When Jodi Perras wanted to
start a group focused on environmental stewardship at her church in 2006, there
was little resistance. The proposal passed unanimously in the church council.
But problems arose when it came to implementing changes.
When the church did an energy
audit of the four buildings it owns, Perras' team discovered a seldom-used
meeting house was using twice the amount of energy as the pastor's house, which
was occupied by four people.
The meeting house badly needed
insulation, but there were some in the church who didn't think the job was
worth the money. Eventually the church moved forward on the upgrade anyway;
turns out, it made a big difference.
"Through different things
that we did — we really saw the energy bills drop," said Perras, chair of
the Green Team at Epworth United Methodist Church, on Indianapolis' northeast
side. "And then people said, 'Oh, this is saving money. This is helping. What
we're doing is actually helping.'"
The church has since become
something of a meeting point for environmental activism and spiritual
sustenance. It hosts environmental film nights, recycles, has cut its energy
use and has been active politically, writing to Sens. Richard Lugar and Evan
Bayh about climate change — an issue its leaders view as a moral one, not
It's the kind of awakening a
new organization hopes to bring to more congregations throughout Indiana.
Change of faith
Last Saturday, leaders from
16 Christian denominations, along with Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, and
Unitarian leaders, gathered at First Baptist Church of Indianapolis to
celebrate the inauguration of Hoosier Interfaith Power & Light. The
organization is an affiliate of the national Interfaith Power & Light (IPL)
organization, founded in 1998, which considers itself the "religious response
to global warming."
Its goal is to educate
religious congregations on energy efficiency, renewable energy, and
"The first goal of Hoosier
Interfaith Power & Light is to reduce our carbon use, our energy use,
within our places of worship," explained Luke Gascho, board chair of the new
organization and director of the Merry Lea Environmental Center at Goshen
College, to the gathering of about 200 Indiana church leaders.
But Gascho said it shouldn't
stop there. He wanted to see worshippers take that idea home and to the
workplace, as well.
"We have goals that relate to
education, relating to energy use, climate change," he said. "We also believe
that it's important that we practice timely sharing of information in advocacy
networks across the state, so that we can have change occur in our policies."
Gascho and other religious
leaders like him have their work cut out for them. Historically, Indiana hasn't
had much to cheer for when it comes to the environment, and this year has been
Indiana is the 4th
largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the U.S, and with "Right-to-Work,"
education, gay marriage, immigration, and myriad other issues atop the
statehouse priority list, legislation to improve Indiana's environment hasn't
received much attention.
This year environmentalists
might have to rely on faith for some good news — people of faith that
is.And there's reason to believe
that Hoosier Interfaith Power & Light isn't just a feel-good gesture.
"[Indiana] is going to be one
of the most important IPL programs in the U.S.," Rev. Sally Bingham, IPL's
founder and president, told Saturday's crowd. "The fact that you all are living
in a purple, sometimes red, state is important. It is precisely the people here
that need to understand that our issue is not about Republican, Democrat, Tea
Party people, or Independents.
"This is a spiritual issue.
And it's up to each and every one of us to make decisions that will be helpful
in deciding the future for our children and our grandchildren."
Before she got involved with
IPL, Perras said she had seen the success a church congregation could have with
educating people about environmental stewardship.
"I've been working in the environmental
field for a lot of years, and it was really when I started working in my
congregation that I felt like I could really have an impact on people's lives,"
she said. "Because it's not the government telling you what to do, it's not
some environmental group telling you what to do, it's your own faith community
saying we do this because it's right, because we shouldn't be treating the
earth this way, and that's what our faith tells us."
Neighbor's success is
something to love
Hoosier Interfaith Power
& Light is in its infancy as an organization, but it is already providing
guidance for churches that want to save energy. For example, the group has
devised a "Task of the Month" program, which gives congregations one
energy-saving task to complete each month — making an otherwise
overwhelming task seem more manageable.
But perhaps most important:
the organization acts as something of a support group for faith communities
that are interested in sustainability. The hope is that those interested won't
have to feel alone in a state where the issue isn't necessarily a popular one.
As an affiliate of a larger
nationwide organization, Hoosier Interfaith Power & Light has plenty of
successful examples to look to. And it need not look further than the Illinois
affiliate, Faith in Place.
The Illinois organization has
been around for 12 years and currently partners with over 700 congregations in
the state. Part of its success, according to executive director, Rev. Dr. Clare
Butterfield, is its ability to reach communities with which environmentalists
have otherwise failed to connect.
"Our group of participants
doesn't look like the usual suspects when you think of what an environmentalist
looks like," she said. "It's much more diverse geographically, racially,
religiously, even in age."
One of Faith in Place's
programs trains African-American youth in Chicago to install low-cost
weatherization kits — which include energy saving tools like door strips
and window plastic — in the homes of elderly people in their
neighborhoods.Last year they
installed over 700 kits.
It's this ability to combine
the message of the environmental movement with faith that allows IPL
organizations to reach a larger community than the environmental movement has
been able to traditionally reach.
The connection was difficult
for people to make at first, said Rev. Butterfield.
"I think [the connection]
happens much more easily now," she said. "Many more denominations are making
this an active part of their ministry, but I think it takes people who are
committed people of faith, who are from within the faith community and not
simply trying to deploy the faith community to serve an environmental agenda."
Illinois's example is a
powerful one. But as committed church leaders move forward here in Indiana,
they ultimately need look no further than their own faith — which asks
practitioners to care for the Earth as a core part of their spiritual duty.
"Every mainstream religion
that I know of has a mandate to care for the earth," said Interfaith Power
& Light's founder Rev. Bingham. "For Christians who are commanded to love
God and love our neighbors, it could not be clearer... If you love your neighbor,
love one another, you don't pollute your neighbor's air and water."