My solar guy

Sometimes the best thing about church is community, a pool of friends and acquaintances who share the burdens, joys, and responsibilities of life and who unite often in common cause. Building that kind of community, however, requires work. You can’t pay pastors and leaders to do it all because then it’s not community; it’s spectator church. Because that kind of church does not feed our souls, Vic and I find ourselves taking on assignments and responsibilities in whatever church we attend.

In the past year Vic took up the cause of promoting awareness of climate change and responses to it in the name of “creation care.” (We don’t need a theological basis for doing this but some do.) In the spring of 2013 he and another self-made expert in the congregation led a 9-week education series. The results were uncertain. People still seemed overwhelmed and discouraged at the end of it. A trustee brought up the possibility of joining Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light (H-IPL), a faith-based group promoting energy conservation in churches and member households, but the effort floundered when questions about cost and payback were raised in a congregational meeting.

Vic didn’t give up. He and a small corps of the committed talked about what measures the church could take to reduce its energy footprint. They got estimates on installing solar panels on the church building. Over the years Vic has learned a lot about solar energy but we live in the shade so, besides investing in several solar companies and educating others, he has had little opportunity to put his knowledge to use.

He also kept tabs on H-IPL. In January he spotted an unusual opportunity. The organization was offering grants to subsidize equipping member churches with solar panels. To be eligible, all the congregation had to do was join the organization and submit the proposal.

There wasn’t much time, the deadline was mid-February, and neither of these was simple. Joining H-IPL meant pledging to reduce energy consumption in the church building by at least 25 percent, and collecting pledges from at least a third of member households to reduce energy consumption by at least14%. The grant form was complicated, requiring lots of documentation. But Vic took it all on, both the campaign for pledges and the grant writing.

Once it became clear that recent conservation measures counted toward these reductions, it became easier for people and leaders to sign on. In the course of gathering pledges and documentation, he discovered that the church and many of its members already met the energy-reduction requirements. The process helped us see how far we have come as well as specific steps we can take from here. By the deadline, 42 of the church’s 120 households had signed on, along with the church’s leaders.

More important, people were interested and enthusiastic. Whether or not we receive the grant for solar panels, the congregation has a renewed, visible, communal commitment to energy conservation.

I was reflecting on this yesterday as I was doing triple duty in service of the church community. I told the children’s story in the worship service, wearing my outlandish pink Congolese dress as show-and-tell. After the service I led a class on dreams, the second time I’ve done this 9-week series. And then we rushed home to host Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, something our church organizes now and then to help us learn to know each other.

It all required some effort but it was all good. And none of it was as challenging as getting everything together for the grant proposal my husband submitted last week. I am proud of him and grateful for the church community we can help build.

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