Group lights environmental ‘fuse’ under church members

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Group lights environmental ‘fuse’ under church members
By J.A. Buchholz | Oct. 12, 2009 {1089}
TAMPA — Faiths United for Sustainable Energy is serious about the religious community using its places of worship to show members how to be better stewards of creation.

The Rev. Dr. Warren Clark tells church members what they and their congregations can do to be better stewards of the environment. Photo by Janice Buchholz. Photo #09-1315.

So are members of Hyde Park United Methodist Church and neighboring congregations who recently met at the Tampa church with leaders of the nonprofit, known as FUSE for short.

The group of about 26 participants discussed ways congregations can reduce their energy consumption and become catalysts in the movement to eliminate society’s dependence on fossil fuels.

The meeting featured tips from a member of the Florida Alliance for Renewable Energy on how to become an advocate for public policy. Participants also discussed what they are doing at their individual churches to save energy.

The latter drew Xavier Johnson’s interest. The youth pastor at True Faith Inspirational Baptist Church said he was interested in learning environmentally friendly ideas he could share with his church’s senior pastor and trustees.

“I enjoyed the meeting. I think there are some ideas we can implement,” he said.

Those ideas included reducing the use of paper, plastic and Styrofoam by using washable plates and utensils; using the dishwasher; replacing standard light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs; and using recycled paper, then recycling it. Several churches touted the benefits of programmable thermostats that can be set to turn on 30 minutes before a meeting begins.

Matt Piechowiak, a member of the building and grounds committee at Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church, said he was interested in ways to save both energy and money. He said the largest bill at the church after the pastor’s compensation package is the power bill.

One cost-saving measure Piechowiak’s church recently instituted was a two-week shutdown of church property to reduce its energy bill. Staff members were encouraged to work from home instead.

“We not only saved money, but we made people aware of our impact on the environment,” he said. “Those are two big benefits.”

The church was receptive to the idea, Piechowiak said, because there was ample time to plan for it. People even began to look forward to it.

Linda Fairbanks, a member of First United Church of Christ in Tampa, writes a letter to state officials urging them to address the global challenges of climate change, illness, poverty, conflict and economic stability by creating a low-carbon, clean energy economy that fundamentally shifts the way Americans power their lives. Photo by Janice Buchholz. Photo #09-1316.

The Rev. Dr. Warren Clark, associate director at FUSE, is hoping Piechowiak’s congregation and many others will be just as eager to participate in the “350” initiative, which will be a focus of International Day of Climate Action Oct. 24.

The number refers to 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide. That’s the top limit a group of scientists from the Unites States, the United Kingdom and France studying climate change said the earth can withstand if “climate disasters are to be averted,” according to a NASA Web site article on the study. The group’s findings were published in 2008 in Open Atmospheric Science Journal. At that time of the study the atmospheric CO2 was 385 parts per million and expected to rise about 2 parts per million each year as a result of burning fossil fuels and, less significantly, forests.

Clark said churches worldwide can create awareness about the CO2 target by doing such simple things as spelling out the number on church property or ringing bells and chimes 350 times.

Clark says the number is more than just a scientific benchmark to reduce the world’s emissions, however. Participating in the movement also represents the deep moral and spiritual beliefs of people of faith related to social justice, creation care and stewardship of the earth’s resources. Clark says that’s at the heart of what FUSE wants to achieve.

“We help leaders to act on the most pressing issues of our time — illness, poverty, climate change, war and environmental destruction — through their participation in FUSE programs and services,” Clark said. “FUSE facilitates grassroots action and legislative advocacy while providing one-on-one consultation for faith leaders to help inspire their communities to act.”

FUSE was founded in 2006 to work specifically with faith communities because more than 80 percent of the world’s population — nearly 5 billion people — identify with a major organized religion, according to the organization’s Web site. The FUSE philosophy is that environmental issues are both too important and too large for faith communities to ignore.

“This is the overarching moral issue of the 21st century,” Clark said. “It is putting loving our neighbor as ourselves into direct action, especially those neighbors, creatures and humans yet to be born whose lives will be hugely affected by our action, or inaction, in the next 10 years.

“This encompasses and is a way towards peacemaking, social justice, hunger action, homelessness, health care and care for creation.”

FUSE meets every six weeks in Pinellas County, Ocala, Tampa and other areas as requested. More information about FUSE is available at

More information about the 350 movement is available at

Green tips, resources for congregations

The Rev. Dr. Warren Clark (right) talks with participants after the gathering. Photo by Janice Buchholz. Photo #09-1317.
• Form a green team for education, conservation, advocacy and worship (

• Ask the utility company to do an energy audit of buildings, then create a priority list of action items and take them to the proper committee.

• Organize advocacy efforts on clean energy and economic justice through green jobs.

• Participate in FUSE public policy advocacy clusters (,, and

• Use Fair Trade Coffee in fellowship times and sell it to members (

• Green the congregation’s gardens and grounds (

• Install occupancy sensors that turn lights on when people are present (

• Learn more about the benefits of programmable thermostats (

• Use recycled products made by other organizations in a cooperative ministry effort and/or sell them to members. Skyway Supply, for example, buys supplies from a program in a disadvantaged neighborhood that creates recycling jobs for people with developmental disabilities ( and then sells them wholesale. Search your local area for developmental disabilities programs that create recycling jobs.

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando
*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a freelance writer based in Seffner, Fla.

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