Pretty soon, visitors to Morristown’s Episcopal Church of the Redeemer may be recharging their cars along with their souls.
A free charging station for electric vehicles–believed to be the first in town–is coming to the church driveway within a few weeks, said the Rev. Cynthia Black, the church’s rector.
The idea evolved from Redeemer’s participation in a two-year program run by GreenFaith, an interfaith coalition that helps houses of worship set an environmental example, through energy conservation and public outreach.
Redeemer will celebrate its completion of the program at its worship service on Feb. 9, 2014. The achievement inspired the Bethel A.M.E. Church and the Presbyterian Church in Morristown to pursue GreenFaith certification together.
When those congregations complete the course of webinars, energy audits and action plans, Morristown will be the nation’s only community with three churches certified by GreenFaith, according to the Rev. Fletcher Harper, executive director of the Highland Park nonprofit.
GreenFaith was established in 1992 with support from the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, the Jewish Federation of Metrowest and the Presbyterian Church in Basking Ridge, said Fletcher, an Episcopal minister.
About two dozen religious groups have graduated from the certification program, and 65 more are in the pipeline, he said. They come from 23 states; about one-third are from New Jersey.
The biggest reason they sign up, he said, is “organizational transformation.” That’s a fancy way of saying recruiting and keeping young church members.
“The biggest need religious organizations have is attracting new and younger members,” Fletcher said. “Addressing these [environmental] issues is a fundamental way to do that. These are some of the most fundamental issues facing the human family. Some of the most powerful experiences people have are in the outdoors.”
Energy-efficient light bulbs are only the beginning. Cynthia said she was hooked by the program’s attention to socio-economic questions–such as why less-affluent congregations are disproportionately affected by flooding. Redeemer reached out to the Presbyterian Church and Bethel A.M.E. to talk about Whippany River flooding and its impact on Bethel.
“The ripple effect, pardon the pun, got those churches involved in GreenFaith,” said Cynthia.
As a result of the program, Redeemer has begun an aggressive composting campaign at the Community Soup Kitchen on its premises. And, yes, plans are in place to install energy-saving lights and a more-efficient boiler.
All of this dovetails with Redeemer’s spiritual mission, “to make our base consistent with our understanding of creation,” Cynthia said. “All of created order is something that we are responsible for in some way. How we treat the environment is as important as how we treat each other.”
Although just beginning its GreenFaith program, Bethel A.M.E. already has started “greening” its church. Energy-saving lights and heating and cooling systems were among renovations to Fellowship Hall and the church kitchen after flooding from Tropical Storm Irene, said Pastor Sidney Williams Jr.
Bethel also has replaced weekly bulletins with a monthly edition, to save paper. A recycling dumpster has been added. Solar panels are being contemplated. And the church is applying for a $76,872 Community Development Block Grant for window replacement and other conservation measures.
Cutting energy costs has grown increasingly vital since the church opened a soup kitchen last fall, doubling utility bills, Sidney said.
Moreover, reducing the church’s carbon footprint is the right thing to do, the minister said, noting that sensitivity to the environment is part of the A.M.E. tradition. When yellow fever broke out in Philadelphia in the 1700s, people believed that blacks were immune. Church members there were asked to remove bodies from homes and streets.
“Our founders thought that was part of our mission,” said Sidney, who will preach at Redeemer’s GreenFaith “graduation” service. Bethel and the Presbyterian Church have held joint worship services periodically, and the GreenFaith initiative seems a natural fit, he said.
“Partnering with Bethel A.M.E. provides an opportunity for us to form a true alliance that will allow both congregations to learn and grow from each other’s experiences,” said the Rev. David Smazik, pastor of the Presbyterian Church.
His church is about to undergo extensive improvements, and GreenFaith will help ensure that green technologies are incorporated, he said.
Paul Miller of Sustainable Morristown, a nonprofit that promotes sustainability, said the churches could be catalysts for change that reaches other towns.
“Faith institutions were central to the evolution of the community. They’ve been here as long as any institution. They tend to drive change. And they have regional stakeholders. We can help increase efficiency and awareness, contribute to lowering our carbon footprint and spread the impact far beyond the borders of Morristown,” he said.
Or at least as far as the next electric charging station.
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