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Energy efficiency sends message of stewardship

Bikes help save energy

From bike racks to gardens, congregations can give testimony to their green values.

Pastors know all too well that large, historic church buildings, beautiful as they are, aren’t cheap to heat and cool. That’s why the Interfaith Coalition on Energy has provided tips on how to design an energy-efficient place of worship.

Andrew Rudin, energy management consultant for the coalition, said becoming energy efficient is crucial for religious organizations, not only for environmental reasons, but for ministry reasons as well.

“Lowering energy costs frees up dollars to use for better purposes,” he said.

The coalition suggests that congregations building new worship areas avoid electric heating, insulate all steam and hot water pipes, and use programmable thermostats.

Michael Schut, economic and environmental affairs officer for the Episcopal Church, said there are additional considerations churches should keep in mind when erecting a new structure. Hiring a LEED certified architect should be first on the list. LEED, or Leadership in Energy or Environmental Design, is a U.S. government rating system to encourage environmentally friendly building practices.

“It’s great to get someone who knows what are generally lower impact materials and how heating and lighting works most efficiently,” said Schut.

Churches making environmental changes can also expect large tax breaks.

Schut said that more and more places of worship are moving in this direction, adding that the movement is often lead by lay people.

“It seems to me that folks are becoming more aware that ecological concerns are related to faith,” he said.

He noted that the appearance of a place of worship could also be a message to the community. It speaks loudly if the structure matches the landscape, and if the church has bike racks available for commuters, or a community garden, which he said is becoming more popular.

When this happens, the place of worship itself becomes a testimony, he said.

“I think, ideally, the building could be place of a beauty in many different ways,” Schut said. “It can be an indication that we’re actually part of something larger than the human world and larger than that individual sanctuary.”

He also recommends worship spaces with lots of windows so members can be connected with the outdoors at all times.

Congregations that can’t afford major renovations can still make a big impact with smaller changes, from sealing windows and using fluorescent light bulbs to serving Fair Trade coffee in clay mugs, and printing shorter bulletins to save paper.

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