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Historic church makes commitment to ‘go green’

Historic church makes commitment to ‘go green’

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Historic church makes commitment to ‘go green’

By Derek Maul | March 23, 2010 {1155}

When pioneer Jesse Knight built his homestead in the area now known as Nokomis, his first act was to gather his family around him for worship. That event led to the establishment of Venice-Nokomis United Methodist Church in 1868.

Church leaders are monitoring energy usage and utilizing such energy saving devices as programmable thermostats and solar hot water heating and panels at the church parsonage as part of their green approach to better stewarship. Photo by Derek Maul. Photo #10-1417.

Today, the area’s oldest congregation is taking steps to become one of its most innovative. In 2009 the board of trustees at Venice-Nokomis United Methodist Church launched the first steps of an ambitious initiative to “go green.”

“We have old men who still plant trees — people in (their) 70s, 80s and 90s with a wonderful theology of eternity,” the Rev. Jim McWhinnie said. “That sense of delayed gratification — beyond their own needs — is a very significant theological understanding.”

McWhinnie, who was appointed senior pastor at the church in 2008, feels the church has an important message for other congregations, especially those who believe “green” is reserved for young adults and the granola crowd.

“For ‘The Greatest Generation,’ the right thing to do is always the right thing to do,” he said, “regardless of the benefit to yourself.”

The promise of at least some tangible benefit in the here and now, however, has moved the “green” process from cautious conception into steady progress.

“It started when a couple of ladies read about a Colorado church going green,” said Mike Wilson, a retired police detective and church trustee.

“Our trustees try to process any ideas that people bring in,” McWhinnie said. “So we brought in a solar cell expert who gave us a price tag for converting the whole church to cell power. The number was $400,000, and the two ladies almost fainted.”

“The primary motivation was to be good stewards of our dollars and to be a witness to the community,” Wilson said. “And the idea triggered an energy audit.”

Barbara Southall works in the church office part time. “I’ve been thinking green my whole life,” she said. “I’ve been ready. It’s great theology, and it’s what God would want. I think it’s just fantastic.”

“When the money people report we’re saving money, all the other resistance seems to go away,” the Rev. Jim McWhinnie (left) says of the church’s efforts to go green. Church trustee Mike Wilson (right) says the initial positive impact from small changes has provided momentum to continue moving forward with more ambitious goals. Photo by Derek Maul. Photo #10-1418.

David Pyle, another church trustee, lives cost reduction principles daily via corporate work with Proctor and Gamble. He said the church’s initial response to the challenge to be better stewards of the congregation’s property dollars included looking at energy savings plans at other churches, locating all of the church’s electric meters and obtaining continual logs of usage from the utility company, and contracting with a local firm for a comprehensive energy study. The church then replaced lighting and incorporated energy saving bulbs inside and outside, set programmable thermostats for efficient energy usage, and improved and increased HVAC unit check-ups, making sure filters were changed and leaks plugged. The congregation also installed solar hot water heating at the parsonage and is currently installing solar electric cells there.

Dave Greenwood is chair of the board of trustees and a confirmed penny-pincher. “It’s an excellent initiative, and we should proceed,” he said. “I think it has a lot of merit to it, and the quicker we get the results the better. We’ll save a bit of money in the long run — and that’s what we’re after.”

“There’s not a budget (Dave) didn’t think ought to be cut,” McWhinnie said. “But saving on utilities — that sells it. We’re not responding to the classic green ‘tree-hugger’ committee. It boils down to good stewardship.”

Less than 12 months into the program, leaders say the church saved $11,000 on electricity in 2009 alone.

Both McWhinnie and Wilson agree the initial positive impact from small changes has provided momentum to continue moving forward.

“We put solar hot water in at the parsonage last spring (2009),” Wilson said. “It looks as though it knocked out $80 a month immediately. So the positive response on the water heater helped get some of the other things done.”

The most ambitious project is the plan to install solar electricity cells at the parsonage.

“My wife Nancy and I are purchasing the first solar panel and running the wiring for 19 additional panels,” Wilson said.

With additional panels available at $1,800 each, the project can be completed debt free one panel at a time.

“Extra power generated at the parsonage then comes off the bottom line for the church,” Wilson said.

Leaders say the church saved $11,000 on electricity alone in 2009, thanks to its energy saving initiatives. Installing solar electricty cells on the church parsonage, like this one already in place, is one of the next steps in the plan. Photo by Derek Maul. Photo #10-1419.

It’s the kind of common sense, incremental change the church trustees are counting on to propel their “green” initiative into the future, and with an annual power bill that runs over $20,000, it’s a future that could pay for itself sooner than later.

“We’re keeping it in the realm of, ‘That’s possible,’ ” McWhinnie said. “We’re going after the big dreams by being successful with the little dreams. If you make it too big then they never start. It’s a way for momentum to build. When the money people report we’re saving money, all the other resistance seems to go away.”

McWhinnie says John Wesley, with his “earn all you can, save all you can and give all you can” philosophy, would have approved. “He’d say, ‘You must do everything you can to go green, because simplicity is a virtue and efficiency is part of proper stewardship,’ ” McWhinnie said. “It’s about going on to perfection in ways that you can. We know it’s good. If it takes a while to get there, it’s OK as long as we’re going on to perfection and we keep moving forward.”

Wilson agreed. “One day at a time, one week at a time and just keep pulling,” he said. “This is from a ‘we can do it better’ point of view. This is a working church; we have a core of people with an intimate awareness of this place. This initiative is not an abstraction.” 

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Maul is an author and freelance writer based in Valrico, Fla.