By Deborah Baldwin
Chair, Green Church Task Force '08-'10
Editors' Note: When Deborah Baldwin became a grandparent, she also became increasingly concerned about what the world would look like in her grandchildren's lifetimes. Believing that preserving a livable planet is one of the most important moral issues in the world today, Baldwin led a task force at her church and recruited enthusiastic members to join her in her quest to educate and inspire others to care for God's creation. That was two years ago. Now there are eight members, and they have worked with church staff, members, and the community to increase environmental awareness and reduce carbon footprints.
There is a lot of 'green' enthusiasm in the Congregational Church of Needham. Members have chosen a variety of different ways to get involved in 'green' environmental issues. We work through education, worship, and building and grounds, promoting energy conservation and environmentally sound choices among our fellow members. We also collaborate with other churches and synagogues in the area on community-wide "green" events.
It's relatively simple to start the process at your own church. The first step is to pull together a group of people that are concerned about the issue. A wonderful resource for groups starting out is on the web at www.webofcreation.org. Also, if you contact your utility company, you can arrange to get a free energy audit. This will start your church on the path to saving both money and the environment.
Here are a few of the projects we have done that may inspire your members to take action in your church.
Ring a Bell 350 Times! Our first activity in 2008 was to join with other Mass. Conference UCC churches in ringing our bell 350 times. The goal was to focus attention on climate change and 350 (the estimated sustainable amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, in parts per million). People of all ages -- including children -- loved the opportunity to ring the bell!
Audit your Building. Our building manager arranged two energy audits, resulting in the free replacement of hundreds of light bulbs with more efficient bulbs, and the subsidized installation of several truckloads of insulation. Programmable thermostats in several zones help to minimize unnecessary heating. Our electricity consumption has dropped by about 15% and our heating oil consumption by about 10%.
Participate in the 10% Challenge. We sponsored and promoted our congregation's participation in the 10% Challenge, a web-based effort to help households reduce their energy consumption by 10% and more, designed by the Green Needham Collaborative. More than forty household plans have been submitted by members of the congregation. If all participants implement their plans, we will be removing 260,840 lbs of CO2 from the atmosphere every year! Our goal is for 50 or more plans to be submitted.
Join in on the International Day of Climate Action. On October 24, 2009, we joined in an interfaith event to focus attention on climate change and 350 for the International Day of Climate Action. Our middle school youth group, produced a colorful banner out of recycled materials. It was a great time to teach people about the significance of the number 350. Then our team came to our church and worked to seal windows in our building, to reduce the loss of heat during the heating season. The 350.org is planning another event during the week of Nov. 20-28th. Go to their website for details: http://earth.350.org/.
Catch a Movie at the Climate Change Café: In May, 2010, we held the first of a series of cafés after church, showing the powerful short film "Climate Voices" [It's free on the web; go to www.goodplanet.org/en/climatevoices]. We led a discussion of the impact of climate change on people around the world, and the role of our church. In October, our second Climate Change Café featured a selection from the inspiring video project, "Renewal: Stories from America's Religious-Environmental Movement."
Recycle at the Fair: We worked with Fair organizers to reduce the carbon footprint of our Village Fair by recycling cans and bottles, and to offer items made from "upcycled" materials. We presented a fun educational energy activity at the fair: generating electrical power to light bulbs by pedaling a stationary bicycle, comparing CFL to incandescent bulbs. Even Santa tried it! At this year's church fair, we will provide recycling bins for paper, plastics, metal, and glass.
Walk/Bike to Church: We promoted walking or biking to church, highlighted by Walk-or-Bike-to-Church days during May and October. We offered a display of "Walkers/Bikers of the Week" hoping to encourage and motivate other bikers and walkers. Soon we will be installing a bike rack at the church.
Mimic Needham in Motion: Members of the Congregational Church of Needham logged over 1400 miles biking and walking during the town-wide "Needham-in-Motion" effort during the month of May... the highest number of any community group!
Get in on the Ground Floor of Composting: We purchased compost caddies (specialized buckets in the kitchen for organics to be recycled) and church members take the caddies to their own home compost bins. Coffee grounds used during coffee hour are especially great for composting. The next step is to get a compost bin at the church.
Why do I do it? I feel a profound sense of appreciating God's creation and that it is our responsibility to be good stewards of God's great creation.
Senior Minister Susan Cartmell added: "I am proud to be part of a congregation which has such a natural interest in conserving energy and learning about how to be better stewards of the earth. Our church sees this is a key faith issue and climate change one of the major challenges of this era in history. We are hoping to educate ourselves, and to provide opportunities for action and advocacy."
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