Build up the body of Christ. Support the Pentecost Offering.

Interfaith Power & Light names two PC(USA) churches as Cool Congregations for 2024

Among the six honorees are Oak Grove Presbyterian Church in Bloomington, Minnesota, and Warner Memorial Presbyterian Church in Kensington, Maryland

by Interfaith Power & Light | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Oak Grove Presbyterian Church in Bloomington, Minnesota, was named one of six Cool Congregations for 2024 by Interfaith Power & Light. The church puts on an annual electric vehicle expo. (Photo courtesy of Oak Grove Presbyterian Church)

LOUISVILLE — Six congregations — two of them churches in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) — were selected from 125 entries as 2024 winners of Interfaith Power & Light’s Cool Congregations Challenge.

Oak Grove Presbyterian Church in Bloomington, Minnesota, won the Electric Vehicle Award for the church’s annual electric vehicle demonstration days. Warner Memorial Presbyterian Church in Kensington, Maryland, won IPL’s Renewable Role Model Award for developing a community solar project with newly installed solar on the roof of the church that’s seeing its output exceed the church’s needs. As a result, Warner Memorial has been providing electricity at reduced rates to a neighboring nonprofit housing program and a number of low-income families.

Each of the six winners receives a $1,000 prize. Runners-up in each category receive $500.

“The Cool Congregations Challenge winners this year undertook a wide range of creative and inspiring projects to care for Creation and promote climate justice in their communities,” said the Rev. Susan Hendershot, IPL president. “The six congregations are casting a vision for the kind of world in which they want to live, and then carrying out that vision with practical actions that make a real difference in creating lasting solutions to climate change.”

Oak Grove Presbyterian Church’s 2023 expo drew 450 attendees and 25 electric vehicle owners who talked about their cars with guests and offered 100 test drives. The expo featured electric school buses, electric mass-transit options and car-sharing opportunities for lower-income communities.

“From the beginning, scripture tells us that we are responsible for caring for Creation. Helping restore Creation is an act of faithful discipleship,” said the Rev. Bart Roush, Oak Grove’s pastor. “We know that moving people toward electric vehicles is a major tool in combatting climate change. We believe the EV Expo helps educate and encourage vehicle ownership and use. The EV Expo is a tangible way for Oak Grove to live out its faith.”

The church has held its educational electric vehicle expo every year since 2018. During the most recent expo, a local hardware store brought electric lawn tools for display, and several groups brought electric bikes and an electric Segway.

The church has a charging station that can charge two electric vehicles at a time. Rather than charging a fee, the church offers the service as a courtesy to its members. When non-church members use the station, they’re given a note informing them they are charging with 100% clean energy from an onsite solar installation. The note asks the car’s owner to donate to the church.

The electric transportation team at Oak Grove is actively involved in promoting the adoption of electric vehicles at all levels of government and assisting other congregations and organizations with their electric vehicle expos.

The solar panels on Warner Memorial Presbyterian Church in Kensington, Maryland, produce more electricity than the church needs. The church, a certified Earth Care Congregation, provides electricity at reduced rates to a neighboring nonprofit housing program and other neighbors. (Photo courtesy of Warner Memorial Presbyterian Church)

Warner Memorial Presbyterian Church’s pastor and head of staff, the Rev. Adele Crawford, said, “Our faith tells us that all we are and all we have comes from God. One fundamental way Warner interprets that principle is through our commitment to sustainable practices for our world.”

For more than 10 years, the church has been a certified Earth Care Congregation, employing rainscapes, tending pollinator gardens, supporting environmental justice and more. “We are thrilled to finally realize our dream of solar panels, which provide renewable energy not just for us, but for some of our neighbors in need,” Crawford said. “We pray all of us do our part to make a more just and sustainable world for generations to come.”

June Eakin, a Warner Memorial member, said that since 2017 the church has had a dream to replace the electricity it was getting from its electricity supplier with cleanly generated electricity, “and by our example, encourage others to do the same. However, we wanted to do more than just create enough electricity for our needs, but also wanted to maximize the solar output from our roof. Being a PC(USA) Earth Care Congregation, we are committed to environmental stewardship, but nothing seemed financially feasible then.”

“If we bought an array of solar panels for our roof, we could not recover our costs during the system’s life,” Eakin said. “If we instead signed a power purchase agreement with a small power company that would own an array on our roof, we would not be allowed to generate more electricity than we needed for our building; that is, we would not be maximizing our contribution to the grid.”

First, the church replaced its aging, leaking roof with a new roof that could support a solar array. In 2017, the state began a pilot renewable energy program, and a Warner staff member formed the National Capital Presbytery Youth Carbon Analyst Program, which brought together high school students to be leaders in energy transformation in their congregations. In 2020, the youth made presentations on rooftop solar generation. “The analysis showed that our roof could generate twice the energy we need,” Eakin said, but the pandemic paused the work.

In the fall of 2021, several Warner members attended a webinar sponsored by the IPL affiliate covering Maryland, the District of Columbia and Northern Virginia. In Maryland’s program, the owner/lessor can use up to half of the electricity generated, and the other half is made available to subscribers in the community. “To our delight, in the spring of 2022, this type of program received permanent legal status in Maryland,” Eakin said. “We also learned about funding possibilities through the Montgomery County Green Bank.”

The church’s Earth Stewardship Team shepherded agreement on a  contract resulting in a rate reduction averaging 27%, more than twice the more common 10%. “This enabled us to pass along a large rate reduction (44%) on the remaining electricity produced to Housing Unlimited,” a nonprofit organization that seeks to provide affordable housing to very low-income adults in mental health recovery in Montgomery County, Eakin said. The church’s community solar project connected to the grid on Nov. 17, 2023.

“This experience brought together diverse stakeholders, including a church, a social-service nonprofit organization, a financial institution and a private developer — all working towards a common goal of caring for the environment and one another,” Eakin said. “The collaboration exemplified the power of community in addressing social and environmental challenges.”

Interfaith Power & Light’s mission is to inspire and mobilize people of faith and conscience to take bold and just action on climate change. Learn more here. Learn more here.

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

  • Subscribe to the PC(USA) News

  • Interested in receiving either of the PC(USA) newsletters in your inbox?

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.