As the stars were gathering in Hollywood on Sunday, another group of stars was gathering at Eastminster United Church to celebrate how churches and other communities of faith are turning deeper and deeper green. It was fun to be there. The Green Awakening Network joined with Greening Sacred Spaces to offer this lively Annual Leaders Forum on Greening Our Faith Communities—very well attended, with people travelling from far and wide.
I was honoured to preach to a crowd (they ran out of bulletins!) at the morning service at Eastminster, and then to be one of five panellists joining environmental journalist Alanna Mitchell, who served as panel moderator, capping off a full plate of practical and inspirational workshops on everything from Carbon Footprints & Audits to Greening Your Rituals to Solar Energy for Religious Buildings.
Rabbi Debra Landsberg, Sensei Henderson, Dr. Hind Al-Abadleh, Cecil Ramnauth, and I offered Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, and Christian faith statements and sacred texts, and stories about how our communities are responding to the challenges of climate and ocean change with concrete actions and new attitudes, as well as the challenges we’re finding along the way.
Laidlaw Memorial United Church (Hamilton) and Fairlawn Avenue United Church (Toronto) were among the brightest stars, honoured for what they’ve done with their buildings and their lives. The Rev. Doug Moore of Laidlaw was in touch with me about a month ago in response to my letter “Where Is the Hope after Copenhagen?” and we’ve remained in close contact since—because I can’t get enough of his inspiring reports of how going green has revitalized the spiritual health and communal life of his congregation and their mission. He’s proclaiming the Good News in fresh and exciting ways, and has given me permission to share a little bit of his story here:
We didn’t start off trying to be green. We started off with a budget deficit.
It started with our pipe organ. Some of us thought that turning down the heat in the sanctuary during the week might help the deficit, but there was the pipe organ to consider. Someone said someone had said the pipe organ had to be at 65 degrees all winter to be preserved. Our elders observed that we used to have a coal boiler, and they didn’t remember shovelling enough coal to keep the church at 65 degrees all winter. The younger people suggested that if the organ died, they preferred guitars and drums and keyboards anyway. We needed to talk things out, and we needed to do something.
At first, we just lowered the temperature on the old thermostat. But somebody, frustrated that the church was not as warm as they were expecting, shoved that little lever all the way over, and it was 84 degrees in the church the next morning. We knew that wasn’t good for the organ. So we talked some more, and wondered if investing a little over a hundred dollars in a seven-day electronic setback thermostat would be worth it. We decided we could try one, and set it up to be warm when people were going to be there, and cool when people were not going to be there. Why keep our church warm when no one is there—especially overnight, when it is colder and takes more fuel? By the time a year had passed, the heat bill was $1,000 less. The organ was fine. Six years later, the organ is still fine—better, perhaps, for the leathers not getting all dried out from the heat in the winter.
Our congregational culture was changing. We didn’t know we were getting greener, but we knew something was happening.
From here, Doug will recount many changes the congregation has made to lights and freezers, how they manage their big propane stove, and communal cleaning of the church—and how these changes have changed and revitalized their faith and their communal experience of their faith. Now, with support of the broader church and non-church community, they’ve begun to install solar panels on their roof—energy that they will sell to the province to support their congregational mission and ministry. (He’s even hinted that he expects their Mission and Service Fund contributions to grow.) Such an exciting story from financial deficits to spiritual, ecological, and financial abundance! Doug says it best:
Now we realize we’re going green, and going green, for us, is about John 3:16—For God so loved the world. The way we see the world, it’s not about us and them. We believe Jesus came to teach us how to live with respect, cooperation, and joy. We find our deepest joy being part of doing what needs to be done to save the whole world, not just us, not just the people, not just the planet—the whole world. That’s our sense of mission and our source of joy and celebration. It has been said you can do very little with faith—and nothing without it.
We became green when all of us, together, sought a balance between what we need to live and what God has given us to live on. We learned to talk to each other, and listen to each other, and welcome new ideas, hold each other accountable, and connect with our community in ways we never imagined. We are grateful to be part of God saving the world God loves. We enjoy the light and power that we have the privilege to use now and leave for the generations to come.
We look forward to the future. We’re a long way from finishing our journey. In many ways, we’ve just begun. The kindness and cooperation we’ve been privileged to receive obligates us to tell our story, even though it’s nowhere near finished. Learning to live with respect in God’s creation has transformed our faith community and connected us with many new friends. We believe what we have done, and are doing, can be done by people of all kinds of faith and any sort of good will, anywhere on earth, and we hope our story inspires you to tell your story for the good of this world God loves.
The stars were bright on Sunday evening as we ended our day-long learning and celebrations with a meal together, prepared with our varied cultural and religious practices in mind—and reflective of our shared love of God’s good earth. The words of the Celtic blessing came to mind: “Deep peace of the shining stars to you,” as souls, communities, and creation all felt a little more peaceful and whole on Sunday.
What stories do you have to tell of how your spiritual and communal life have been renewed when you took action for the sake of the world God loves?