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Stewardship of Energy

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Deborah Rexrode is curating a blog series called “A New Perspective on Stewardship.” We’ll hear from some stewardship experts across the country on a wide range of what stewardship means for them. What are ways stewardship can be a spiritual practice? How might we come to a new understanding of the role of stewardship in ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Than Hitt

I was in Paris recently for a screening of “From the Ashes,” a powerful new documentary on climate change, and the contrast was hard to miss: Paris, a symbol of global cooperation for climate protection, on the heels of the American withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

It’s true that traveling helps you see home in a new light, and this trip certainly did for me. I found myself asking how America, the largest contributor to climate change, could turn its back on the global effort against climate pollution and meanwhile miss new opportunities for clean tech innovation and job creation at home?

The word “negligence” comes to mind, as do others unfit to print.

But seeing home from a distance also helps me appreciate the good that is afoot: many American cities and states have stepped up to achieve the Paris goals. Many churches have as well, notably through the “Paris Pledge” organized by Interfaith Power and Light with over 160 congregations dedicating themselves to this goal.

Yes, many churches are responding in creative and positive ways, including new investments in clean energy. So why aren’t all church rooftops crowned with solar panels today? Perhaps congregations don’t see a connection between their faith, the Earth, and their energy source, but I doubt that is the main reason. Instead, I think it’s primarily a financial hurdle – particularly the initial investment capital. And who wants another capital campaign?

So how do we move forward?

Let me share some thoughts from my experience helping Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church (SPC) “go solar” in 2014. Full disclosure: I’m not an expert on the solar industry or financing (I’m a fish biologist working on climate change science and endangered species research in West Virginia). But I have glimpsed how financial thinking can merge with ethical and spiritual thinking when it comes to a church’s investment in clean energy. And that’s some powerful stuff.

In our initial discussions at SPC, the environmental benefits of solar usually came up first. That makes sense, particularly in West Virginia where we see the costs of fossil fuel development. Of course this issue was not new to folks at SPC, which has been a proud PCUSA Earth Care congregation for years. The question was more “how” than “why.”

We couldn’t take advantage of federal tax incentives and our state incentive programs had recently been stripped away. So we had to think differently. And we did. We started working with Solar Holler to finance our solar project from energy efficiency savings pooled from our individual homes. It worked. We were fortunate to receive a national award for our efforts, and we plowed the award money back into energy efficient LED lighting for the sanctuary.

We’re currently saving thousands of dollars a year on electricity bills and are producing about 40% of our electricity demand. Meanwhile, the regional utility rates keep going up, so this further increases the value of solar into the future.

If you want to go for it, here’s where I recommend you start: take a look at your church’s energy bills over the last several years. You might be amazed, particularly when you consider the opportunity costs. What mission work is not happening because you’re paying so much for energy?

Then look around the church for ways to improve its energy efficiency. You might find what others have – that you already have the capital for an investment in solar all around you – that you could use cost savings from energy efficiency planning to finance an investment. This is the model currently expanding to churches and other nonprofits across West Virginia from the good work of Solar Holler.

Particularly now as we hear the tired, false narrative of “jobs versus environment” touted loudly by national leaders, it’s up to us to tell a different story. Churches have to be leaders in this great effort. After all, the sun gives physical energy – and metaphysical energy!


Than Hitt lives in Shepherdstown West Virginia where he spends his time as a husband, father, biologist, musician, river runner, explorer, and procrastinator.

Serving Our Creative God in Creative Ministry and Ecofeminist Theology

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Layton Williams is curating a series we’re calling “Ministry Out of the Box,” which features stories of ministers serving God in unexpected, diverse ways. What can ordained ministry look like outside of the parish? How might we understand God calling us outside of the traditional ministry ‘box?’ We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Abby Mohaupt

I knew I was going to seminary by the time I was 14.

Actually, by then I knew I was going to McCormick Theological Seminary to get an MDiv and then be a pastor in a church where I would preach about how Jesus is pretty cool and God loves everyone.

I thought I would say prayers over bread and juice and I would baptize babies.

I did enroll at McCormick when I was 22 years old, but between my middle school self and my post-college self, I fell in love with creation. I realized I was better at listening to God when I was hiking in the prairie than anywhere else. I studied religion and sociology as an undergraduate and my white, able-bodied, educated, middle class self learned to unpack categories of difference and systematic oppression on the streets and in a shelter of Chicago.

When I met with my presbytery, I knew I was really called to do environmental ministry and antiracism work. I could tell you about my ordination process—how I often forgot to talk about how much I love Jesus until I started talking about how he’s like Captain Planet or how I felt a lot of joy in taking the ordination exams or even how my first call let me explore ministry in really prophetic ways.

But my ministry has never been traditional.

My first call was in a wonderful congregation that let me spend 10 hours a week at a non-profit that works with farmworkers. When those 10 hours stretched into 15 and 20 hours a week, I knew that my heart was not fairly in the work of the congregation. God was calling me to be immersed in the work of a rural northern California community seeking to build bridges between farmworkers and the people who eat food every day. I fell in love with the children I worked with, who taught me to sing boldly and to carry stickers and chocolate with me at all times. I grew from meeting with congregations who sought to build relationships with the rural community, and I learned to be fierce in asking congregations to pray and to give their time and to share their financial resources.  My heart grew three sizes from working long days with colleagues who made me laugh and who wondered if my two graduate degrees in environmental theology really qualified me to sort through the donations of crayons and toiletries we so regularly received.

I gave thanks over juice boxes and granola bars and held children’s hands as we explored the scientific properties of water.

About a year into that second call, I realized that I was being called away. My love for studying and reading and teaching was an indication that I might be called to a PhD program. I looked for programs in ecology and theology and applied to four schools. In one week I visited three of the schools and knew by then I would be moving across the country to the east coast to learn to be a professor/clergy/activist.

It mattered to me just how I’d tell my beloved community I was leaving, and I eventually chose my program at Drew University based on conversations with some of the farmworkers and locals.  

This is a third call—a call in which I spend my days auditing extra classes and learning to be a better organizer and antiracist ally, in which I write papers about political and ecofeminist theologies and climate trauma and in which my heart swells with the four-month-old friendships of my peers. This is where I talk about how much I love Jesus for his solidarity with the poor, and how I see God’s heart breaking by the state of creation in climate change. I don’t preach anymore, unless you count the freelance writing and multi-media art I do, grappling with the sacred texts of the Bible.

There’s an arboretum here, and I run through it, listening to God and seeking joy, grateful for work my 14-year-old self would never recognize but for which she deeply longed.


abby mohaupt is a PhD student at Drew University in the Religion and Society Program. She’s the moderator of Fossil Free PCUSA, co-editor of Presbyterians for Earth Care’s EARTH newsletter, and a member of Presbyterian Peace Fellowship’s activist council. When abby’s not reading or running, she’s often drawing with crayons and seeking joy. she splits her time between CA, IL, and NJ.

Earth Care: Responding to Pope Francis’ Call

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During September, Leanne Pearce Reed is curating a month of blog posts exploring stewardship of all creation. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

“We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.” Pope Francis, Laudato Si, Chapter 4, paragraph 139

September 24, 2015.

kepley1I live in northern Virginia, just outside of Washington, DC, which can sometimes be both a blessing and a curse. Yesterday, when Pope Francis addressed Congress, it was a huge blessing! My wife and I joined a number of our friends from Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions, an interfaith group in Fairfax County, VA, and the National Capital Presbytery Earth Care Network, a group of 10 churches in the National Capital Presbytery dedicated to earth care, to hear what the pontiff had to say on the National Mall. Oh sure, we could have watched it at home on TV, but being there in-person among an incredibly diverse crowd of people who are passionate about the environment was electrifying! After much speechifying and good music, we got to see and hear His Holiness on a jumbo-tron. Pope Francis did for Congress and the American people what pastors from before Jesus’ time have always tried to do – discern God’s Word for our time and place. The crowd on the grass all around us cheered wildly, as if we were in the chamber. But as my pastor once said to our congregation: “What are you going to do after the cheering stops?”

That brings me to the second event that I attended that day. It was an interfaith gathering at the National Cathedral entitled, Coming Together in Faith on Climate. It included faith leaders from about a dozen different faith traditions from Jewish to Muslim to Episcopalian, Catholic, Evangelical Christian, and AME.   It even included a sitting US Senator, Sheldon Whitehorse of RI. Imam Ebrahim Rasool summed the prevailing sentiment best telling us that the current ecological/social crisis was so threatening to our world that we needed to put aside our religious differences, as Pope Francis had said earlier in the day, and work together to address the situation. The imam reminded us that this is a moral issue with deep theological roots in all of the major world religions, be they Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu. These faith leaders then called on all people of faith everywhere to adopt this five-point strategy “to lead by example.”

  1. Engage: Engage our Congregations and Communities for Climate Solutions. Beginning today, we’re asking every person of faith to go to their house of worship as soon as possible, and speak from their heart to their clergy or spiritual leaders. We’re asking the same of clergy and spiritual leaders – to speak personally, from your heart, to your congregation. Tell them you agree with Pope Francis and a wide array of multi-faith leaders that we have a moral obligation to take action today on climate change and build a sustainable future for our children. Tell them you will lead by example to build support for climate solutions by engaging and inspiring others and take actions that will help restore a healthy atmosphere, and you hope that will lead by example too. And make sure to take this personal pledge: blessedtomorrow.org/join
  2. Energize: Form or Join a Clean Energy Group in our Faith Communities. Thousands of congregations already have active climate- and environment-oriented groups leading the way in switching to clean, renewable energy. But we need thousands more. At the site below, you’ll find links to the amazing organizations that are doing wonderful work helping congregations and individuals energize, so you can (a) maximize energy efficiency; (b) switch to clean, renewable energy for your community of faith, your home, and your neighborhood; and (c) so you can energize your people to push for needed political action. interfaithpowerandlight.org
  3. Divest/Invest: Clean up our Personal and Congregational Investments. Denominations, universities, and seminaries are divesting from fossil fuels, and investing in clean, renewable energy. Now, it’s possible for us as individuals to do so as well – transferring our personal savings, IRA’s, and other investments into companies that are part of the solution instead of part of the problem. Make your personal pledge at idivestinvest.org
  4. Vote: Make Climate One of our Top Three Issues When (Not If) We Vote. We’re asking you to demand needed action from every candidate and elected leader in every election. We’ll provide you with resources to help you learn which candidates are supporting climate change solutions, and which are ignoring or opposing them. faithinpubliclife.org
  5. Educate: Stay Informed and Educate Others. Through your social media and in-person networks, you can become a trusted source of information and inspiration for others. To stay informed and keep learning, sign up for Common Good News for regular updates: convergenceus.org/common-good-news.html

I hope you cheered the Pope’s words, but now that the cheering has died down, what are you going to do about it?


 

David Kepley

Ruling Elder and Deacon

Providence Presbyterian Church

Fairfax, VA

Kepley.david@gmail.com

The Landscape of Liturgy: Blessing of the Plants in Worship

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During September, Leanne Pearce Reed is curating a month of blog posts exploring stewardship of all creation. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Ashley Goff

(Editor’s Note: This writing first appeared on Ashley’s blog God of the Sparrow, where she writes on adventures with liturgy, yoga, urban farming, and being inspired by the Planet and its radical, creative earthly creatures. Check it out!)

Four years ago, Church of the Pilgrims started an urban garden with one raised bed. Now we have four raised beds, a root veggie garden, herb garden, large perennial bed, four beehives, and several composts. The produce grown from the garden goes to creating meals for Open Table, our Sunday lunch for hungry neighbors.

plant communion
Table. Font. Cups. Plants.

We’ve done a lot of work in these past four years in incorporating the garden into life at Pilgrims, particularly our liturgical life.

Several weeks ago, we had our spring planting day after worship. Before we plunked everything into the soil, we blessed and honored the plants in worship. How to bless the plants came out of a brainstorming session with Jess Fisher and Dana Olson, our two interns.

I preached on the Emmaus Road, focusing on “recognition” and how breaking of bread (the non-human) and community (human) push us to recognize the Holy One. I’d give this sermon a B, mostly because I was focused on communion that followed.

As part of the invitation to the table, I had people share their hopes and dreams for what they want to recognize in this Eastertide season. I stood next to the font which was in front of our table—everything surrounded by the plants we would soon plant.

Plants growing out of font and table.
Plants growing out of font and table.

We had a lime tree, olive tree, creeping thyme, tomatoes, eggplants, sunflowers, basil, cabbage, peppers, and native plants. These plants were grown by non-Monsanto seeds by Pilgrims or purchased at a farmers market from a local farm.

During Pilgrims baptismal liturgy, we share hopes and dreams for the person being baptized. Someone shares a hope and dream, then they take the pitcher and pour water into the font.

We did something similar with our “recognitions.”

I had planned to have people call out what they hope to recognize/pay attention to within themselves, Pilgrims and the planet in their pews with me pouring into the font.  Jeanne Mayer, a long time member at Pilgrims, was the first one to share. She came up, grabbed the pitcher out of my hand, shared in front of  everyone. This is the pattern in our baptism. Not sure what I was thinking…me holding the pitcher for everyone. Thankfully Jeanne pushed me out of the way.

One-by-one 10+ people shared. The recognitions focused on growth, perspective, expansiveness, and community.

Our intern, Jess Fisher, arranges the scene.
Our intern, Jess Fisher, arranges the scene.

People were then invited to come forward to our open table, singing “Come to the table of Grace”, and take a little communion cup, dip it into the font with the water full of hopes, and water the plants.

As we gathered around the table, we prayed, shared our hopes and dreams for the plants, and continued with an improv Prayer of Great Thanksgiving.

After worship, 15 of us went to our garden and planted our hopes and dreams.

 

Ashley Goff is a pastor at Church of the Pilgrims in Washington, DC and regular blogger at God of the Sparrow.