Four Practices of Sustainability and Vitality
Claremont United Church of Christ has found vitality in practices that embody their commitment to care for God’s creation. The pastors and two members of the church share about four of undertakings that literally bore fruit in some instances:
#1 God’s Garden Sharing Cart by Cecilia Salomon
It started as a seed of an idea. If we like growing fruits and vegetables, thought the committee, there must be others in the congregation that are as passionate about gardening as we were. But wait, maybe those who do not or cannot have a garden can reap the benefits of what others have in abundance. Hence, “The Sharing Cart” idea was born. ‘Give some, take some’ was the motto. The cart was built by a Sustainability Committee Member and made its debut in June of 2019. Fruits and vegetables abounded; squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs, lemons, apples, kumquats, and much more filled the cart on Sundays. Churchgoers shared recipes that matched produce they had brought to share. Committee members posted helpful hints on gardening sustainability. The children were curious about the cart’s treasures and laughed in delight as they asked if they could take some home. God’s Garden has truly been a blessing to our church.
#2 Inviting our Children into Sustainability by Pastors Jen Strickland and Jacob Buchholz
Sustainability is such an important value in our congregation that we wanted to make sure that we were teaching the children in our congregation about the importance of caring for our shared planet. Each year, several of our children’s messages during the services highlight the themes of creation care. Our Vacation Bible School in 2019 was exclusively focused on the theme of “Creation Care,” and the students went on nature walks, planted gardens, learned about recycling and water usage, and learned how to care for our planet. During that Vacation Bible School, the kids made and planted raised beds that they continue to tend. In this way, they are part of the sustainability of our church campus. As a worshipping community, we try to make decisions with future generations in mind, but our youngest disciples are teaching and leading us in caring for our planet.
# 3 Reducing Meat Consumption by Pastors Jen Strickland and Jacob Buchholz
Each year our church hosts an annual summer picnic. We reserve the street outside our church and hundreds of people gather for a beautiful potluck and games for kids. A couple of years ago, our church thought critically about how to make the event more sustainable. Knowing that reducing meat consumption is the greatest factor in lowering an individual’s carbon footprint, we decided that we would provide a vegetarian main entrée at the picnic, a more sustainable meat such as salmon, and ask people to sign-up ahead of time for their main entrée choice so that we could reduce waste. At many of our potlucks, we try to be as plant-based as possible and congregants often make sure their own contributions are plant-based. We have even hosted a Green Potluck where only personally grown or sourced products could be used. At our events, we also make sure to compost and even ask participants to bring their own dishware to further reduce waste.
#4 Solar Panels by Dr. Tom Helliwell
A decade ago, anyone looking at the church budget could see that we were spending too much money on electricity. We were literally burning an inordinate fraction of our income, while at the same time contributing too much to global warming. A committee was formed to look into the matter, and we soon realized that one of the largest wasters of electricity was the pew lighting system in the sanctuary. This consisted of twenty-four 500 W incandescent bulbs, arranged into six bays, three on each side. People sitting beneath a bay could actually feel their heat when the lights were turned on, a formidable waste of energy. A church member who is also an electrician volunteered to replace these fixtures and bulbs with fluorescents, which ended up saving 89% of the energy used in that system, while providing excellent light. This was very helpful, but we decided to look also into whether we could install solar panels to harvest some free Southern California sunlight. Several possible sites were studied, and after thorough discussions we decided that the south-facing roof of the sanctuary was our best choice: It was tilted at just about the right angle to capture the most sunlight; it was large enough to hold 200 solar panels; it was so high that the panels could not be seen from most locations; and fortuitously, the sanctuary roof was in need of replacement anyway, so reroofing and installing the panels could be carried out as one larger project. We signed contracts in 2012, and paid for the project using donations from individual church members, who could “buy” panels at $1000 each, or proportionally any fraction of a panel they could afford. We did not have to use regular church funds or our endowment at all. The system has been working flawlessly ever since, and has already paid for itself in reduced electrical bills. It produces on average about 73% of the electrical power used by the church, so reduces both our costs and carbon footprint. The panels are guaranteed to function for at least another 15 years or so, and will probably last even longer. Our next energy-reduction project is likely to be to replace the theater lighting for the chancel, consisting now of incandescent floodlights and spotlights, with the newest state-of-the-art LEDs. This should save about 90% of the energy used in that system.