Church leaders say saving the planet is good for the soul
“We have a responsibility, brothers and sisters, and that responsibility is stewardship of Creation. We are called to be in relationship with Creation, to care for and sustain the gifts that God has given us to use, and to protect these gifts for the generations that come after us. We are intimately dependent on a healthy planet for our own survival. Our behaviors count.”
Reverend Sally Bingham
Earth Day 2000 sermon
Jesus, meet Mother Earth. It’s a match made in heaven, so to speak, and it appears to be working.
The most energetic new movement in environmentalism today is not coming from the Sierra Club or Greenpeace. Look instead to your nearest Catholic parish or Episcopalian church.
Churches are installing solar panels. Youth groups are selling compact fluorescent bulbs. Ministers are preaching the “three R’s: reuse, recycle, reduce.” And in the process, people of faith are giving the environmental movement a broader base and a renewed vigor.
Forget the science and politics of global warming and fossil fuels. This is the stuff of “do unto others” and stewardship of God’s creation. This is about morality, says the Reverend Sally Bingham of San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, an Episcopalian church.
From Lutherans to Jews, traditional congregations up and down the state are embracing a movement that may have found its soul.
“You don’t pollute your neighbor’s air if you love your neighbor,” says Bingham. “People with moral responsibility don’t do things that harm others. The church has an important role to lead by example, to benefit future generations rather than take from them.”
As part of her environmental ministry, Bingham is co-chair of California Interfaith Power and Light (CIPL), a nonprofit established last year by Bingham, California Council of Churches’ Scott Anderson, Catherine Coleman of the Northern California Inter-Religious Conference, and Reverend Al Cohen of Southern California Ecumenical Conference.
According to the organization’s Web site, CIPL’s mission is to prompt California’s 50,000 congregations to respond to global warming by promoting energy conservation and renewable energy.
When congregations join CIPL, they sign the group’s covenant, a progressive document calling for congregations and church leaders to embrace alternative energies, environmental education and waste reduction.
So far, 135 churches and synagogues have joined with eight in the greater Sacramento area. In addition to Christian and Jewish members, Susan Stevenson, project director for CIPL, says the organization is working to include Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Native Americans as well.
It’s an ambitious movement with the potential to reach millions. “Our goal is to recruit 1,000 congregations by the end of the year,” says CIPL’s outreach coordinator Sarah Newman. “That’s 400,000 households.”
Newman also helps organize a Sacramento CIPL working group, headed by Deacon Bill Sousa, social justice coordinator of the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento.
All of this just makes sense, says Sousa: “Taking care of God’s creation is what God would want, and CIPL is a broad channel in which to do that.” Sousa hopes to see all 98 of Sacramento’s Catholic parishes sign the covenant. So far, five churches and schools have joined.
According to Newman and Sousa, local churches have a unique opportunity to take advantage of both green energy and solar panels through the Sacramento Municipal Utility District. In fact, SMUD is one of the only utilities in the state still offering green energy after last year’s energy crisis.
Through SMUD, close to 30 congregations have installed solar panels on their premises. The utility pays for the panels and installation. For seven years, all energy generated by the panels goes back into the main grid. After that time, the church owns that energy and any funds it generates.
St. Michael’s Episcopalian Church in Carmichael is the latest congregation to participate in the solar panel program. On Earth Day of this year, the church held a solar blessing ceremony to bless and dedicate the panels.
After a standard Sunday morning service, the congregation gathered outside with representatives from SMUD, CIPL and the church. “Holy God, may this simple act of harnessing your eternal light help us escape the global heating that our generation is causing over your creation,” said Episcopalian Bishop Jerry Lamb.
To St. Michael’s Father Richard Visconti, the panels are a visible way to send an environmental message to the community.
“Hopefully, this will translate into personal things that this congregation can do at home,” says Visconti. “It’s not a huge thing, but we’re excited to be a part of caring for what God has given us.”
So far, congregations have been largely receptive to the environmental message. According to CIPL’s Stevenson, this is not a hard sell, especially in light of last year’s energy fiasco.
“We’re talking about things that people already recognize,” says Stevenson. “We’ve just provided an outlet for involvement in these issues.”
In coming months, Bingham hopes to see CIPL expand into a nationwide effort. Already, many credit Bingham as their inspiration. In March, Mikhail Gorbachev presented Bingham’s Episcopal Power and Light with the Energy Globe Award, a prestigious prize honoring sustainable energy solutions.
“I think the affirmation has been so rewarding,” says Bingham. “The sense that people in the pews and church leadeArs are really embracing this message—that to me is just very exciting. To find that people understand and are actually putting their faith into action is very rewarding.”
The California Interfaith Power & Light Congregational Covenant
As a religious leader of my congregation, I pledge to support the goal of California Interfaith Power and Light and to do one or more of the following:
Educate our congregants on energy production and usage in relation to global warming.
Conduct an energy audit of our buildings to identify sources of energy waste and the potential financial savings of energy related improvements.
Make energy efficiency improvements to our congregation’s buildings.
Utilize renewable energy by purchasing green power, installing solar panels, or contributing to a wind turbine fund.
Analyze, reduce, and offset our greenhouse gas emissions with the goal of becoming a non-polluting congregation.
Support public policies that contribute to our goals.