Local congregations say living your faith means living green
Changing to more energy efficient light bulbs and driving less to have a smaller impact on the environment isn’t just a social issue for Dick Brown.
It’s a matter of his faith.
In recent years, the parishioner at Ann Arbor’s St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church said he’s become convinced that making changes to protect the environment is a key part of living his faith in a modern world.
“It’s almost a moral issue,” said Brown, who has traveled to the Arctic during his retirement and says he’s seen the changes in glacier size that scientists say indicate increasing temperatures linked to global climate change.
The problem is, he feels like he's not doing much to be environmentally-friendly and he's not exactly sure what to do, he said.
His church is one local congregation that will have representatives learning about how to reduce energy and other consumption later this month in a program pushing for a more collective effort to reduce their impact on the environment.
The idea for the program, Cool Congregations, is train congregants within local faith communities to teach and raise awareness among fellow believers about lifestyle changes that can reduce consumption.
Working within churches, synagogues, mosques and other faith communities is the perfect place to start, said Chuck Warpehoski, director of the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice.
Every week, dozens to hundreds of families gather together in a shared faith. If large numbers of them can be convinced to make consumption changes at home, it could make a big impact on local consumption overall.
“It’s a way to use a community that exists within a shared faith community and the shared values of a community faith community to help people reduce their carbon footprint,” Warpehoski said. “It’s positive peer pressure.”
The program is organized by Voices for Earth Justice in Southfield and Michigan Interfaith Power and Light, but is based on an idea created by a group called Iowa Interfaith Power and Light.
As Patty Gillis, executive director for Voices for Earth Justice, travels to these events across the state, she’s found a more enthusiastic response from congregations and regions of the state than she expected.
“I think our times call for an aestheticism for lowering our consumption of everything and to recycle,” rather than only giving alms or fasting as some faiths do, she said.
“As people who believe the world was created by a supreme being and created in an orderly, loving way we don’t believe that kind of world leaves room for global warming. It’s like walking the talk," she said.
The idea is nothing new for the First Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Ann Arbor. The church has been holding meetings for years about reducing environmental impact among congregants. When it erected a new religious education building years ago, it was built to standards that met the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification.
The congregation just finished a fundraising drive for a wind turbine it plans to use to offset the energy it uses to power its buildings.
At St. Francis, the idea of organizing a push for congregants to live more environmentally sustainable lifestyles is still a fledgling idea.
But Brown said he and other members are eager to learn more and begin expanding efforts in small ways at the church - like switching away from Styrofoam cups during coffee and donuts served after services - to get congregants attention about their own habits.
For instance, eating less meat and eating more locally-produced foods can reduce a person’s impact on their environment.
“It’s more than changing a light bulb,” Brown said. “That’s what’s exciting about this. It is things you might not have thought about.”