Milwaukee Edition

Green Congregations

Faith Groups Join in Preserving All Creation

photo courtesy of View Dynamic Glass

The simple act of switching on a bulb can light a room; preaching that humans are caretakers of the Earth can enlighten a community. “How are we faithful to God’s creation?” asks Diana Butler Bass, Ph.D., author of Grounded: Finding God in the World—A Spiritual Revolution, in Alexandria, Virginia. “The connection between the natural world and the world we live in helps us understand the remarkable responsibility we have to the planet.”

Along with an emotional bottom line, many people pose a greater question: What is the cost to our spiritual life if we act selfishly? “We need to know what is sacred and what matters for generations to come,” says Bass. “This is an exciting time for communities of faith to work together.” Churches, synagogues, mosques and other faith groups are sending a message to their congregations and communities: We need to care for what the Creator has given us.

Showing the Way

“We wanted to reduce reliance on foreign oil, support local businesses, buy American-made and be cost-effective,” says Rabbi David Freelund, of the Cape Cod Synagogue, in Hyannis, Massachusetts. “Going solar made sense. We leased panels, joined a renewable energy credit program and now generate 90 percent of our energy.”

The synagogue also upgrades equipment to more efficient levels when it’s time for replacement, composts waste, maintains a garden to supply a local food pantry, switched to LED lights, zoned their facility’s heating and cooling and follows a single-stream recycling program. “We seek to lead by example. Members ask, ‘What else can we do?’ As Jews, our mission is not fulfilled unless we lift up others toward the divine,” says Freelund.

The film Renewal documents this grassroots movement at RenewalProject.net.

Windows often make up a large portion of a building of worship, but can be the least energy-efficient components. Members of Colorado’s Steamboat Christian Center, in Steamboat Springs, used to wear sunglasses or change seats during services to escape the sun’s glare and heat. After installing smart glass windows, everyone can now fully concentrate on the sermon.

“The glass tints like transition sunglasses, based on available light or preprogrammed preferences,” explains Brandon Tinianov, a senior director with View Dynamic Glass, the company that supplied the new windows. “It also reduces heating and cooling costs.”

Laying Down Burdens

“Clutter represents postponed decisions,” says Barbara Hemphill, author of Less Clutter, More Life, in Raleigh, North Carolina. “Lack of time, interest and energy keep us from passing along what we no longer want or need. For most of us, 80 percent of what we keep, we never use.”

That includes paperwork, another specialty of her Productive Environment Institute. When the United Methodist North Carolina Conference Center’s new building was ready, there was plenty to sort through before moving. “We estimate seven tons of items were recycled. It became an example for individual churches,” says Hemphill.

Her own church, Mount Zion Methodist, in nearby Garner, has cleared out two storage rooms. Items were reclaimed, auctioned or donated to a shelter. “We gained Sunday school rooms in return,” she says.

Practice Makes Perfect

Awareness of the environment and eco-friendly living is a concept religions agree on. At the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, in Sterling, Virginia, an education program encourages community members to recycle, plant trees and lower water and energy usage. Including their Sunday School, they reduced their overall carbon footprint by 13 percent and energy consumption by 21 percent. Interfaith Power & Light is active in most states and can help implement such user- and eco-friendly changes.

We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.
~Pope Francis

Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, the director of outreach for the Dar Al Hijrah Islamic Center, in Falls Church, Virginia, suggests thinking larger and encourages members to ask for changes in public policies by lobbying their representatives. In 2016, the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago will promote a Green Ramadan. During Ramadan, members re-evaluate their lives in light of Islamic guidance.

Greener than most, The Garden Church, in San Pedro, California, has no building. “People tell me, ‘The outdoors is my church;’ I take them at their word,” says founding Pastor Anna Woofenden. “We have a central table surrounded by gardens. About 90 percent of what we grow is vegetables, the rest is flowers. This church is a living sanctuary, a place to belong, a place of community. God’s love is made visible as people are fed in body, mind and spirit.”

“Eco-friendly teaching represents a new spiritual imagination of how to live well in the world,” observes Bass. “Faith makes a difference.”


Connect with the freelance writer via AveryMack@mindspring.com.

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