Celebrating 5th Year PCUSA Certified Earth Care Congregations!
Montevallo Presbyterian Church is a small congregation in Montevallo, AL with a building from 1902. It sits in a university town and does great ministry for all God’s creation. The Green Team at Montevallo has active committee involvement from about 25% of the membership of the congregation, and great support from pastor Leanne Pearce Reed. When the church did some visioning and identifying core values a number of years ago, care of creation was one of the top core values that emerged, Reed says. Green Team coordinator Bill Peters’ leadership and expertise came along at just the right time to take the common concern and, together with the Green Team, to give it direction, focus, and energy.
One of the unique accomplishments of this PCUSA Earth Care Congregation is that it was recognized by the U.S. EPA as being a house of worship worthy of an EnergyStar label as far back as 2010. This is a feat for a congregation that maintains an older building (that had no original insulation). But, as the Green Team points out, if they can do it, others can too! Reed explains, “People don’t always realize what a difference small changes can make. The low-hanging fruit is all stuff that just about anyone can do. Our building is 100 years old. It’s never going to be as efficient as a brand new L.E.E.D. certified building. It doesn’t matter how old your building is or what your starting point is. There’s always something you can do. There are a lot of small starting points.”
Montevallo Presbyterian Church has recognized that the financial savings from energy efficiency frees up money for mission. Reed shares, “When we save money on energy efficiency, we can dedicate it to the mission of the church in other ways. For instance, we now support PCUSA mission coworker Jed Koball, in Peru.”
Of the changes this church made to the environmental efficiency of their facilities, the following is reported:
- During our renovation, we insulated the building to R-32, replaced all the old single-pane windows with energy-efficient ones, and installed ceiling fans to improve the comfort level in the building when these rooms are occupied. We also installed energy-efficient lighting, featuring T8 bulbs and electronic ballasts, and a new HVAC system with two energy-efficient heat pumps. To help control heat gain from the sun, we also installed blinds. We have recently installed a timer for our water heater so that we are now heating water on Sundays only. As part of our kitchen renovation, we installed ENERGY STAR qualified appliances, including a dishwasher, refrigerator, and microwave oven.
- The church “Green Team” monitors daily energy and environmental practices, including energy usage and management; water usage and management; waste stream reduction and management; impacts of our activities on air, water, and land; reduction of toxic substances; environmental education; attention to care of creation in worship, liturgy, and prayer; and use of organic products.
- In an effort to minimize our environmental impacts and energy consumption, we established a maintenance checklist with a monthly schedule of maintenance activities performed by our church members. These activities include cleaning and changing HVAC filters; cleaning condensing units; monitoring for water leaks; using T8 and compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs; maintaining weatherstripping; landscaping with native plants to reduce/eliminate the need for watering; eliminating the use of toxic herbicides and pesticides; composting yard waste and leaves; and conducting environmental audits of our activities. Other improvements include recycling metals, plastics, paper, glass, and electronics and eliminating the use of paper and Styrofoam plates and cups at church functions.
These changes saved the church money and helped reduce their carbon footprint. But the church’s earth care didn’t stop there. Building on energy efficiency efforts and simple, concrete successes (recycling, composting, monthly Green Team articles in the newsletter), the church has continued to find new ways to grow. Reed believes that the church has had newcomers who have specifically started coming to the church because earth care is important to them.
Reed incorporates care for God’s creation in almost every worship service. And, on certain days, there is a special focus, such as the February “preach-in” on climate change through Interfaith Power and Light.
Montevallo Presbyterian Church has also done some significant things to engage the surrounding community and congregations. They have visited 6 or 8 other churches to give presentations and answer questions about forming green teams, and they have presented at their presbytery’s annual leadership training event.
Meanwhile, Peters and another Green Team member, Gene Grimes, are instrumental in the community’s efforts to monitor local waterways. Their involvement in Alabama Water Watch has included the church hosting a training for other volunteers to help monitor the water. They recently won a state-wide award for their efforts. This work is satisfying and fulfilling for both Peters and Grimes, as the community is building a youth camp on the river and the project included the opportunity to mentor a Girl Scout as she worked towards receiving her Gold Award.
A new bike rack that the church commissioned made the local newspaper. Built by a recent graduate of the art program at the local university, and commissioned by the church from some of the funds saved by their energy efficiency projects, this new bike rack is considered “functional art.” The beautiful piece was crafted from salvaged and recycled materials. One bicycle used in the sculpture was donated by a church member; it belonged to her teenage daughter who died in a car accident. Reed says, “It brought together so many things that are important in our community—emphasis on the arts, sustainable living, beautifying the community, stories from our own congregation—weaving all those together.”
The congregation also participants in the city’s adopt-a-trail program to help maintain a new biking/walking trail that runs near the church. In addition, Montevallo Presbyterian Church is a part of the community garden, for which Peters and Grimes built raised beds from untreated cedar that they got from south Alabama. Lastly, the kids and youth last year took the church through the process of becoming a certified wildlife habitat, making birdhouses and feeders and providing for other wildlife needs.
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There are currently 140 certified PCUSA Earth Care Congregations. For the initial year of certification, each church fills out a congregational audit, gains session approval of an “Earth Care pledge,” and has an earth care team of some sort. This first year of certification often means that a church has been working to integrate care for God’s creation into its ministry for a number of months or years prior to certifying. Each additional year of recertification requires the congregation to both continue and to grow their efforts at integrating creation care into the life of the church. Begun in 2010, this PCUSA certification program has 14 churches now entering their 5th year of certification.
The “5th year certified” churches are: Light Street Presbyterian Church (Baltimore, MD), Trinity Presbyterian Church (East Brunswick, NJ), Bardstown Road Presbyterian Church (Louisville, KY), Church of Reconciliation (Chapel Hill, NC), Montevallo Presbyterian Church (Montevallo, AL), St. Andrews Presbyterian Church (Tucker, GA), Second Presbyterian Church (Little Rock, AR), Maryland Presbyterian Church (Towson, MD), First Presbyterian Church of Howard County (Columbia, MD), North Como Presbyterian Church (Roseville, MN), First Presbyterian Church (Cottage Grove, OR), Swarthmore Presbyterian Church (Swarthmore, PA), St. Andrews Presbyterian Church (Kilmarnock, VA) and Frame Memorial Presbyterian Church (Stevens Point, WI).