5 congregations share how they’re caring for the environment

October 21, 2015

Churches across the United States are increasingly showing concern about the environment and taking action to reduce their carbon footprint—and Minnesota United Methodist congregations are joining in the effort.

Members of the 2014 Minnesota Annual Conference approved a resolution to reduce the carbon footprint of Minnesota United Methodist church buildings. The legislation encourages all of our congregations to estimate the carbon footprint of congregational buildings, determine how to reduce it, and implement those changes.

Five congregations within the state submitted short stories illustrating how they are caring for the environment in ways that could be replicated by others or provide some inspiration:

Rosemount UMC

Rosemount UMC is taking its first steps to reduce its carbon footprint. The congregation arranged a free EnerChange energy audit to identify energy-saving opportunities that also result in cost-savings. The audit resulted in a list of ideas that were ranked according to the cost to implement them and the expected payback. Some of the easy ideas have already been implemented, such as putting a timer on the hot-water loop. Bids have been received for others, like improving parking-lot lighting, making HVAC improvements, and putting solar panels on the roof. Rosemount UMC, like all congregations, has a set of urgent maintenance needs and a limited budget. But leaders discovered that they could still implement many of the ideas because they resulted in immediate savings and a reduced carbon footprint. The church expects its list of ideas to grow and plans to use it to guide regular improvements in its environmental impact over the course of normal build, repair, and replacement activities.

Last spring, in anticipation of the audit, the church’s trustees and its finance, worship, and environmentalism groups met with University of Minnesota students studying sustainable communities. The students provided ideas for communicating and building support within the congregation, resources for grants and incentives to help with funding, and ideas for improving the church’s environmental footprint.

Northeast UMC, Minneapolis

It started with a conversation one evening at the church’s canning class. Michael from Seasons Unity Project shared a vision of feeding the community with fresh, healthful food grown right in the church’s backyard, without the need for fossil fuels, all year round. Now, after a weekend natural building workshop and help from more than 30 volunteers, Northeast UMC is well on its way to having a “walipini,” or underground greenhouse, in the backyard of the parsonage (located at 2535 Cleveland St. NE in Minneapolis—you’re welcome to come check it out).

Members of the church learned firsthand that when a committed group of individuals comes together, they really can transform the Earth. The pit greenhouse isn't just a conversation in the garden or an opportunity for people to learn how to say “walipini” or a hole in the ground. The church’s walipini is the hopeful spirit of community—it is the sharing of human goodness to learn and help each other to grow healthier food and a healthier Earth. The church’s “Walipini Weekend” was like an old-fashioned barn raising (or barn digging), and now parishioners have new friends and connections in the metro area, they got some positive media coverage, and they experienced both joy and sore muscles as they literally dug in to make a better world. 

Centennial UMC, Roseville

Centennial United Methodist Church in Roseville had an energy audit several years ago and has since undertaken several energy-saving measures—including changing all the lights in the sanctuary to more energy-efficient ones. The church plans to continue to replace light fixtures with LED units, which use much less energy. It also replaced the traditional paving on a driveway near the entrance to the church with water-permeable pavers that let the rainwater return to the soil. 

One church member recently started a “Centennial Eco-Green Team” as a sub-committee of its board of trustees. The church also organized a small group using the book and leader guide A Hopeful Earth, written by Northern Illinois Bishop Sally Dyck (who was bishop in Minnesota from 2004 to 2012) and her niece, Sarah Ehrman. The small group was set up like a Bible study and ran for seven weeks. It covered all the issues in the book, which form an excellent basis for understanding the “creation crisis” that exists on our Earth today and what the message of Jesus tells us. The small group provided members a comprehendible vision of all the factors that contribute to climate change.   

Faith UMC, St. Anthony

This summer, Faith and Northeast UMCs collaborated on an “Eco-Kids Camp” for elementary school children. They talked about the parable of the mustard seed—the smallest of all seeds, but when it’s planted, it grows and produces such large branches that the birds are able to nest in its shade. They watched swallows flying over Silverwood Lake in St. Anthony and nesting in their picnic shelter; saw hawks, eagles, and owls up close at the Raptor Center; and got acquainted with an Amazon parrot at Como Zoo. They tried to think like a bird, making their own nests and placing them in trees or shrubs in the church’s yard. They created bird masks and joined in a council of the birds, where the children spoke from the perspective of their bird. Leaders encouraged each child to think of themselves as one of those seeds, able to participate in growing the kingdom of God, where all beings can thrive.

Peace UMC of Plainview/Elgin

This year, Peace United Methodist Church of Plainview/ Elgin created five separate gardens: one for trailing plants, one enclosed for potatoes, one raised for peppers, one for corn, and a raised “cross” constructed of six, six-foot by six-foot square boxes for additional vegetables; a bath, which the youth helped create with a local concrete statue business, is in the middle of the cross. A local excavating business donated the dirt for the project. Throughout the summer, vegetables from the gardens were shared with shut-ins, church families, and the local food shelf. During harvest, the older youth mentored the younger children and helped them bring in the harvest. Separately, the church had a concurrent adult and youth Vacation Bible School this summer, featuring nature-based themes.

Wondering how to get started on reducing your congregation’s carbon footprint and/or having a conversation about creation care within your church? Hopeful Earth—a network of Minnesota United Methodist people and churches moving toward a holistic relationship with God’s creation—offers a wide variety of ideas and resources.

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

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