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.

An Opportunity to Re-Energize

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, we’ve asked members of our 2016 National Gathering planning team to share what especially excites them about this year’s conference, February 22-24 in Atlanta. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

by Meghan Gage-Finn

I struggled when the National Gathering planning team was asked to submit something to the blog in response to the question, “what is saving your ministry right now?” My honest response, which I didn’t think worthy of submittal, was that I am, at times, overly consumed in the minutia of ministry, and I feel caught up in the smaller details when I want to step back more regularly to see the big picture. My heart felt heavy walking with others who are caught in dark places of grief and ongoing treatment, depression, and isolation. I sensed that I was so focused on being immersed in my ministry that I couldn’t find perspective on what might be saving it. If I were truly honest with myself, I think I was worried about pursuing the question because, what if the answer was: nothing. What if nothing creative is happening in my ministry right now? What if I am following my sense of call with faith and conviction, but my ministry is not all that unique or life-changing?

Photo of the 2015 National Gathering by Chad Andrew Herring

Photo of the 2015 National Gathering by Chad Andrew Herring

Now the planning team has been asked to share what we are excited about as the National Gathering in Atlanta approaches, and I realized having NEXT on my calendar for mid-February is energizing for me, it is life-giving, and it will draw me out of my own small world of ministry and into the lives and stories of others. It gives me perspective and reminds me of the larger community of support to which I belong. I am looking forward to reconnecting with friends and building new relationships, and having challenging conversations about creating social change in our neighborhoods as leaders in the church. I am looking forward to being reminded, through worship and learning, that I am part of something bigger.

So, I wonder if someone else at NEXT will be worrying whether or not anything creative is happening in his ministry now, or if someone else is coming seeking guidance and hope and partners along the way. I wonder if a student or new pastor feels she is alone in wrestling with issues of reconciliation and justice as a person of faith. In case there are just a few others who feel questions creeping in they are avoiding answering, I’ll be there. I look forward to hearing your story, and sharing a bit of mine.

meghan gage finn

Meghan Gage-Finn serves as Executive Associate Pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church in downtown Minneapolis, and as one of the co-chairs of the 2016 National Gathering. As an avid triathlete and marathon runner, this has proven valuable training for both ministry and chasing after three children, age 5 and under.