Maintaining a 100-year-old church building is expensive business.
Just ask Sara Ward, a member of First English Lutheran Church, an ELCA renewing congregation in Columbus, Ohio, who says that nearly 20 percent of the congregation’s budget is spent on utility and maintenance costs.
For an inner-city congregation struggling financially, that’s a pretty significant allocation. But members have learned that there are options for reducing those energy costs, thanks to both the 2009 and 2011 ELCA Churchwide Assemblies, which accepted proposals designed to encourage congregations to reduce their usage of carbon-based fuels and take better care of God’s creation.
“As people of faith, we know that we are called to do justice for all, which includes that we be intentional in our care of our natural world by striving to live sustainably and to be good stewards of all the gifts which we gratefully receive,” says Sara.
“How we use these gifts not only matters to our local ministry but also to countless others around the globe struggling to survive in an ever-more-hostile climate. It is incumbent upon us to do our part to reduce this burden in every way possible and hopefully lead others to do likewise,” says Sara, who chairs her congregation’s “Green Team.”
A new, efficient heating system
Officially launched in 2010, the Green Team at First English is committed to tracking and reducing its energy and gas usage and carbon footprint. For starters, the congregation replaced the church facility’s 50-year-old heating system with a new, high-efficiency system thanks to a grant from the ELCA Mission Investment Fund. And they did other things like weigh the congregation’s trash and recycle everything possible from plastics to cardboards, aluminum to tin. Some members even ride their bicycles to Sunday morning worship.
“We have also received an ELCA World Hunger grant that has enabled us to replace our hand-me-down refrigerators used to store food for our Thursday meal program called the Table of Grace, which serves meals to the community,” says Sara. The grant helped the congregation purchase commercial-grade, energy-efficient refrigerators to better suit the congregation’s needs.
First English participates in the Energy Stewards Initiative of Lutherans Restoring Creation — a national grassroots program dedicated to encouraging ELCA congregations to care for creation. Twelve ELCA congregations are currently participating in the initiative.
According to David Rhoads, a goal of Lutherans Restoring Creation is to incorporate the care for creation into the full life of a congregation — from worship to taking responsibility for buildings and grounds, from lifestyle of members at home and work to education about energy efficiency and more. David is director of Lutherans Restoring Creation and professor of New Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.
Goal is at least a 5 percent cut
“The ELCA has a strong interest in charting the progress of congregations in reducing the use and cost of energy for their buildings,” says David, adding that a primary goal of the initiative is to help congregations reduce, on average, at least 5 percent of the energy used per year.
“Many congregations are suffering to maintain older and inefficient buildings,” he says. In his experience, “congregations have a desire to receive practical advice on these matters and want to be able to monitor and report progress in energy reduction.”
David is the energy steward for his congregation — St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Racine, Wis. Using an online resource from Energy Star, David is able to track the electricity and gas usage for St. Andrew. He says his congregation’s efforts are paying off.
“The initiative is helping congregations free up much-needed funds,” says David.
“Any dollar we can save on our utilities will help us afford and keep our church facility and support our other ministries,” says Sara.
While the potential financial savings for First English will be revealed around May 2012, the efforts of First English have not gone unnoticed. The congregation has been recognized as the first in Ohio to be Energy Star certified. And the congregation is working ecumenically with other faith groups on energy efficiency.
“We’re working with Jewish, Muslim and other faith groups in Columbus,” says Sara. This work is being done through Ohio Interfaith Power and Light, where Sara is director. First English has a “covenant” relationship with the organization, and the ELCA Southern Ohio Synod is a partner. “Through this organization, we are working with Ohio utility companies to access funds to assist congregations in paying for energy audits and energy measures,” she says.
“What’s really fascinating here is that every faith community has a clear and concise statement about caring for creation. Maybe it’s worded differently in their own sacred texts, but care for creation is a common theme across the board from an interfaith perspective, and it’s an area where we can all be of one voice.”
You might also want to read:
The season of creation
A small seed grows into a movement
‘A Watered Garden: Christian Worship and Earth’s Ecology’