Eco-spirituality: Utah faith groups ask question, 'Who do we think we are?' about environment

Published: Friday, Nov. 2 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

The First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City has recently added solar panels to roof of the church as a statement of its environmental commitment.

Courtesy First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City

As far as the Rev. Tom Goldsmith is concerned, it’s all about humility.

“The earth and its limited resources are not there to satisfy our selfish demands,” said the minister of 25 years, who leads the First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City. “Who do we think we are?”

The question is worth considering — especially for people of faith, says the Rev. Sally Bingham, the Episcopal priest who founded Interfaith Power & Light more than a decade ago as a faith-based effort at environmental stewardship.

“If we say we love God, we are required to save God’s creation,” says Bingham, who became a priest in her late 40s specifically because she wanted to have an environmental ministry. “How can you listen to the second commandment — which is to love your neighbor as yourself — and then pollute your neighbor’s air?”

Susan Soleil, executive director of the Utah affiliate for Interfaith Power & Light, agreed, adding that “creation care is in every single sacred text.”

“Whether your beliefs focus on creation by God or on some other Great Spirit,” Soleil said, “there are tenets urging believers to take care of what has been created.”

Interfaith Power & Light was formed in California in 1998 as a way of bringing all that belief together in a shared effort to care for creation by uniting faith with action.

“By getting the interfaith community involved, we hope that environmental issues will become de-politicized,” said Rev. Goldsmith, who recently led a successful fundraising effort to have solar panels installed on his First Unitarian Church. “Our human relationship with the earth needs to change drastically, and we see this as a spiritual issue."


“Good stewardship (of the earth) should be – and is – evolving into the premier religious issue of our time,” Goldsmith said. “By installing solar panels on the roof of the church, we hope this message is gaining clarity.”

In order to help that message gain clarity, Soleil and the rest of the 30-member Utah Interfaith Power & Light team are focusing on energy conservation, energy efficiency and shifting toward renewable energy in an to be better stewards of the earth.

“We offer energy audits of congregational buildings, workshops and speakers and we occasionally stage public events to heighten awareness of our mission,” Soleil said. “But what it comes down to is each faith group asking, ‘What are we going to do about this?’”

For the Unitarians, it was putting up those solar panels. Same for the Christ United Methodist Church in Salt Lake City, which also installed solar panels in 2010. The church raised $50,000 toward its photovoltaic array, and then received a Blue Sky grant for matching funds from Rocky Mountain Power.

Other congregations have chosen to go on an energy diet, through which they will lose 5,000 pounds of carbon output in a month.

“We do a workshop that shows how houses of worship and individual congregants can go on a low carbon diet,” Soleil said. “There are steps you can take, individually and collectively, that really make a difference. This isn’t just about recycling and composting. We look at how you travel, how you function as individuals and as congregations, eating vegetarian one or two days a week.

“If just one person does these things, it may not make much of a difference,” she acknowledged. “But if an entire community of faith comes together to take care of the earth in these simple ways, it really starts to add up.”

Harmony with the environment

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