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

Last year The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints dedicated a new meetinghouse in Farmington, Utah, that is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified, which means it was built to the construction industry’s highest environmental standards. It is completely powered by its solar panels. It also has a high-efficiency heating and cooling system, landscaping designs and plumbing fixtures that cut water use by more than 50 percent, and Low-E Solarban 70 windows that block 78 percent of the sun’s heat energy.

“It’s about creating a place of worship that works in harmony with the environment,” said H. David Burton, who was at the time the presiding bishop of the LDS Church, responsible for the physical facilities of the church. “For decades we have looked for innovative ways to use natural resources in our meetinghouses that reflect our commitment as wise stewards of God’s creations.”

Like the solar panels installed at the Unitarian Church and the Christ United Methodist Church, the environmental elements of the Farmington meetinghouse came at a significant price. But Dean Davies, managing director of the LDS Physical Facilities Department, said “because they have lower operating costs and longer life cycles, in the long run they are better for us and better for the environment.”

The solar panels on the Farmington LDS meetinghouse save an estimated $6,000 in energy costs annually, Davies said. That is consistent with Goldsmith’s findings at the Unitarian Church. He said “having solar panels is like having a $500 contribution every month.”

Caring for the needy

In addition to reducing the financial strain on churches, thus allowing them to spend more money on other elements of their respective ministries, wise environmental stewardship also helps faith groups in one of their most vital responsibilities: caring for the poor and the needy.

“So much of what happens as a result of climate change affects those who are least able to respond,” Soleil said. “The poor, the elderly, the sick — every faith feels responsibility for them. As the world experiences the harmful impacts that surely result from climate change, what are we going to do about those who are already struggling to take care of themselves?”

She referred to a pastoral statement from the U.S. Catholic Conference, indicating that “it is the poor and the powerless who most directly bear the burden of current environmental carelessness.”

“Global climate change is one of the largest and most-important issues facing all people,” said the Most Reverend Katherine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, who was trained as a scientist with a doctorate in oceanography before she entered the ministry in her 40s.

“If we take seriously our own tradition’s teaching about interconnectedness, we cannot fail to see that poverty and hopelessness is intimately linked to climate change,” she continued. “We must challenge the world to do what we can to minimize its effects on the least of us.”

And that is the essence of Interfaith Power & Light’s mission and objective: challenging the religious world to do what it can — faith group by faith group, and individual by individual.

“What I focus on in my ministry is that every single one of our behaviors counts,” Rev. Bingham, the organization’s founder, said. “The electricity we’re using, the coffee we’re drinking, the car we’re driving. At the deepest level, we matter — and our behavior matters.”

Especially when those behaviors can be altered and shaped by bands of believers who care about creation and about their stewardship for it.

“I believe in my heart of hearts," Soleil said, "that people of faith can help move us to where we need to be in order to save this planet from ourselves.”

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