Written by Emily Mullins
The capital campaign was called "Seeds of Hope” - exactly what the Rev. Gretchen Deeg wanted to plant when she introduced the idea of becoming a carbon neutral church to her congregation. When the church achieves this goal, the building will have a net zero carbon footprint, essentially negating its environmental impact. It's a lofty endeavor for the Minneapolis-based Mayflower Church UCC, but by taking it one phase at a time, Deeg is confident they will succeed. Her members hope to inspire others to rise to the challenge.
"There are a lot of multimillion-dollar businesses out there – if a church can get this done, why can't they?” Deeg said. "As one church, we are not going to change climate change. But if we are a model of hope and we can get other churches, businesses and homes to do it, we can make a huge impact.”
Mayflower UCC became an Earthwise Congregation through the Minnesota Conference in 2009, affirming its stance as an environmentally conscious church, after a group of concerned members began promoting the importance of working to reduce climate change. Utilizing a foundation grant, the congregation then conducted a full-scale energy audit, setting the framework for a three-phase process to become fully carbon neutral by 2030. The church utilized the expertise of some of its members who are green industry professionals and groups like Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light and Architecture 2030, an organization that aims to reduce climate change by changing the way buildings are planned, designed and constructed, to ensure they were making the right choices and investments.
"A project like this could be intimidating and overwhelming if you don't have someone to help figure out how to get started, but there are great resources outside of the church,” Deeg said. "From looking at contracts and charts, and knowing what questions to ask, it can get really detailed.”
Mayflower UCC is currently in phase one of the initiative, which includes installing about 200 solar panels to create renewable energy, decreasing energy use through actions like installing light and occupancy sensors, and purchasing carbon credits to offset the nonrenewable energy leftover. Phase one will be complete by the end of next year, with planning for phases two and three to begin immediately after to stay on track for the 2030 deadline. Most of the project will be paid for through grants and incentives from state and local governments and utility company rebates. The congregation also exceeded its Seed of Hope capital campaign goal, which is not only helps financially, but also reaffirms the congregation's commitment to the idea, Deeg said.
"There is no way we could fund this work without connecting with city and state on ways to fund it,” Deeg said, adding that the solar panels alone are a $300,000 investment, but after various state incentives, they will end up paying only $30,000.
While a lot of the work so far has happened "behind the scenes,” like improving the building's heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems, Deeg says members can expect to see some more visible changes in the coming months. Contractors will be in and out of the building, and a representative from the Center for Energy and Environment, and organization that helps Minnesota homeowners and organizations reduce energy waste and save money, will give a presentation at the church Dec. 3. While everyone agrees that climate change is an issue that needs to be addressed, Deeg notes there have been some conflicting views on how to approach it and the best way to do it. But this "game of balance” is something Deeg and Mayflower UCC are willing to play to do their part as stewards of the earth.
"We know that someday our grandkids are going to ask, ‘Where were you when this was happening and climate change could be reversed?'” Deeg said. "We want to be able to say we were working to reverse it and get policies changed. We want them to be able to live in a world with safe air to breathe and water to drink where they don't have to be fearful of irreversible climate change.”
The United Church of Christ has been working for environmental justice for almost 30 years, and recognizes the opportunity for a shared mission campaign to live out our faith — in unity, as one church — for the sake of our fragile planet Earth.
With the help of UCC congregations everywhere, Mission 4/1 Earth, which begins Easter Monday 2013, hopes to accomplish more than 1 million hours of engaged earth care, 100,000 tree plantings across the globe, and 100,000 advocacy letters written and sent on environmental concerns.
Visit the Mission 4/1 Earth website for more information.