Local church members heed environmental call

by Amy Kingsley

Back in December, some of the members of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church of Greensboro created an environmental stewardship committee to explore how they could make their parish a little greener.

The group, which has been meeting every week during the Sunday school hour, started making small changes, like conducting a recycling audit and replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents. So far the church has changed more than 360 of their lights. Last month, the savings on their electric bill totaled $160, an amount that puts them well on their way to recouping the money they invested in light bulbs within seven months.

At least as important as the monetary savings are the 158 pounds of carbon dioxide parishioner Eric Hoekstra estimates the church did not produce thanks to the relatively small changes. Holy Trinity is on the leading edge of a growing number of local houses of worship that are incorporating more worldly concerns, namely concern for the world itself, into their spiritual purview.

“Awareness is certainly happening in the larger community,” said Steve McCollum, founder of Holy Trinity’s environmental stewardship group. “And I think that has drifted in and involved the churches.”

The NC Council of Churches, an organization that represents progressive congregations across the state, was one of 13 groups that sponsored a recent study about the impact of investment into renewable energy and efficiency programs on the state’s economy. Investment in renewables and energy efficiency could create almost 40,000 jobs in the next 15 years, according to the report, and keep $1.6 billion in energy expenditures in the state.

In addition to the economic benefits, the state would enjoy lower emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide that contribute to global warming and other noxious gases like sulfur and lead.

Interfaith Power and Light, a project of the NC Council of Churches, has been promoting church actions to curb energy use and waste since 2001. This year, they introduced a Lenten “Fast From Carbon” series to some of their member churches in Chapel Hill. The publication includes information on the impact of global warming on North Carolina, statements by faith communities and Bible excerpts related to creation care for each of the six weeks of Lent.

“This Lent, by fasting from carbon we can demonstrate discipline in our lives,” the packet reads, “as Christ demonstrated discipline in resisting the temptations presented in the wilderness.”

For Holy Trinity, the goal of reducing their carbon footprint is one that preceded and will likely outlast the Lenten season. The church’s rector, the Rev. Timothy Patterson, has made reducing the parish’s carbon footprint a goal of his tenure. That parish includes, in addition to the church, a day school, a music school and the Servant Leadership School.

And replacing light bulbs is only one part of a comprehensive plan, members said. Amelia Deaton, the church’s outreach coordinator, said the recycling initiative started with her daughter, who was working toward a gold award in the Girl Scouts.

Katelyn Deaton met with staff, church members and students at the day school to teach them how and what to recycle. The church did a recycling audit and relabeled its bins so members and staff would know more specifically what they could recycle. Holy Trinity has also replaced Styrofoam coffee cups with biodegradable ones and reusing ink cartridges instead of throwing them away. Church leaders are looking at replacing the cleaning products they currently use with more environmentally friendly products.

Amelia Deaton has been active with the church’s environmental stewardship committee and said the group has generated several ideas.

“There’s a million different ideas,” Deaton said. “But we can’t do them all at once. You have to do things in pieces. The light bulbs have been an easy piece.”

Future education sessions planned at Holy Trinity include a workshop on how to optimize automotive gas mileage. Deaton said members of the committee have suggested purchasing reusable grocery bags that could be used by any church member. Long-term goals include eventually replacing the current heating and air-condition system with a more energy efficient one.

Another one of the church’s goals is to include other faith communities. To that end, Holy Trinity partnered with the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greensboro to hold an interfaith seminar on environmental stewardship on Feb. 10. Speakers included NC Rep. Pricey Harrison; Dan Besse, a Winston-Salem alderman and candidate for lieutenant governor; John Wear, director of the Center for the Environment at Catawba College; and Peter Kauber of the Guilford Solar Communities Project. Attendees included members of both churches and representatives from Temple Emanuel.

“We would like to see this become about being part of a community-wide effort,” Deaton said, “so faith communities can get together and share resources.”

The environmental stewardship group will be following up the February meeting with a town meeting on March 25.

So far members of Holy trinity have largely supported initiatives to make their place of worship more environmentally friendly. Hoekstra said one churchgoer complained about the aesthetics of the new, energy-saving lighting scheme, but he is working to make sure the most energy-efficient lighting choice will also please the eye.

“I found some fancy light bulbs,” Hoekstra said. “I’m putting those in the places that are most in the public eye.”

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