United By Faith goes ‘green’
The GreenFaith Certification Program and Lutherans Restoring Creation are helping ELCA congregations broaden their view of what they can undertake and accomplish through energy conservation efforts.
By Johan Bergh
When you are baptized into Christ at United By Faith Lutheran Church in Evergreen Park, Ill., you are literally baptized into the world! The baptismal font in the sanctuary at United By Faith is a beautiful bowl with the earth’s seas and continents adorning its surface. Entering life in Christ in this way certainly reflects the theology and mission values of this congregation that entered the GreenFaith Certification Program in December 2012 and is now well on its way to completing the two-year environmental program.
With a Creation Team of three people, Sunday worship attendance averaging 25 and Frank Showers serving as their pastor, United By Faith is a testimony to the ability of congregations of any size being able to take on the wonderful and challenging work of congregational earth-keeping. The GreenFaith Certification Program has given the congregation the tools to formulate and execute an achievable plan that fits their community and needs.
Why would an ELCA congregation follow in United By Faith’s footsteps and choose to participate in the GreenFaith Certification Program? Try these reasons on for size. You can:
- Save money through energy conservation and environmental improvements.
- Attract members with news stories and programs that involve the entire community.
- Receive invaluable guidance, resources and support.
- Accomplish more extensive projects related to care of creation and energy conservation.
- Join a growing interfaith movement.
A greening effort with many facets
United By Faith has made significant strides in the stewardship of resources component of certification, most notably by starting up a CommUnity Garden that now has 21 large planter boxes, many rented by community residents and five that are designated for veterans and the congregation’s food pantry recipients.
“In the CommUnity Garden, more than any other place, I feel God at work,” says garden coordinator Robin Huiras. “It’s a micro-universe of diversity and interdependency that serves as a model for the world at large. A singular plant or flower is beautiful and has function, but it’s the cooperation of the plants and animals that live among them that allow for growth and progress. Similarly, one person can live God’s mission, but it’s the cooperation of many that truly affect change.”
In an effort to reduce their carbon footprint, United By Faith purchases electricity from a renewable energy source and is working with their electric utility company toward installing solar panels. They have completed an energy audit and are searching for energy efficiency grant funds to replace windows in their day-care center, changing cleaning products to toxic-free versions, and more.
Healthy food education is a vital part of United By Faith’s work: a planting event for the day-care center’s 3- to 5-year-olds (growing plants from seed, weeding and harvesting), more fresh vegetables for the day-care center and food pantries, and master gardeners teaching horticultural practices. Recently, United By Faith launched a six-month healthy eating program in the congregation and held two healthy eating events for their confirmands, including three other confirmation programs from congregations in the neighborhood.
More than a project: a year-round commitment
Significant for United By Faith is the year-round focus on care of creation in their worship life, including regular preaching on the topic and the dedication of September as Creation Month, with each week during the month showcasing a celebratory “green” banner.
Another part of their overall creation-care work was the development of an outdoor prayer labyrinth that is used by congregation and community members to enhance their spiritual life while connecting to nature. The community is also invited to the congregation’s Fall Harvest Festival highlighting creation-care ministries.
Frank has seen community members enter the United By Faith spaces at various times and just walk around enjoying the displays. Bonnie Osborne, team leader for the congregation’s Creation Team, said, “We at United By Faith are thrilled to provide a place of respite and beauty for our community, and we hope the word continues to spread that this special place is open to all wherever they are on their journey.”
Assistance and resources for congregations
With so many possibilities and so much being accomplished, how does the congregation keep track of it all, not get overwhelmed and make progress that fits with their goals and capacity? The answer: the interfaith GreenFaith Certification Program. Organized with plenty of program and staff support when needed, the program provides an excellent vehicle for congregations to make creation care a vital part of God’s mission in their congregation and community.
Currently, GreenFaith provides a 50 percent reduction in the program fee for ELCA congregations. In order to assist ELCA congregations with this certification, Lutherans Restoring Creation works with congregational leaders to make use of the wide range of resources Lutherans Restoring Creation provides. For more information on the program, you can call 407-353-2006 or go to the Lutherans Restoring Creation or the GreenFaith Certification Program websites.
Johan Bergh, pastor of St. Philip Lutheran Church in Mt. Dora, Fla., is a GreenFaith Fellow and serves as Lutherans Restoring Creation coach for the GreenFaith Certification Program.