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Finding common ground on climate change

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Michigan Interfaith Power & Light invites Michigan UMCs to join a free webinar on November 1 to learn about this trusted partnership with Michigan churches and how they can help churches navigate sustainability options to become better stewards of their property and cut utility costs. 

Content Editor

The effects of climate change are daunting and dire, and as people of faith, we often struggle to know how best to respond. As caretakers of aging church buildings, we know firsthand that our electrical, heating, and cooling systems are not energy efficient or sustainable. Many of our buildings need renovations, but church budgets are strapped.

The good news is that there are ways to put together a plan to improve the sustainability of our United Methodist church buildings and to cut costs wherever possible so that more money can be used for mission and ministry in our communities, things that matter most.

Michigan Interfaith Power & Light (Michigan IPL) is a trusted partner committed to helping our United Methodist churches navigate these challenges and create a plan that incorporates simple tasks that are doable with the resources available to them. Their mission is grounded in faith-based values that speak to us as United Methodists and our beliefs in loving and caring for our God-given resources, becoming better stewards, and seeking justice for all.

Michigan IPL has consulted with over 150 Michigan United Methodist churches since 2015, and they want to continue this partnership with our conference. They invite churches that do not know about their services or have not utilized them yet to join their staff in an interactive “Climate Conversations” webinar on November 1, 2022, from 6:30 to 8:00 pm.

During the webinar, participants will learn how Michigan IPL can assist churches with setting up an energy assessment of their facilities so that congregations become better aware of their energy footprint. This is one of the best first steps Michigan United Methodist churches can take. Staff from Michigan IPL will also explain other money-saving resources that are available.

Those attending the webinar will engage in a heart-centered dialogue about the climate crisis facing us, especially as it relates to Michigan. What are the issues facing United Methodists right now? Churches will be inspired to take action. They will also be better equipped to facilitate climate conversations within their congregations and to motivate out of love.

Finding Moral Common Ground

Michigan IPL is part of the national Interfaith Power & Light network of 40 state affiliates, with the goal of having IPL programs in every U.S. state. Their founding is rooted in creative collaborations with people of faith on justice issues related to climate change.

Michigan IPL’s mission as an advocacy nonprofit is founded on a desire “to inspire and equip people of faith to exercise stewardship of and love for all Creation.” They seek to guide individuals and congregations of all faiths to claim the shared moral and ethical mandate to care for our earthly home, address climate change, and live into more sustainable practices.

These shared values are mirrored in our United Methodist Social Principles and statements in the Book of Resolutions. This moral and ethical common ground Michigan IPL and The United Methodist Church stand on makes them fitting partners in this ongoing advocacy work.

God has entrusted us all, as human beings, with the stewardship of the whole earth. And as United Methodists, we believe and affirm that “God’s whole earth has inherent value and our use of these precious gifts, including energy resources, must balance the needs of human development with the needs of non-human creation and future generations” (Book of Resolutions, Caring for Creation: A Call to Stewardship and Justice, #1033).

Our United Methodist Social Principles call us to “meet these stewardship duties through acts of loving care and respect” (¶160, preamble). This means that “we are committed to approaching creation, energy production, and especially creation’s resources in a responsible, careful and economic way. We call upon all to take measures to save energy” (¶160, B).

One practical way that United Methodist churches can take their roles as caretakers of creation seriously is by encouraging “all institutions to perform energy audits, improve energy efficiency, and utilize clean, renewable energy sources where available” (Book of Resolutions, “Caring for Creation: A Call to Stewardship and Justice,” #1033).

In a related “Energy Policy Statement,” General Conference voted to encourage churches and annual conferences to model energy conservation “by doing such things as: installing dampers in furnaces, insulating adequately all church properties, heating and lighting only rooms that are in use, using air circulation, purchasing energy efficient appliances, and exploring alternative energy sources such as solar energy” (Book of Resolutions, #1001).

This statement also urged local churches “to become involved in programs such as the Energy Stewardship Congregation and Interfaith Power & Light programs, thereby witnessing our shared values of justice and sustainability” (“Energy Policy Statement,” #1001).

Michigan United Methodists are invited to trust this shared common ground and consider the partnership invitation from Michigan IPL to explore the possibilities of becoming better stewards and models of conservation as communities of faith and light.

Helping Churches Navigate the Sustainability Options

Church building projects focused on energy conservation improvements can be intimidating for United Methodist congregations with very few volunteers and experienced persons on staff. Michigan IPL can help churches find resources and put a plan together and into action.

According to its mission, Michigan IPL offers United Methodist congregations “practical ways to put faith into action by promoting energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other sustainable practices that lead to a cleaner, healthier, and more just world.”

Michigan IPL has built healthy relationships with power and gas companies within the state and acts as a facilitator of sorts, fostering relationships and mediating conversations with faith communities and helping them assess their current situation and make wiser choices.

One way Michigan IPL can assist churches is by working with them to conduct a free energy assessment by using their Light the Way program. To date for 2022, 28 United Methodist churches have utilized this program to improve their facilities and get many free upgrades. A church interested in this program must be a Consumers Energy customer and own its own building. But even if a church does not qualify, they can reach out to Michigan IPL for help. There are often discounts and rebates that are available, with no restrictions.

Being able to trim energy costs and make simple improvements are ways churches can act in faith. “We know [Light the Way energy assessments] help congregations spend less on bills and more on the things that matter,” says Leah Wiste, Michigan IPL’s Executive Director.

United Methodist churches are becoming models of conservation in the state of Michigan. Several stories have already been told in this previously published article. And three recent examples of United Methodist churches in action include Flint: Calvary UMC, rural Arenac Christ UMC north of Bay City, and Traverse City: Central UMC.

Flint: Calvary UMC used Michigan IPL to do an energy assessment on their aging building. Rev. Greg Timmons and Flint: Calvary are now saving $950 a year on energy expenses with free efficiency upgrades from Michigan IPL’s Light the Way program. Pastor Timmons reported that they plan to use the savings to create a computer lab in the church basement.

Through several grants from Consumers Energy and over the course of several applications, Flint: Calvary has replaced all of the lights in their facility, both inside and outside the building, as well as most of their faucet aerators. According to Mark Raymond, church administrator, “The good people at Michigan Interfaith Power & Light have, more than once, pointed us to and connected us with energy-saving programs and grants [that have saved] us untold hundreds and possibly thousands of dollars in utility costs over the past five years.”

The facilities at Arenac Christ UMC, on the shores of Saginaw Bay, were assessed in December 2021. Michigan IPL contacted the church, explaining the Light the Way program and how it assisted with lowering electric bills through the simple process of providing free LED lighting and free programmable thermostats. After the energy assessment was completed, the church received a detailed report outlining what energy-savings items were installed during the assessment, a summary of estimated energy and cost savings as a result, and recommendations for further energy-savings opportunities.

During the assessment at Arenac Christ UMC, the church received complimentary installation of over $640 worth of efficiency products. As a result of the recommendations in the assessment report, the church also took action to replace 52 four-foot fluorescent bulbs with tubular LEDs, making the entire facility run off 100% LED lighting. As well, Michigan IPL was able to connect Arenac Christ with a program that provided the lighting at a 45% discount. Going forward, the new lights are projected to last 25,000 hours, or more than 10 years, and lower the electric bill by at least $400 annually.

Pastor Russ Poirier commented, “As people of faith, we are not consumers; we are contributors who engage, support, pray, and serve. It is part of our calling to provide concrete and tangible expressions of our faith in every area of life, including care for God’s creation.”

For several years, Traverse City: Central UMC has worked diligently to become better stewards of their 100-year-old building and make it more sustainable and less costly to operate. According to Sandra O’Niel, board of trustees’ chairperson, “God calls us to be good stewards of the earth, and we at Central are working in many ways to care for and protect our world.”

Michigan IPL helped Traverse City: Central identify areas of improvement. To date, the church has completed an impressive list of upgrades, including installing new windows and doors, improving insulation and caulking around windows and doors to minimize air leakage, installing smart controls on the boilers and recalibrating all thermostats throughout the building, and installing motion detectors in exit stairwells so the lights are only on when being used.

These improvements were made over the course of a few years to spread out the expense. They received bids from several contractors, but their custodians and Creation Stewards Ministry Team were able to complete some of the work themselves. In the hope that these measures would be a catalyst for broader change, they educated members of the congregation about the importance of energy conservation and showed by example how it is done.

These are three recent examples of practical ways—some very simple and affordable—Michigan United Methodist churches can partner with Michigan IPL and utilize their experience and services to become better stewards and work to make their buildings more sustainable.

To register for the November 1 webinar on “Climate Conversations” and learn more about Michigan IPL’s services and how to begin conversations in your church, click this secure link.

To learn more about how your faith community can take practical actions to exercise earth stewardship, sign up to receive Michigan IPL’s e-newsletter.

For more information or to inquire about the Light the Way program, contact Jennifer Young, Michigan IPL Energy Programs Manager, at [email protected] or 248-463-8811.

Last Updated on October 31, 2023

The Michigan Conference