Luther Greening Churches initiative supports nine congregations' sustainability efforts

July 31, 2012 

Seven church congregations from Decorah and two from Mason City took leadership roles in the summer of 2012 to help churches develop new tools to pursue and achieve sustainable operations.

The 2012 program was facilitated by Luther College Greening Churches interns Kristi Holmberg, who graduated from Luther in May with the bachelor of arts degree in religion, and Callie Mabry, a rising Luther junior majoring in environmental studies and history. Supervisors were Ruth Kath, Luther professor of German, and Dale Nimrod, Luther professor emeritus.

The idea for Greening Churches internships grew out of the well-attended Greening of the Churches workshops held at Luther in 2007 and 2010 under the Lilly Endowment-funded Sense of Vocation program. The new internships, initiated in 2012, are funded by a grant given to Luther by the Kinney-Lindstrom Foundation of Mason City, as part of the Center for Sustainable Communities.

Participating congregations from Decorah were First Lutheran Church, Decorah Lutheran Church, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Glenwood Lutheran Church, Washington Prairie Lutheran Church, First United Methodist Church and Northeast Iowa Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. Congregations participating from Mason City were Trinity Lutheran Church and St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church.

The summer program's primary objective was to inspire the congregational activists to communicate with their congregations about environmental stewardship, prepare them to take the next steps in greening their churches, assist them in making the connection between faith and environmentalism, and facilitate inter-church communication to collaborate and share ideas.

"As a communities of faith we have the sacred responsibility to respect and conserve the resources we all share," said Mabry. "We also find hope and joy in community, knowing others walk alongside us on the path towards sustainable living."

Holmberg and Mabry spent the first two weeks of the internship meeting with pastors, lay leaders, Sunday school superintendents and other congregation leaders to identify individual needs of the congregations and project goals.

Pursuing the suggestions from congregation members, Holmberg and Mabry created nine lessons applicable for youth groups, Sunday school lessons, after school programs, take-home worksheets and other activities.

Direct involvement with area congregations was an important part of the interns' work. They preached or spoke at church services and events, including a June 24 forum at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, at which they discussed connections between climate change and social justice.

Holmberg and Mabry also hosted a potluck supper and discussion at Trinity Lutheran Church in Mason City featuring the film, "Live simply so others may simply live: Climate Change, Capitalism, and Christian Discipleship," made by Holmberg during a 2011 summer project at Luther.

The interns wrote newsletter articles describing anticipated projects at each participating church, giving suggestions to congregation members about environmentally beneficial actions people can do in their own homes, articulating the connection between faith and environmental stewardship, and addressing the connections between health and sustainability.

To support a brand-new effort in Decorah, the inter-church garden project, Holmberg and Mabry coordinated several volunteers from First Lutheran, Good Shepherd Lutheran and Decorah Lutheran to weed, hoe, water and harvest beets, beans and potatoes for the food pantry ministries at First Lutheran and Decorah Lutheran. The inter-church garden is located at the Luther College community gardens on campus. Beet and bean seeds for the garden were donated by the Seed Savers Exchange; heavily discounted seed potatoes were made available by Quillins; and straw for weed control was donated by Wayne and Cheryl Wangsness of Decorah.

The interns also contributed to a proposed memorial land restoration project at Washington Prairie Lutheran Church, rural Decorah, recruiting specialists including Luther biology faculty Molly McNicoll and Kirk Larsen to help create a proposal for oak savanna restoration on land next to the church parsonage. They assisted with the presentation of the proposal to the congregation's board of trustees in July.

Helping congregations with the energy needs they had identified was a major part of the summer project, as well. Working with congregational leaders, the two Luther interns addressed several church building and energy use issues, including:

·      Updating utility cost data to the Energy Stewards Initiative Program at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church

·      Meeting with Anne Gerrietts, LEED certified building consultant from ELCA Mission Investment Fund, to conduct a building walk-through at Glenwood Lutheran Church, and assisting with a lighting report

·      Researching stained glass window coverings for Decorah Lutheran Church

·      Investigating ductless heating options for Trinity Lutheran Church and Decorah Lutheran Church

·      Creating graphs about energy use for an educational display at First Lutheran Church

In addition, the interns helped to link the local churches' projects with regional and national "greening" organizations and leaders, including Rev. Fletcher Harper of GreenFaith, Susan Guy from Iowa Interfaith Power and Light, Terry Buenzow of Winneshiek County Recycling, and Winneshiek Energy District's Andy Johnson, Joel Zook and David Paquette as well as Green Iowa Americorps volunteers.

The two-month project culminated with a July 24 gathering of the churches' sustainability leaders on the Luther campus. At the event, attended by 27 leaders of 11 area congregations, Holmberg and Mabry shared copies of a special new publication they had researched and written during the summer 2012 project.

The 80-page document called "Cultivating Hope: Greening Churches Guide" will help congregations incorporate environmental ethic and information into worship, Sunday school lessons and youth group activities. It includes an introduction to the connections between faith, social justice and sustainability; suggestions regarding water, energy, waste, recycling and land use; and resources for incorporating environmental ethic into church operations.

"Decorah has a long history of particularly strong and effective ecumenical cooperation," said Kath. "The Greening Churches interns, who are interested in some form of church leadership, benefit this way from learning first-hand about church life and have a unique opportunity to share what they are learning about sustainability at Luther College. It has been very rewarding for Professor Nimrod and me to work with these two outstanding young women this summer. They have broken new ground here, and area churches, working together and with their assistance, have benefitted enormously. We hope to expand the program next summer."

"We have learned so much this summer and are grateful to the churches for sharing this special experience with us," Mabry and Holmberg added.