Across the UCC: Getting a green light on saving the planet

Across the UCC: Getting a green light on saving the planet

May 31, 2009
Written by Daniel Hazard

More than 30 church members and community service volunteers helped transfrom the garden at Brea UCC. Photos furnished.
Sustainable landscaping reduces church's water use

Brea (Calif.) Congregational UCC is committed to caring for God's earth, and is showcasing its commitment in the northwest portion of the church grounds.

The church has eliminated all the grass in the corner area, and has begun transforming it into an area of pathways adorned by plants, shrubs and trees that are drought-tolerant and native to California. By planting a water-wise garden, Moderator Dennis Arp estimates the church's yearly water usage will be quelled by 40,000 gallons.

"Water usage to irrigate lawns is becoming a big concern, especially in the southwest," says Arp. "It doesn't make a whole lot of sense anymore."

More than 30 church members and community service volunteers helped transfrom the garden at Brea UCC, including (above, left) Claudia Morales and her mother Maria. Photos furnished.
Arp and the church's green committee did extensive research and employed the assistance of landscape architects to lend their expertise. Arp knew they were doing the right thing when he realized that many of the landscape architects had similar such landscaping at their own homes.

"One of the women who worked at the nursery mentioned her own yard," tells Arp. "She said that last year, she watered only twice during the summer." Since the region gets very little rain between May through September, using gallons and gallons of water just to keep the lawn green doesn't reflect good stewardship of the earth's resources.

To offset the cost of the new landscaping, which includes Western Redbuds, California Live Oak and Manzanita bushes, church members have been given the opportunity to sponsor plants. "People see it as a way to memorialize loved ones," says Arp. "We have nice plaques engraved, and people take ownership and have a deeper connection with the project."

The Rev. Rick Marshall, pastor of Brea Congregational UCC, and his wife, Ann, have already done the same type of sustainable landscaping in their own front yard. Arp says he and several other church members also have plans to follow suit.

More than 30 church members and community service volunteers helped transfrom the garden at Brea UCC, including (above, right) 4-year-old Nikki and Harlen Matlock, 85, who has been a member of the church for almost 50 years. Photos furnished.
While creation-friendly teaching is going on inside the church walls, Arp says the optimal location of the church building affords the perfect opportunity to lead by example in the community.

"We're on a corner, and it's a very visible spot on Imperial Highway," he says. "We want to make this a very visible element of our ministry, and try to give it a showcase. Hopefully, one of the next steps as we go forward is to be a resource for others who want to do their lawns or residences in the same way, in the same spirit."

In keeping with their new, creation-friendly garden, Brea Congregational UCC has made changes inside the building as well.

The recently renovated meeting hall, which hosts a shelter project twice a year, has more efficient fixtures in the bathrooms. Better insulation and the installation of an attic fan make it easier to keep the building cool without having to use air conditioning.

The church's former pew Bibles have been donated to other organizations and replaced with the Green Bible (HarperCollins), a Bible printed on recycled paper with a soy-based ink and a cotton/linen cover.

The Green Bible uses green print to highlight all passages that pertain to caring for God's creation.

Church inhabits certifiably green building

After years of meeting in schools and gymnasiums, Umstead Park UCC in Raleigh, N.C., finally has a place to call its own. Located in an industrial complex, it's not your typical church building, but it has something that most churches don't: a Gold Standard rating from LEED: Leaders in Energy and Environmental Design.

Issued by the U.S. Green Building Council, the LEED certification is awarded on a points-based system that evaluates energy efficiency.

"Many buildings and architectural firms across the country are striving for this," says the Rev. Doug Long, pastor of Umstead Park UCC. "Just to be certified is a big deal. And we are one of the first churches in the country to receive the gold level."

LEED certification is awarded at three levels: silver, gold and platinum.

Umstead UCC partnered with an architectural firm that shares the now-renovated space with the church. The building formerly housed a home healthcare agency.
The Umstead Park UCC building, built in the 1990s as a home healthcare agency, sat dormant for six years before the congregation purchased it for renovation.

"We were able to do [the renovation] at a relatively low price, because of the way we partnered with an architectural design firm," explains Long. "They own half the building, and we renovated it together. We share a common space, a common bathroom, common parking. All of that was helpful in receiving the LEED certification as well."

The renovation project received points for innovative design, building reuse and construction waste management; energy efficient systems for water and heating and cooling also earned the church high marks, along with the use of low-emitting paints and carpets, and use of daylight. Thoughtful planning for vehicle maximization in the parking lot, and designation for bicycle storage and changing rooms, helped earn the gold level certification.

"We're not trying to pat ourselves on the back," emphasizes Long. "But, hopefully, it will provide an opportunity for other churches to see that they can do these things, which are recognized as environmentally helpful."

After all, Long says, he and the congregation are just pleased to be in the first building they can call their own. "A new building provides opportunities for ministries," says Long. "There are a number of people who probably would try you out as a church, but if you're meeting in a school or a gymnasium, it doesn't afford that kind of feel of permanence that they're looking for. So the building actually makes us much more viable."

To learn more about LEED certification, visit

'Earth Churches' go for the green

For many churches, caring for the earth goes well beyond Earth Day. And changing old habits and learning new ones takes a conscious, daily effort.

Richmond Beach Congregational UCC in Shoreline, Wash., became a green church a few years ago, after completing a greening process with Earth Ministry, an ecumenical and interfaith organization based in Seattle. The Rev. Joy Haertig says Earth Ministry offers education and activities that "helped the church get over that first hump of making [environmentally friendly practices] a very intentional commitment."

Haertig says the church is committed to buying environmentally safe cleaning supplies, and church members regularly work at a nearby beach, pulling out invasive weeds and replanting the area with bushes and trees.
Pilgrim Congregational UCC in Chattanooga, Tenn., has declared itself an Earth Church by making a covenant to incorporate earth-friendly practices in all they do.

Both churches have done recent renovations on their facilities, installing energy efficient windows, lighting and bathroom fixtures. In Chattanooga, energy efficient light bulbs, for sale at cost, are available for purchase after Sunday morning worship. Materials and special speakers are part of both churches' ongoing challenge to learn more about recycling, gardening, food consumption and other earth-friendly practices.

The Rev. Dan Brown of Pilgrim Congregational UCC feels being an Earth Church is just a natural part of God's calling: "From a biblical and theological point of view, we've been set here as stewards of the earth. We're responsible for one another as human beings, but part of our expression of love for one another is our commitment to love the earth on which we all live."

Haertig agrees. "I have such a strong sense that we are all interconnected, from creation to all human beings across the planet," she says. "The way we live makes such a huge difference on whether insects live or whether rivers continue to flow. It seems very much a part of our faith, in our call to be good stewards."


Please review our Community Guidelines before posting a comment. If you have any questions, contact us.

Section Menu

Contact Info