“The use of fossil fuels just seems to be something that we can no longer accommodate. If there is any way we can move to better alternatives, we believe that the Church needs to be a leader in that.” This powerful statement by Reverend Randy Orwig of Elon College Community Church in the video Clean Energy works for Us, produced by North Carolina Interfaith Power & Light (NCIP&L,) epitomizes the recent embracement of solar energy by congregations across the state. Undoubtedly, NCIP&L, which works with faith communities to address the causes and consequences of global climate change and promote practical, hope-filled responses through education, outreach, and public policy advocacy, has been a significant force in this movement.
When the 5 kW solar electric system was installed for Elon Community Church in the Spring of 2013, they were only the third congregation in NC to go solar, according to the article Elon Community Church going green with solar panels. First Congregational United Church of Christ in Asheville led the way and has served as a model since they installed their 10 kW system in April of 2011. David Andes, chairman of Elon’s Green Church Committee, summarized why their group committed to install solar in saying “Eventually, it will save the church money. But it was really to make an environmental statement and have an impact. We want to be a witness to the community and show that earth care is part of who we are as a congregation.”
Caring for creation and the stewardship of our planet is increasingly part of many congregations’ ministries, as evident by the GreenFaith Certification Program. The Episcopal Church of the Holy Family in Mills River, NC, is one of the first in NC to undertake this comprehensive certification process, and the Green Team currently is submitting their final documentation. Their greening initiatives did include the installation of an 8.1 kW solar system, which was commissioned on the 21st of October. (After they’ve seen this system in operation for a few more months, we will do a more in-depth spotlight on their initiatives in the New Year.)
Following with the solar suit, so to say, are two other congregations that our Field Crews are currently installing: The First Christian Church in Black Mountain with a 12.42 kW system, and The First United Methodist Church in Franklin with a 10.7 kW system. Reverend Joe Hoffman of the First Congregational United Church of Christ says in NCIP&L’s video “Being the first faith community in WNC to do this, it was surprising to me how many people noticed.”
Evidently, people are noticing, and these efforts are making a big impact. Opportunities to engage are widening; even the Western North Carolina Alliance, a grassroots organization that has been championing environmental protection for over 30 years, has recently formed a dedicated program to the cause, the Creation Care Alliance of WNC. The Asheville Bioneers Conference this year is dedicating an entire evening to explore and broaden the conversation, with a panel including perspectives from Judaism, Wicca, and Presbyterian faiths. (See calendar for more details.) For all five of the Churches mentioned, installing solar involved significant commitment and strong leadership, (the process is now much simpler thanks to the work of these first models) but these systems stand to inspire and demonstrate what is possible when faith, vision, and community come together.