Going green

July 08, 2014

Technology advances help United Methodists care for God’s good creation

by Michael Moore and Wayne Rhodes - umc-gbcs.org

United Methodists across the United States are responding to the call to be faithful stewards of God’s good creation. Responses cover a wide gamut from being more conscientious about recycling and reuse of coffee cups to replacing light bulbs and toilets to installing solar panels and geothermal heating systems.

“This is not just a trendy pop-culture phenomenon,” said John Hill, who directs the Economic & Environmental Justice work area at the United Methodist General Board of Church & Society. “This is a commitment to caring for creation as an act of discipleship and matter of justice.”

In May, Highland United Methodist Church in Raleigh, N.C., was featured in the Raleigh NewsObserver for measures the congregation has taken to improve its green status. From installing solar panels on the building’s roof to replacing light bulbs and toilets, the congregaton has taken steps to promote environmental welfare.

Church member Donna Wolcott told the NewsObserver that she sees the earth-friendly practices as a way to honor what God made. “The big deal is we really do believe it is God’s creation,” she said. “And if God said it was good, we had better make sure it stays good. We have an obligation to creation.”

Installing low-flow toilets also is good stewardship of money. The church not only received a rebate from the city, but also has saved about $400 a month, according to facility manager Tom Lamb.

Solar powers dedicated

The solar panels, dedicated June 15, will eventually provide about 15% of the church’s electricity. For now, though, a group of church members, who formed a limited-liability corporation to earn tax credits, owns the solar panels.

For five years, the corporation, called Highland Solar, must sell the power to Duke Energy. After that, the panels, which cost about $127,000, can be given to the church, which can then use the energy produced.

“These will be producing power for the next 25 years, occupying otherwise empty, useless space,” Lamb told the NewsObserver..

The United Methodist Social Principles urge us to “recognize the responsibility of the church and its members to place a high priority on changes in economic, political, social and technological lifestyles to support a more ecologically equitable and sustainable world leading to a higher quality of life for all of God’s creation” (¶160. The Natural World).

United Methodist Building

GBCS, whose primary responsibility is to promote the Social Principles, is doing more than just talk about greening the church. It is also greening the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill.

“GBCS is charged with making the Methodist building as green as possible,” said Chief Financial Officer Terry Wiggin. “The Social Principles provide that it is our duty to take care of God’s creation.”

Last July, GBCS installed a pilot green roof on a wing of its building. A green roof consists of tiles of low-growing vegetation that should improve insulation, thus reducing energy costs. Equally important, a green roof reduces runoff pollution.

The pilot test was deemed a success. In April, the main portion of the Methodist Building was fitted with a green roof.

GBCS also hopes by 2015 to install fountains conducive to fill water bottles to reduce their use within the Methodist Building, according to Wiggn.

A ‘living water’ roof

Across the continent, the United Methodist Church of Santa Cruz in California constructed its new building with the environment in mind. Ground-source heating and photo-voltaic solar-energy collectors were installed, along with low-flow restroom fixtures. Another green amenity is a “living water” roof that will insulate the building and reduce carbon-dioxide emissions.

“God created this beautiful earth for us and wanted us to keep it that way,” declares Pikes Peak United Methodist Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., on its website. “As a whole church we have decided to help God and Mother Nature out with making sure our earth stays great looking.”

A few of the steps Pikes Peak UMC has taken include buying a bus to help with cutting down on gas consumption; asking people to bring their own mugs for coffee to cut down on paper and Styrofoam cups; new LED lights and dimmers to conserve electricity, and low-flow toilets.

Geothermal system

Euclid Avenue United Methodist Church in Oak Park, Ill., broke ground recently for a new geothermal system, the first of its kind for any congregation in the Chicago suburb and the first for any United Methodist church in Northern Illinois Conference. Geothermal relies on the constant temperature of the ground and the water 100-feet below the surface of the earth. Geothermal acts as a heat source in the winter and as a heat sink for cooling in warmer months.

York Ogunquit, a United Methodist community, in York, Maine, dropped the amount of energy used to light its sanctuary from 8,000 watts to 2,000 by switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). The church also installed solar panels on its roof. The panels provide around 70% of the church's energy, and even provide additional energy for the town.

"We had a two-way meter put in and we're connected directly to the power grid," the Rev. Jim Shook told Interpreter magazine. "Any energy we generate and don't use gets fed back into the grid."

United Methodist-related Candler School of Theology in Atlanta switched all of its lighting to CFLs and within two months, its energy consumption decreased by 12%, resulting in $490 in savings.

Renewal resources

Sometimes, the decision to go green isn't based on cost savings. Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas pays more per year to use renewable energy. It is among 180 churches in the North Texas Conference that formed a group to negotiate the purchase of electricity from area utility providers. The group requires that 10% of the electricity be from wind power.

Churches also have the option to pay an additional premium to receive more than 10% from wind power. Northaven pays about $2,400 per year to have 100% of its electricity supplied by renewable resources.

At the direction of the 2004 United Methodist General Conference, the denomination’s highest policy-setting body, the Council of Bishops released "God's Renewed Creation: Call to Hope & Action" in 2009. This is the first official statement on environmental issues adopted by the denomination since 1986.

The United Methodist Council of Bishops wrote a pastoral letter urging all congregations to read it and to renew their commitment to God's creation. The bishops underscored their endorsement by making nine pledges to commit themselves as faithful leaders in the denomination and in their own communities.

More than 5,400 United Methodists from around the world helped craft the final document, said Pat Callbeck Harper, project manager who worked in the offices of the General Board of Church & Society.

Deep commitment needed

These green developments in The United Methodist Church hearten the Rev. Pat Watkins, the first General Board of Global Ministries “missionary to the environment.” While serving in Virginia Conference, Watkins started Caretakers for God’s Creation, which has begun a nationwide rollout.

Virginia Conference’s “Green Church Initiative” was started by Caretakers to help congregations set and reach green goals. Caretakers asks that congregations care for God’s creation through five areas of church life: Worship, Discipleship, Stewardship, Evangelism and Mission.

Watkins emphasized that saving money may initially attract congregations to environmental stewardship, but there needs to be a deeper commitment. "It's more than just light bulbs and Styrofoam," he said. "When we lead a training, we focus on faith issues and the biblical theology of it. We encourage churches to consider God's creation in areas of worship, education, outreach and lifestyle."

The denomination’s Social Principles state, “As members of The United Methodist Church we are committed to approaching creation, energy production, and especially creation’s resources in a responsible, careful, and economic way” (¶160).

This is a propitious time to encourage your congregation to start more environmentally friendly programs. Whether it’s recycling once a week, or it’s installing solar panels on your church building’s roof, every action to preserve and protect God’s green Earth is a step confirming that we know “all creation is the Lord’s and we are responsible for the ways in which we use and abuse it.”

Editor's note: Michael Moore is a social-justice intern with the Communications Dept. at GBCS. Hailing from Ringgold, Ga., he attends Davidson College, where he will be entering his sophomore year. He is a double-major in political science and economics, and plans to attend law school after graduating in 2017.

Wayne Rhodes is Director of Communications at the General Board of Church & Society and Editor of Faith in Action.

United Methodist Communications has produced videos on United Methodist churches with unique green programs.