Editor's Note: This is the second story in a three-part series about the Creation Care ministries in the Florida Conference. Click here for the first story.
Methodist churches around Florida are finding ways to care for God’s creation with projects ranging from gardens to solar panels.
Usually it takes one person who is passionate about the environment to start talking about it to get the ball rolling, and the message it sends can be far reaching.
Cara Fleischer, a member of St. Paul’s United Methodist in Tallahassee, said each church’s environmental efforts will be unique, a reflection of the needs and interests of the congregation and its community. Fleischer includes her church’s efforts in the blog she writes for the Tallahassee Democrat.
“Focus on the positive, the wonder of nature, the joy of the Earth and being together. Don’t get bogged down in the negative stuff,” Fleischer advises. “Make it fun and positive.”
Both congregations and individuals can start by calculating their carbon footprint, an assessment of their environmental impact, then develop a plan to reduce it. Many conservation measures can also save money.
|Using solar panels to generate power could result in savings that can fund ministries.|
Rev. Andy Bell, an environmental advocate in St. Petersburg and a pastoral counselor at Lakewood UMC, said churches should think about what they can do with the money they save by lowering their utility bill and switching from disposable items to reusable ones.
If the church saves $5,000 a year on utilities, what would you spend it on? A program for the youth? An outreach to the homeless? Services for the elderly?
“Most members can tell you immediately where they would spend it,” Bell said.
It’s also an opportunity for the congregation to think about how it can protect the environment around it, which can send a powerful message to the community.
“There are people in the neighborhood around this church who have come here because of the solar panels,” said Bell, who spearheaded the effort. “It is a witness that we genuinely care about everything that God has created.”
Below are some ideas recommended from environmentally minded Methodists around the state.
We all know the drill—turn off lights, turn up the thermostat and change to energy-efficient LED light bulbs. Local utility companies often will conduct energy audits and make suggests for energy-saving practices and products.
“Just changing the light bulbs will cut energy use by 75 percent,” Bell said.
Bell said the church’s energy consumption dropped significantly when it installed solar panels last year, and the congregation saved thousands on the installation by doing it themselves.
Bell and his wife installed solar panels on their home and now live off the grid, selling the extra energy they generate to the utility.
“The return on the investment is less than seven years and then you have 30 to 40 years of free electricity,” Bell said. “You don’t have to worry about rate increases.”
A few years ago, when the church replaced its sanctuary roof, members added extra insulation and the wiring was upgraded.
Paper and plastic
|St. Paul's UMC in Tallahassee turns old T-shirts into shopping bags.|
Churches can save a lot of money and do something environmentally responsible by switching from plastic plates, utensils, bottled water and shopping bags, as well as paper products, especially for routine events like church dinners.
“We need to ask ourselves before we buy things, how will I dispose of this? Will it go into a landfill? Is it biodegradable? Can it be re-purposed?” Bell said.
Fleischer said her church makes shopping bags from old T-shirts and donates some of them to the food bank.
From the hand soap in the bathrooms to the fertilizer on lawn, congregations can rethink their use of chemicals, Bell said.
Cleaning products often contain chemicals that are harmful to the environment and humans. Safer alternatives like vinegar and baking soda are effective and much cheaper. There also are more environmentally friendly options for insect control like boric acid, diatomaceous earth and essential oils.
Outdoors, congregations can think about foregoing the use of fertilizers and herbicides, which can be washed down storm drains and into rivers, causing algae blooms like the ones in Lake Okeechobee and along the Gulf Coast.
Churches are finding that environmentally friendly practices and events are an effective way to reach into the community.
Most congregations have one or two avid gardeners in their midst who are willing to spearhead a church garden, whether to grow vegetables to feed people or a pollinator garden to attract bees and butterflies.
|Green Earth Community Garden is engaged in a partnership with Cokesbury UMC by using the green space next to the church as a community garden.|
College Park United Methodist Church in Orlando opens its garden to the community and hosts several “open table” events through the year. Faith United Methodist in Orlando lets children attending its summer camps help out in its garden.
Cornerstone United Methodist in Naples has what it calls Cornerstone Edibles, a market for its organically grown fruits and vegetables.
St. Paul’s has a Mosaic Garden, so called because the raised beds are decorated with mosaics. The produce is used by the church and donated to the local food bank.
Fleischer helped start the garden.
Initially six people volunteered but now families adopt the garden for a week at a time during the summer.
“It has been a real attention getter for intergenerational involvement,” Fleischer said. “We have kids working in the garden with their grandparents.”
The plants, which are grown without chemicals, are fed with compost that comes from the food scraps from the weekly Wednesday night dinners. The church also had a Lady Bug Jubilee for the community, where hundreds of the beneficial insects were released.
Elan Brown, chairperson of the Florida Conference Creation Care, said the church has started showing monthly movies that have an environmental message that are popular with teenagers such as “Before the Flood” and “Plastic Pollution.”
Vacation Bible School
Rev. Kandace Brooks, pastor of St. Paul’s UMC, has written a Vacation Bible School curriculum with an environmental focus: “God Said It Was Good.” About 200 children made s’mores on a solar oven, met rescued farm animals and learned about native plants, Fleischer said. The church is hoping to make the curriculum available to a larger audience.
Community clean up
St. Paul’s UMC adopted its Tallahassee street and also cleans up nearby Lake Ella six times a year.
“We do that with the kids,” Fleischer said. “It’s amazing how much trash we get out of the lake. The cleanup gives us a lot of visibility. We put a banner and invite people to join us. It’s been a great outreach.”
--Lilla Ross is a freelance writer in Jacksonville.