Creation Care

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Small and large steps make church carbon neutral

A man installs solar panels on a roof. Image by Bill Mead,
A man installs solar panels on a roof. Image by Bill Mead,

"All creation is the Lord's, and we are responsible for the ways in which we use and abuse it." The Book of Discipline 2016, ¶160

One church that takes its creation-care ministry to heart is Mountain View United Methodist in Boulder, Colorado.

In 2009, Mountain View's congregation began discussing the idea of installing solar panels on the church building. The goal was to become environmentally responsible while exploring the financial benefits of saving money on energy.

Mountain View worships in a large building — 43,000 square feet — and was paying more than $10,000 annually for electricity as of 2008. By 2011, Mountain View's net electricity costs were cut almost in half, thanks to solar and other improvements.

The most recent goal of the church's Green Earth Team has been to become carbon neutral. Money for carbon offsets was raised in 2016 during the annual Earth Day observance. After a five-year series of carbon-use reductions, the church achieved carbon-neutral status in summer 2016 following its purchase of the offsets and reducing its carbon dioxide consumption by 110 tons.

"This is all driven from the Holy Spirit," said Mary Beth Downing, chair of the Green Earth Team. "The people involved (believe) that God's creation is in danger and must be protected. It's not just about ourselves; it's about the call to live better and do more, as Jesus would want us to."

Small changes make big difference

While the installation of solar panels and an energy management system that adjusted the building's power loads contributed to the reduction, Mountain View also adopted simpler, less expensive steps to achieve its goal.

Changing lighting was a big help. The church replaced about 100 light bulbs with compact fluorescents or LEDs, 26 exit signs with LED signs and 24 incandescent spotlights with LEDs. Motion-sensing switches automatically turn off the lights in unused meeting rooms. Several refrigerators and one freezer were replaced with Energy Star-rated models, reducing appliance energy consumption by 50 percent. Crawl spaces and some walls had insulation added.

"Achieving the small steps built motivation to move on to bigger goals," Downing said.

There was also a big push to raise awareness and educate all church members on energy-saving techniques, such as turning off lights and appliances when not in use and closing doors. The combination of electricity use reductions resulted in a 36 percent drop in electricity consumption between 2008 and 2015.

Follow the rules

The church just finished a month-long Sunday school series on the environment, focusing on how Wesley's "Three Simple Rules" — do no harm, do good and stay in love with God — apply to creation care.

"God really gave us everything we need if we would just be smart enough to use it wisely. All the healing we need is right here," Downing said.

Joey Butler is a multimedia producer/editor for United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tennessee.