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Today in the Mission Yearbook

Seven-person congregation did the math, switched to solar power


A small West Virginia church celebrates its first Earth Day on solar energy

July 10, 2019

Last year, Solar Holler, a West Virginia company, installed solar panels on the roof of Spencer Presbyterian Church in Spencer. (Photo by Spencer Presbyterian Church)

One was a former school administrator who had instituted energy-saving measures at schools he oversaw and brought that same passion to his work with the church. Another was concerned with climate change and felt that collective action was necessary to reverse the damaging effects of relying on fossil fuels.

Whatever the reasons, this year’s Earth Day was the first on solar power for the members of Spencer Presbyterian — all seven of them.

If this sounds like a big project for a congregation whose membership hasn’t cracked double digits, the members would say you’re doing the math wrong.

“If you just look at the math, you can see, ‘Oh, well, can we raise another $100 a month? If we can, we can do this,’” said Brenda Wilson, an elder at the church in a town of just over 2,000 people, about an hour northeast of the West Virginia state capital of Charleston. “That’s that lightbulb moment where you say, if we can do this, we should do this because it will save us money in the long run, it’s good for the environment, we might be helping to ameliorate the effects of climate change, and it might be helping our great grandchildren — or even our grandchildren or our children.”

Doing the math told the Spencer congregation that payments on a 10-year $43,000 Restoring Creation Loan from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Investment & Loan Program Inc. at 2.5% interest was just slightly more than the church’s monthly electric bill. And once the loan is paid off, the church owns its energy source and has to pay only a base of $20 each month to be on the electric grid. The church also received a $10,000 PC(USA) grant and kicked in $6,000 from its facilities fund to pay for the $59,000 project.

Spencer Presbyterian Church members, from left to right, Norma Randall-Myers, Brenda Wilson and Paul Hughes were presented an award from the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition by Robin Blakeman. Blakeman is a project coordinator for the coalition as well as Stewardship of Creation Enabler for the Presbytery of West Virginia. (Photo by Spencer Presbyterian Church)

The electric company will store the excess energy the church produces during the warmer months of the year so that it can be used during the winter, when solar energy isn’t as plentiful. So, Wilson says, solar should cover 95% of all of the energy needs for the church, which houses an independent day care for nearly 50 people, including staff, during the week.

Through this and some other initiatives, Spencer has become a certified PC(USA) Earth Care Congregation (ECC) by taking the “Earth Care Pledge” and completing activities and projects in the fields of worship, education, facilities and outreach.

Spencer has also switched to non-disposable dining materials, except for napkins; is encouraging the local Walmart to become a drop-off recycling center; and reinstituted its Adopt-a-Highway program. Wilson also noted that the church’s pastor, the Rev. Julie Hitsman, has been presenting an environmental liturgy.

Click here to learn how to become an Earth Care Congregation.

The church worked with Solar Holler, a company based in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, that first worked up a plan for the church based on research through Google Earth before coming out and getting to work.

Members of Spencer Presbyterian Church dedicated their new solar panels in June 2018. (Photo by Spencer Presbyterian Church)

In June, Solar Holler presented a talk about solar panels, and several people added solar panels to their homes. A nearby Presbyterian church is also looking at adding solar panels.

“I do think it has become a bit of a model, and people come up to me and say, ‘Boy, I’d really like to do this. I just don’t know if I can,’” Wilson said.

This all is happening in the heart of coal country, where Wilson acknowledges, “It can be hard to be an environmentalist.”

But she says that despite the high-profile move, the church has not received any pushback from the community.

“The other part of West Virginians is they’re very independent,” Wilson said. “They really like the idea of creating your own anything — creating your own food, creating your own electricity. It just fits with rugged, frontier, independent guys and gals that live in West Virginia.”

But the bottom line, Wilson says, is the solar panels are a move that benefits the greater good.

She said, “It’s probably the best thing as a group of seven or eight people we could do for the environment.”

Rich Copley, Communication Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Today’s Focus:  Solar Energy

Let us join in prayer for: 

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Andrew Kang Bartlett, PMA
Dwayne Batcho, ASG

Let us pray:

Dear Lord, we thank you for your church and its witness and ministry. Be with the ministers and servants who love you, carry their crosses and bear witness to your love for the world. Do not let them get discouraged in their ministry. In the name of Jesus Christ, the Lord of the church. Amen.

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