Chattanooga Churches Put Their Faith Into Action

Photo available on Grace Episcopal website
The Farmers’ Market located at Grace Episcopal in Chattanooga, Tennessee

At EdenKeeper we’ve reported on green initiatives being adopted in churches from Berkeley, California to Raleigh, North Carolina, to Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. And while it’s always great to see Christians doing good things for the environment, we haven’t seen churches of different denominations actually make a localized push to be more environmental.

Well, we hadn’t seen it until we read the Chattanooga Times Free Press recent article, “Local Churches Going Green as Part of Their Faith.” The article highlights the work of three local churches of different dominations that have decided to put their faith into action for the environment. Check out the great things these churches are doing.

New Hope Presbyterian Church

New Hope Presbyterian Church established an “Earth Care Team,” a group dedicated to being “stewards of God’s earth.” The dozen members oversee the church’s green efforts such as the recycling program. They also have limited the use of Sytrofoam products and started serving fair-trade coffee, which is grown in developing countries by farmers who are fairly paid and encouraged to use sustainable farming practices.
Rosie Sanislo, founder of the Earth Care Team, at New Hope Presbyterian Church. (Photo by Angela Lewis Foster)

“My concern for better green living is based on practicing my faith through caring for creation,” said Rosie Sanislo, who founded the team. “Scripture and our reformed faith tradition call humans to be stewards of the earth — God’s good creation. Each of us has the power to make choices that reflect our faith commitments, and be better caretakers of the precious resources God provides. We have a responsibility to restore the creation we have used and abused.”

The church also installed energy-efficient heating and air conditioning systems and windows and a tankless hot water heater. Its Vacation Bible School has an Earth-Care theme and its playground equipment contains 25 percent recycled materials. And, by the end of this year, the group plans to develop a rain garden to absorb and clean stormwater runoff from the church parking lot, said Sanislo.

Nationally, the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) has an Environmental Ministries program that offers a certification process to help churches create and maintain green projects — just another example of the PCUSA’s environmental commitment.

“Our church governing body, the Session, also endorsed an ‘Earth Care Pledge’ that accompanied our application for certification as an Earth Care congregation,” Sanislo said. Churches that make the pledge must accomplish a specific number of actions toward caring for the Earth in four categories: worship, education, facilities, and outreach. Each year, the program audits the churches to make sure they’re adhering to the rules.

Grace Episcopal in Brainerd

Located in a racially and economically diverse neighborhood where there are few public parks and green spaces, Grace Episcopal puts its faith into action for the environment by hosting the Brainerd Farmers Market and Community Gardens.

“It is the mission of Grace Church as stewards of the ‘creation’ to offer organic and sustainably grown produce to our community,” said market director Catherine Durham. The market, held in the church parking lot every Saturday from 10am to noon through late December, provides organic produce, eggs, dairy, and meat products grown within 50 miles of Brainerd.

Photo available on Brainerd Farmer's Market Facebook page
Fresh produce at the Brainerd Farmers’ Market

“[The church] sees providing such respite as an essential part, not only of godly stewardship, but also of our church’s basic mission,” said Durham. Anyone can come and pick vegetables, strawberries, and blackberries from the church’s Community Garden.

“The community garden’s pavilion has a living, ‘green’ roof,” Durham said. “Additionally, the church’s two butterfly gardens are certified with the North American Butterfly Association, and were included on butterfly garden tours during their biennial convention here last month.”

The grounds of Grace Episcopal are certified National Wildlife Federation Backyard Habitat and also received an award from the Chattanooga Tree Commission in 2012 for the church’s care of mature canopy trees.

Unitarian Universalist Church in Chattanooga
The Unitarian Universalist Church’s new solar panels.

The Unitarian Universalist Church‘s green programs started small with the formation of the Green Sanctuary Initiative, an initiative to get the church accredited as a “green sanctuary” by the denomination. Then the church established an outdoor garden to attract wildlife, an herb garden that the church uses when it’s serving food, a new lighting system to reduce energy, and a recycling program for the church.

“We began with small projects,” said church member and environmentalist Sandy Kurtz. “We took steps to reduce energy use by changing the lighting system and the way we operated the church. . . We set up a recycling program, and we got rid of all Styrofoam products at our potluck dinners. People started bringing their own utensils and then took them back home to wash.”

And now, after jumping through a “bunch of hoops” to get permits from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and Electric Power Board (EPB), the church has become the first in the area to install several solar panels on its roof. “We have been working on this for three years,” said Kurtz, who spearheaded the project. “We did our research. We raised the money with our congregation to pay for the project.”

While the church doesn’t use the electricity provide by the panels itself, it feeds the energy to the TVA/EPB grid for general distribution of clean, green energy. According to Buck O’Rear, church vice president of resources, TVA is buying the electricity for four cents per kilowatt hour. (Not too bad for the environment or the church’s coffers.)

Kurtz said that the solar panels are hopefully just the first phase of the church’s electricity generation. “We would like to eventually have enough panels to supply our total electricity needs for the church,” she said.

The church hopes to encourage other churches to go green too. “Every denomination does something to help their fellow man,” said Kurtz. “Our guiding principles promote respecting the web of life. We bear a responsibility that all life does well and it benefits us all. We are reducing our carbon footprint, and with our solar panels, we’re doing something to make a difference.”

News and Photo Source: Chattanooga Times Free Press

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About the Author

I'm an organic-eating, energy-saving naturalist who composts and tree hugs in her spare time. I have a background in environmental law, lobbying, and field work. I believe in God; however, I do not call myself a Christian or a Jew or a member of any religion. I am merely someone who finds a spiritual connection to all humans and the environment. You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, and .