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Solar panels at First Presbyterian Church near Ely in Iowa help put ecological stewardship into practice

The 26 solar panels are in addition to a native prairie meadow, beehives and a small fruit orchard

by First Presbyterian Church near Ely, Iowa | Special to Presbyterian News Service

On Monday, First Presbyterian Church near Ely, Iowa, installed a 26-panel solar array. (Photo courtesy of First Presbyterian Church)

First Presbyterian Church near Ely, Iowa, installed a solar array on Monday. The 26 panels will benefit the church for the next generation and beyond for the standard purpose of converting sunlight into electricity.

For a church congregation, though, the purpose expands beyond the basic science, and for First Presbyterian Church, solar energy is about ecological stewardship. Surrounded by great oak trees, a stream, field and meadows, the church is in the center of some of the most beautiful agrarian landscape of Iowa.

“The congregation has deep agricultural roots in Century Farms within the community,” southeast of Cedar Rapids, said the Rev. Dr. Julie Schuett, pastor of the church since 2009. “The timing of the solar project synched with the estate gift of a congregation member. Their experiences with solar installation were successful and they were driven to impact the church ministry and annual budget with this ongoing gift.”

Members and friends work to install the solar panel array. (Photo courtesy of First Presbyterian Church near Ely)

The conversation about solar energy began after several church members installed their own panels at their homes and farms. In cooperation with a local hardware store and Alliant Energy, the project was funded in memory of a member of the church by her family.

The congregation has deep Czech roots, Schuett explained. It was founded by five Czech families who emigrated to Iowa. The church was an independent congregation, which called the church the First Bohemian and Moravian Brethren Church when it began in 1868. Ninety years later, the congregation voted to join the Presbyterian denomination.

In addition to installing the solar panels on Monday, the congregation has also developed a native prairie meadow and hosted beehives. It’s also planting a small orchard on the grounds of the church, which is southeast of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Photo courtesy of First Presbyterian Church near Ely)

First Presbyterian Church near Ely conscientiously strives to build good practices concerning its agricultural and conservation land, Schuett said. Church members and friends have established a native prairie meadow and hosted beehives and is planting an orchard consisting of 15 fruit trees. Members and friends also monitor water usage and erosion into South Hoosier Creek.

Established two years ago, the prairie meadow is run in cooperation with Pheasants Forever, an organization that works to preserve land for wild birds and grassland animals.

“I often refer to agricultural references and themes in the Scriptures,” Schuett said. “Much of Jesus’ teaching and ministry occurred in the countryside. A great number of his parables and illustrations speak to the agrarian community.”
“During coffee hour,” Schuett added, “common topics of conversation concern the weather and the crops.”

“This congregation actively works for meaningful and responsible environmental use of church property,” Schuett said. “It is uniquely positioned as a thriving rural church.”

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