“Green” Things Any Church Community Can Do!

Post 214 of 445

By Matushka Elizabeth Perdomo

“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof;
the world, and all that dwell therein.” ~ Psalm 24:1

With energy costs rising daily and consequential scenes of global warming nearly nightly on national news, it is easy to succumb to a sense of helplessness. We could spend years discussing the theology of “Christian environmentalism” and still do nothing at all. What we need, as with the wholeness of our faith, is praxis to accompany our theology. As with other parts of our life, we need to embrace a balanced “ecological asceticism.’” That is, an active and ongoing repentance and purification of heart which changes the choices we make on how to live at home and within our Parish. As Orthodox Christians and for the love of Christ and His Church, we must ask, “What can we do?”

The simple suggestions below can be used as springboards for other ideas within our Parish facilities and in our homes. These suggestions can be used to inspire and engage Parish youth and young adults. Every small alteration we make can add up to big results when embraced as a permanent change. Especially when made within many parishes and countless homes! These suggestions include varying degrees of change and commitment. If you’re parish is only ready for simple baby steps, take them rather than doing nothing at all!

If your Parish is ready to embrace the more difficult challenges, take longer strides. With time and commitment, any Parish can make the more challenging changes. The earth belongs to the Lord. He calls all of creation “good.” Because we love Him, let us take care of that which He loves, “the world and all that dwell therein.”

1) Change Parish Buying Habits! What is the common denominator of most Parish coffee hours, dinners and feasts? Styrofoam disposable cups, plates and bowls! Yet, styrofoam virtually never disintegrates, and if burned, releases highly toxic fumes into the atmosphere. Here are some simple suggestions, starting with the easiest first: As a Parish (Parish Council, Women’s Group, Youth Group – whatever!) make a commitment to purchase only non-styrofoam disposables. Rather, purchase paper coffee cups, plates, bowls, etc. These cost slightly more, but the end cost to us all are much less. Even disposable plastic cold drink cups are better than Styrofoam! When we first moved to our current Parish, my teenage daughters wrote a letter to the Parish Council making argument for this cause, which the Council approved. Occasionally, purchasers forget this and the girls “remind” them to buy paper next time. If plastic cups are used for cold drinks, for example, during Church School, Meetings, Youth Retreats or Youth Group Meetings, other Retreats, etc., we always provide several “sharpie” water proof markers for participants to use. We ask them to write their name on their cup and to use it more than once, rather than grabbing a new cup each time they want a sip of water. Think about “Real” Coffee Mugs! One Parish we often visited when we lived in New Mexico had a large board with cup hooks on it. People in the Parish brought and hung up their own cups, with plenty of extras donated for use by guests. After every coffee hour or dinner, each person just washed their own cup (or, if it was being used, placed them in the dish washer) and they were hung up for use “next time.” I once had a fantasy about real cups becoming a “standard issue” to each new Orthodox seminarian. A nice, large, enameled coffee mug (with school logo on it, of course!), for them to use in seminary activities, cafeterias, dorms, etc., could easily be slipped into or clipped onto those heavy college backpacks! What about “real” everything? Yes, I know, that means dishes to wash. But, a lifetime of using inexpensive flatware, plates, cups, etc. really adds up in environmental costs. Maybe teams from the teen youth groups could take turns hand washing or filling church dish washers? Believe it or not, washing dishes with friends at events can be a fun and memorable event. Perhaps the youth could then be rewarded in some way by the parish? Maybe they would enjoy a special pizza night? Or better, assistance with Orthodox camp scholarships? Be creative!

2) Recycle! How many aluminum cans generated from Orthodox Parishes and Parish-sponsored fundraising events held throughout America are simply thrown into trashcans and hauled off to local landfills each week? The number would be staggering. Yet, one of the easiest forms of recycling is to set up specially marked repositories for the disposal of aluminum cans. Label and place aluminum can repositories in easy to find and use places, in your church hall or festival grounds. Perhaps the youth group could collect these, cash them in, and use the funds for a special project or, again, for camp or retreat scholarships? Perhaps the women’s or men’s group could take charge and use the funds for purchasing consumable goods for the parish? If there is space, interest and those who can clearly follow up on the process, place notices in Church calendars and bulletins. Ask Parishioners to bring their crushed aluminum cans to church – perhaps the 1st Sunday of each month – to add to those used within the Parish and its special fundraising events. When at all possible, do not buy non-recyclable plastic individual serving sized soft drinks, waters, etc. Rather, use larger sizes of soft drink bottles and large, insulated thermal or other water coolers, which can hold 5 gallons of water. For camp, youth retreats, vacation Bible school, seminars and other events, give each participant a non-disposable water bottle – and the obligatory sharpie with which to write their name – and have them refill and use the bottle throughout the event. Keep plenty of refill water available and easy to access! In our Parish, we also ask people to bring plastic grocery bags for us to recycle and use in our St. George’s Food Pantry. Our Food Pantry also reuses and recycles cardboard boxes. In addition, scrap office paper and printer ink cartridges can be recycled in nearly any parish.

3) Go Native! Using native plant and tree species in designing or renovating parish grounds can help conserve water and enhance the food and shelter of local wildlife species. Adding water-conserving soaker hose systems can also help with precious water use and expenses. The Youth, Young Adults and/or Scout Troops of your parish might be interested in becoming involved in a planting or re-planting project of this kind. Choose native species or those well adapted to the local climate and geography, not simply because they are used in commercial plantings! If you don’t know what species to choose, talk to local plant conservation organizations, nature centers or your local agricultural extension office. They will likely recommend both species and local nursery sources for use on a Parish’s property. If your climate and property allow, think about planting food-producing fruit or nut trees to feed the parish and the hungry. If you have the space, think about establishing Community Vegetable Gardens or gardens to feed the poor. Make new or renovated plantings in the proper season, so plants can establish themselves before the hot summer season. This will take considerably less water and reduce the possibility of losing plants. In very hot, dry climates, consider xeriscaping options. Xeric means dry. A xeriscape utilizes plants requiring very little or no watering, often interspersed in landscaping stones. Consider plant and tree species that will specifically add food sources, nesting sites and shelter for birds and other native wildlife. Strongly consider adding at least one water feature to your parish’s property – even if just a simple birdbath. If your local parish owns a considerable amount of property, consider leaving (or ‘cultivating’) a portion of it as a wild space – a mini-wildlife pres erve. Development in most urban areas has considerably reduced suitable habitat for native wildlife species. Doing just a little with our Parish properties can do a lot towards nurturing and preserving birds and other species. Local nature societies are great resources and possible partners in any such effort. A neighbor of our church has only 2 acres, but they have created a wonderful wildscape, with native plants and trees, feed and water sites, trails, etc. People come from all over the nation to photograph the rare birds and other animals that come to this urban wildlife preserve. In the case of Orthodox Parishes and other properties, outdoor icon shrines and benches for prayer and quiet meditation would be perfect additions as well! A “Children’s Garden” with paths and special sites can be a wonderful outdoor, nature and teaching addition to your property.

4) Turn it down or turn it off! When office machines, kitchen appliances or media equipment are not being used, turn it off! This can reduce energy costs by 25%. Turning off computers at the end of the day can save an additional 50%. When rooms or portions of a facility are not in use, turn off lights and adjust the air conditioning and/or heat accordingly. Timed controls for larger facilities can help save considerably on unnecessary utility usage. Hot water heaters should be turned down as well. In most cases, the lowest setting is perfectly adequate.

5) Paper Use: Reduce, recycle, reuse!
Church offices and educational departments can conserve and use printer paper as wisely as possible. If something is a draft, print it on the back of used paper to “recycle” the other side. Print it on “draft” to conserve expensive ink. Use both sides of paper when possible, especially when printing materials to distribute. Buy and use only recycled printer paper and recycle your used paper as well. If one must send a fax, use a fax cover sheet only when required. Write phone messages on “recycled” papers which are printed on one side. Stacks of these can easily be cut into ¼’s and stapled together at the top. Church school teacher and teaching materials can be laminated or put into plastic sleeves and notebooks so they can be better preserved and used for many years. Whenever possible, encourage inter-parish communications by email, including news, event notices, newsletters and more. Print only those things for which you actually need a hard copy. File, label and reuse as many times as possible printed copies for choir and church school use.

6) Don’t Flush Away Extra Water!
Most older bathroom toilets waste gallons of water with each flush. This adds up to a considerable amount of precious fresh water in the course of a Church Year! Place one or two plastic containers filled with sand or stones [not bricks] in the toilet’s reservoir tank. It will displace about 4 litres of water per flush. When remodeling, renovating or building a new facility, strongly consider purchasing water conserving toilet units.

7) Watch those costly leaks!
Running toilets, dripping faucets and leaky spigots can waste more water than one can imagine! Simple repairs are often all that is required. One water drop per second wastes 10,000 litres per year! If an exterior spigot leaks, or there water is released from an air conditioning system, at least place some sort of shallow container under the drip so birds and other small wildlife can access the water for drinking.

8) Fan Away the Heat! Whether your parish is in an older facility, or you’re considering renovations or the building of an entirely new structure, remember that ceiling fans can help reduce the need for more costly air conditioning. The liberal addition of relatively inexpensive ceiling fans can distribute the cool air from air conditioning, making a room feel much more comfortable at less cost and energy use. Likewise in winter, fans set on low speed can help distribute heat.
Ceiling fans can even help in covered outdoor spaces. We have two on our Parish Hall’s patio, and it keeps the space much more comfortable – enough so that it is often used as a “class room” for Church School sessions for the older teens and young adults.

9) Let there be light! Where possible, retrofit newer fluorescent type light bulbs to replace hot and more energy-costly incandescent bulbs. If renovating space or building a new facility, plan in both fluorescent lighting and sky lights, to allow natural light into rooms. One women’s monastery we often visit has wonderful sky lights. I often think an electric light is already on in the bathroom and try to turn off the switch before leaving! Well placed windows and sky lights can greatly reduce the need for day-time electric light sources.

10) Explore Alternative Energy Sources. We think about adding good insulation, double paned windows, energy-efficient heat and air conditioning sources and appliances when we build and/or renovate our homes. Why not consider the same things in your parish? The choice of better energy efficient building materials and insulation are readily available. More hard-core additions, such as solar panels, wind powered generators and such, should at least be explored when new structures are being planned. Plan for the future, not only of our Parish buildings, but also of the good earth in which God has placed us as stewards and caretakers.

11) Reduce Gas Consumption from Commuting! No, don’t reduce the number of Church Services! Rather, cluster other activities and meetings around the central liturgical services of the Church. Pastors, Parish Councils, Church Choirs, Youth Programs and more can consider gas consumption required from commuting when planning events, activities or staff office work time. For those parishes fortunate enough to have full or part time office staff or an office used by its clergy, consider going to a 3-4 day work week for “in office” activities. Spend the other days “telecommuting” – working from a home computer and home or cellular telephone. Try to schedule meetings, such as catechumen classes, youth group activities and parish council meetings around liturgical services, which people (hopefully) will already be attending. For example, rather than scheduling an extra evening Parish Council meeting to which people must make an extra drive, hold them on Sunday afternoon, after Divine Liturgy and Coffee Hour. Or, schedule meetings or classes after a Wednesday night Daily Vespers Service. This can also be a good time for Church School or Catechumen/Inquirer’s Classes as well. One parish in our Diocese holds Church School for Children only once a month, for several hours on Saturday afternoon, ending just prior to Great Vespers. Teen and Young Adult meetings can also take place on Sunday afternoons, and then people are already assembled at the Church. Our Parish’s choir practices take place on Sunday mornings, just prior to Hours, when people are already heading for Church. These considerations are especially helpful in areas where those attending a parish come from a widely disbursed geographical area. Offer a ride to church or church activities and “car pool” with an elderly person, college student or others who live nearby. You’ll not only save cas and vehicle use, but you will also have a wonderful opportunity to get to better know your neighbors and family in Christ.

“O Lord, how manifold are Thy works! In wisdom hast Thou made them all…” Psalm 103

Working together, as stewards of God’s Good Earth
within the Body of Christ; the Church,
we CAN make a difference!