“Buildings can teach us if we pay attention to them,” Ray Wilson told a room of pastors and church leaders in early December. He described crawling on the roof of his church to check a radar system they use to prevent raccoons from burrowing into the roof of their building. Nelson’s church had discovered the problem during the energy audit to begin working with Energy Stewards, a program to help faith communities reduce energy use and improve creation care. The naughty mammals had created a large hole and the building was losing heat.
Thanks to the Energy Stewards program, the Nelson congregation in Indianapolis has reduced its energy consumption by 51% since 2008 and its emissions by 59%. They were paying nearly $18,000 a year in gas, electric and water bills. Last year, they only paid $4,000, even though part of the time they were in detention, he noted. He’s excited to see if they’re keeping their costs down this year.
Wilson and Sarah Mundell and the League of Women Voters were inviting churches in Montgomery County to learn about the program, which provides measurable, achievable and affordable steps to better use church resources, “to keep” land as God ordained it in Genesis, to care for creation as most religious traditions call humans to do.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Christians are called to participate in the reconciliation of God and the world as in the days of Eden. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has published many articles on environmental protection. Last September, he joined Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, in signing a joint statement calling on believers to take action. Other major denominations – Baptists, United Methodists, Episcopalians, Mennonites, Quakers, United Church of Christ, Evangelicals, Presbyterians, and Evangelical Lutherans, among others – as well as most traditions such as Baha’i, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Sikhs, Muslims, Unitarian Universalists, have statements providing the philosophy and actions to do our part. But what does it look like for faith communities to put this into measurable and timely action?
The Energy Stewards program through Thriving Faith Communities and Hoosier Interfaith Light and Power provides congregations with the means: a real-time energy consumption dashboard, mentors to plan what works for each congregation, assistance with obtaining an audit building professional, a training and a cohort to share “hacks” to reduce energy consumption. The goal is to reduce usage by twenty-five percent over three years. Thriving Faith Communities also helps congregations tap into Center for Congregations grants to pay for an energy audit.
Many congregations have people motivated by the spiritual and fiscal benefits of reducing energy use, but lack the plan and tools to help their churches achieve measurable goals. Wilson shared some tips, including auto-shut off lighting, programmable thermostats, improving insulation, building audits for heating/cooling leaks, low-flow toilets, replacing filters, Energy Star appliances and bulb replacement. He called on churches to turn their thermostats down to the 50s in the winter and to the 80s in the summer when the building is not in use. Even turning large lawns into gardens saves energy by requiring less mowing. (Some churches donate produce from the gardens to local food programs.) While all of this is good, it’s hard to quantify and communicate the value gained without a program like Energy Stewards. The program has a minimal cost ($200) to keep the energy dashboard running. It allows the Ministry of Buildings and Land to assess good practices. With savings, congregations are able to reallocate funds to missions or improve the aging building.
At the meeting, some churches wanted to make sure that the sponsor, Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light, was not just a political organization. Because it’s a 501c3 nonprofit, HIPL does little political work and charges no more than the $200, which is dedicated to the energy scorecard. It asks congregations to donate 10% of their savings from reduced energy costs if the program works for them.
Its purpose is to see the training effect. Indiana has more than 30,000 religious congregations made up of families who learn the savings techniques used in the church. Multiplying the efforts of each congregation is like multiplying the loaves and fishes and helping to care not only for creation, but also for other human beings. As Pope Francis has noted, those living in poverty are often the most affected and most vulnerable to runoff, pollution, unsafe water and natural disasters that are occurring at an increasing rate. frequent. Believers know that caring for the least of them – from bees to low-income households – is part of the life of faith.
The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan, multidisciplinary organization, encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase public understanding of key political issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy. All men and women are welcome to join the LWV where practical work to safeguard democracy leads to civic improvement. For more information, visit the website www.lwvmontcoin.org or the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County, IN Facebook page.