By Josh Denslow
It all started with an air conditioner. More specifically, the lack thereof.
The sanctuary at Emanuel Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in West Warwick, R.I., was more than 100 years old and was so stifling hot that many of the congregation couldn’t worship there. It wasn’t just the members with chronic lung conditions; even the healthy stayed away in the summer months.
So in 2005, Paul Krampitz, Emanuel’s pastor at the time, decided to do something about the situation. Support to install three air conditioners in the sanctuary was high, but he decided to add his own unique twist.
At an additional annual cost to the congregation, they were going to power everything with renewable energy. In his own words: “This was a perfect time to reduce the church’s carbon footprint.”
Paul’s great uncles were farmers. From an early age, he learned to “appreciate soil, water, air and all of nature as precious and fragile gifts entrusted to our care.” This was a way for him to give back.
Since he was new to the congregation, he enlisted the help of Emily Rochon, a much-loved member who felt the same way about the environment as he did. They decided to run with the idea of purchasing renewable resources from an outside provider.
Now they had to gain the support of the congregation.
“It’s tough to ask people to do something that would actually cost them more money,” Paul says, thinking back on the presentations he and Emily put together for the congregation. “We thought of it as a tithe, that we are the good stewards of creation.”
They focused on John 3:16. In fact, just the first six words: For God so loved the world. “It doesn’t say for God so loved humanity,” Paul says. “It says the world.”
Believing that all of humanity has been entrusted to care for creation, Paul thought they needed to look beyond the walls of their congregation and consider the long-term ramifications of installing the air conditioners.
The environmental presentations led to frank discussions among the members. Real progress happened as the congregation grew closer together, as they slowly rallied around the idea of leading by example and putting their faith into action. Everyone agreed they needed the air conditioners, but soon they all agreed that they had a responsibility to the environment.
The board approved the renewable energy contract, and when the energy provider showed up with their certificate, the congregation had a party. “The media came out and took pictures. It was a cause for celebration,” Paul says.
It was also an accomplishment for the ELCA, which turns 25 years old in 2013. Emanuel would be the first congregation in the church’s 25-year history to be totally powered by renewable energy.
Both the 2009 and 2011 ELCA Churchwide Assemblies accepted proposals designed to encourage congregations to reduce their usage of carbon-based fuels and take better care of God’s creation. Several ELCA congregations have since followed in Emanuel’s footsteps.
You can’t tell from the outside what Paul accomplished. To the casual observer, the air conditioners do exactly what they are supposed to do. The sanctuary has become the place that he envisioned and the congregation has a cool, quiet place to worship.
The true power of the air conditioning is in its story. This wasn’t just community building; it was community empowering.
And surely Paul’s great uncles are proud.