(Drew here: Last summer, I presented Steven Bouma-Prediger’s ten arguments for creation care set forth in his book, For the Beauty of the Earth (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3). I made the case for why Christians should reduce their impact on the earth, but said nothing about how they might do so. Today, we welcome long-time Earth advocate Maureen Wise to introduce some ways to help your church make green choices. Maureen has worked in stream restoration and higher-ed sustainability. Currently, she’s a part-time professor and a freelance writer, teaching and writing extensively about sustainability. Faith motivates her care for creation and inspired her work on a creation care devotional.)
I am one of many Christians in the sciences who take our stewardship of creation seriously. As a person of faith, I know that small actions (mustard seeds) can add up to mountains. No one person, church, corporation, action, or green choice is sufficient to reduce the effects of climate change, but we can make a difference by acting together. We know that the people most affected by climate disasters such as flooding, drought, and heatwaves have often done the least to cause them. We need to step up for the least of these to reduce their risks.
According to the US Energy Information Administration, buildings use 40% of the energy in the United States. Churches are both groups of people who gather and the buildings they gather in and sometimes manage. Part of what it means to follow Jesus and to care for the least of these, is to reduce the negative impacts of both our church buildings and the people in them.
An outgrowth of Science for the Church’s emphasis on relationships is the discovery that congregations make changes most easily when teams of like-minded churchgoers work alongside scientists to effect the changes I outline below.
This list is the tip of the iceberg of ideas that can get your church moving in a direction of caring for creation. Don’t be overwhelmed by it. No church can implement all of these green applications at once, but every church can start with one or two. Consider which will be the easiest to implement and have the most impact.
When groups of people gather, there’s usually trash left behind. Churches can reduce waste and lessen their environmental impact by recycling. Many churches do not have this entry-level green practice in place because of hauling costs. An easy entry-point that can also provide a modest profit is to offer paper recycling through a fundraising company such as Paper Retriever or Paper Gator. Another is pairing a recycling bin with every single trash bin, which is a best practice in waste management. Without easy access to recycling bins, people are very unlikely to sort correctly. This is especially important for paper bulletins on Sundays, but encourage your congregants to also recycle cardboard, metal, glass, and plastics.
Churches tend to use a lot of energy. They’re big spaces that require heating, cooling, and illumination. Switch out incandescent or CLF light bulbs for LEDs to drastically reduce the energy needed for lighting. Then evaluate which lights need to be on when the entire church isn’t meeting. Likewise, the temperature of the church doesn’t need to be kept constant when no one is there. Programmable thermostats can be set on a schedule to reduce temperature regulation needs. These investments may take a bit of a fundraising for the initial investment but are relatively low-cost and will reduce energy consumption, saving congregations money in the long run.
...Read our previous three part series on creation care (Parts one, two, three)
...Check out our Denominational and Ecumenical Creation Care Resources
...We love this article from BioLogos about our common call to stewardship: If Not Stewards of Creation, What Are We?
Reducing water usage in any building takes planning. A simple place to start is by repairing leaking fixtures that waste water. Then, evaluate how your church uses most of its water and reduce where you use the most. If it’s lawn care, water less frequently for longer periods (this is an organic lawn care best practice). If you mostly use water in bathrooms, install low-flow retrofits. Like LED light bulbs and programmable thermostats, retrofits will require an initial investment but will yield savings over time.
Does your church gather for meals? Studies have shown that the meat that we consume produces the largest environmental impact. When you put out calls for dishes, include vegetarian main dishes. These will be thoughtful for vegetarian congregants and, in a potluck setting, invite others to open their eyes to tasty meatless options. Locally sourced food is another best practice. When possible, buy local produce to distribute at your gatherings. Or challenge churchgoers with a contest to see who can source their food closest to the church building.
Talk About It
Don’t do all this work without telling your church members about the changes being made to care for Earth and its inhabitants. A special sermon on creation care could spur more conversation—but at least include a note in bulletins, newsletters, and on the church website. In Katharine Hayhoe’s hopeful book on climate change, Saving Us, she says that the most important action we can do to turn around the climate disaster is to talk about it. These conversations are as important as recycling and low-flow toilets.
Has your church already implemented some of these Earth-friendly practices? If so, I applaud your efforts and encourage you to try more. From the beginning, God has tasked us to be stewards of Earth. Together as individual congregations, and collectively as the church of Jesus Christ, we can implement small changes that may just make a difference in the future of our planet.
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Strengthening the church through engaging with science