her sister, who was maintaining Northside Valley, the family’s estate on the island of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Northside was Ginger’s childhood home. Her sister rented the seven villas on the property to local business people.
(Those bulbs were) our first eco-friendly endeavor at Northside,” says Ginger, but it wasn’t their last.
By November 2007, she had transformed the estate into an eco-friendly resort with the help of her brother Philip.
The villas, built over 40 years ago by Ginger’s father, are tucked under the shade of luxuriant native trees. They benefit from the cooling Caribbean trade winds thanks to generously sized windows and high ceilings.
Guests compost, recycle, conserve water and help out with local beach cleanups, all while enjoying St. Croix’s tranquil beauty and Ginger’s green hospitality.
A Green Witness to the Community
When she’s back in the States, Ginger remains an active and enthusiastic member of the Good Shepherd Green Team.
The team’s verdant prairie garden in front of the Lutheran congregation, lush with native plants and frequented by butterflies and hummingbirds in the summer, has become an Oak Park landmark.
Ginger believes that garden is the team’s greatest success. She also feels that it’s a symbol for all that we need to treasure in the environment and a sign of God’s presence in the community.
“The generosity of the garden is like God’s love: always growing, always providing.”
“(The garden is) also an energy saver in ways that are not so obvious to the naked eye. The roots of the plants go as deep as 5 feet, thereby sinking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into the earth. This helps keep our building cooler. The roots also filter and absorb water when it rains, saving energy for the water reclamation utility.”
Rooted in Mission
Ginger’s advice for congregations on starting a Green Team is very practical and focused.
“(Once you’ve started your group), meet with the (congregation) council and tell them who you are and your mission. Announce (yourselves) at worship services … and invite others to join.
“Pick a first project that is not controversial and is doable in a short time-span. Meet with local Green Teams for moral support and ideas. Pray over your decisions. Measure and celebrate your results.
“Don’t be discouraged by initial resistance to the project,” Ginger insists.
At Good Shepherd, “(in the beginning) the congregation didn’t always understand why we were doing this or that green thing,” she recalls.
“For instance, when we lowered the thermostats and had them programmed, we had trouble with special events that found their room either too hot or too cold. We had to educate members to … change the setting a few hours before the event.”
Ginger places the blame squarely on the team.
“We weren’t communicating well enough and we weren’t spending enough time with the right people to get buy-in. We do better with that now.”
Members are excited about saving money in challenging economic times and freeing up funds for other vital programs at Good Shepherd.
Ultimately, going green isn’t just about the money for Ginger.
An eco-friendly philosophy is also a remarkable tool for evangelism and a way to make Jesus’ love more tangible and concrete for visitors.
“(Newcomers) are intrigued by our devotion (to the prairie garden),” she says. Many walk in to see what type of congregation would be so bold as to love a prairie garden.
“When nonmembers see how much love we give to the environment without expecting anything in return, they realize we can give that same love to them. They become eager to be a part of that community.”
Good Shepherd is eager to welcome them.