Eco-Journey is the blog of the Environmental Ministries Office of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). It includes a wide array of environmental topics: upcoming environmental events, links to interesting articles and studies, information on environmental advocacy, eco-theology topics, and success stories from churches that are going “green.”
Author Rebecca Barnes is the Associate for Environmental Ministries at the PC(USA). She is a graduate of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary with an MDiv and Master of Arts in Religion (MAR) dual degree.
Earth care activities at Swarthmore Presbyterian Church (SPC) took root in the passion and commitment of its members. One of the founding members of the Earth Care team works for the EPA and used her knowledge to help frame a recommendation to Session that established environmental stewardship as a priority observed by all SPC groups. Like other Earth Care Congregations, this church’s certification 5 years ago reflected strides made in worship, education, facilities, and outreach that reflect their care and respect for God’s creation, and they continue each year to find new ways to be more efficient and resourceful.
For many years now, an ad hoc group of church members referred to as “H.O.E.” (holy order of environmentalists!), has served as volunteer gardeners doing what they can for the church grounds. There is a conscious effort to keep plants healthy without using strong chemicals. In both the church’s memorial garden and on the rest of its grounds, volunteers and staff help ensure that gardening is as “green” as possible.
Facilities Manager, Morton Bell, reports that “This year, and every year, we create a capital budget for long-term projects. One of the areas we want to concentrate on is our HVAC equipment and its efficiency.” The church recently hired a consultant to review how the church is doing on this front and what they might do in the future to create more efficiency. 2014 has seen the installation of ductless, high-efficiency air-conditioning in key areas (a chapel and a large multipurpose room) to make them accessible year-round.
SPC is also in the process of installing interior storm windows. “The heat loss was great in the old-fashioned casement windows, so these new storm windows should help tremendously,” Bell explains. The new windows will go in the chapel and multiple classrooms, including those used by the active community preschool (70-80 children typically enrolled) housed in the church.
Recently, a private trash hauler provided SPC with a separate dumpster just for recycling. The church had long provided recycling (glass, paper, aluminum); however, until recently volunteers took it weekly to the local recycling center.
Another relatively new aspect of SPC’s earth care ministry is the bike-to-church program. Bell says, “Swarthmore is a walkable community and people like to bike.” Last year, as part of an Eagle Scout project, several bike racks were installed. Every Sunday (in good weather) stickers proclaiming “I walked (biked/carpooled) to church today” are available at several church entrances and green travelers encouraged to wear them.
One of SPC’s community outreach efforts is the leasing and exterior maintenance of a house that the church owns for a program that provides housing and educational support to youth from underserved communities. Recently, the church helped to upgrade the facility, redoing the entire roof and having insulation blown in. This greatly increases energy efficiency and creates a much more comfortable environment for the house parents, who live on the third floor!
For the last four years, the congregation has helped to organize a community-wide environmental fair that featured a variety of green vendors and promoted recycling, gardening, and multiple things to do for the environment. While this did not happen in 2014, it is seen as a strong legacy of the environmental stewardship committee, and SPC continues to have several church volunteers active in community efforts of this nature.
Swarthmore Presbyterian Church is now teaming up with a local environmental group who will help them re-activate their account with the EPA Portfolio Manager so they can track and make progress on their energy efficiency. The interns will load data from the past three years of utility usage and then mentor church volunteers on how to keep up with the system.
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There are currently 140 certified PCUSA Earth Care Congregations. For the initial year of certification, each church fills out a congregational audit, gains session approval of an “Earth Care pledge,” and has an earth care team of some sort. This first year of certification often means that a church has been working to integrate care for God’s creation into its ministry for a number of months or years prior to certifying. Each additional year of recertification requires the congregation to both continue and to grow their efforts at integrating creation care into the life of the church. Begun in 2010, this PCUSA certification program has 14 churches now entering their 5th year of certification.
The "5th year certified" churches are: Light Street Presbyterian Church (Baltimore, MD), Trinity Presbyterian Church (East Brunswick, NJ), Bardstown Road Presbyterian Church (Louisville, KY), Church of Reconciliation (Chapel Hill, NC), Montevallo Presbyterian Church (Montevallo, AL), St. Andrews Presbyterian Church (Tucker, GA), Second Presbyterian Church (Little Rock, AR), Maryland Presbyterian Church (Towson, MD), First Presbyterian Church of Howard County (Columbia, MD), North Como Presbyterian Church (Roseville, MN), First Presbyterian Church (Cottage Grove, OR), Swarthmore Presbyterian Church (Swarthmore, PA), St. Andrews Presbyterian Church (Kilmarnock, VA) and Frame Memorial Presbyterian Church (Stevens Point, WI).