The "going green" movement isn’t just attracting hippie tree huggers. There is fresh evidence that church congregations around the country are moving toward a more environmentally friendly plan to save money and mother earth.
From a religious perspective, some congregations believe that global climate change is a moral crisis.
U.S. congregations are examining their habits and asking what their faith demands of them in response to the mounting concerns of global warming.
In fact, recent studies show that churches, synagogues and mosques are as passionate about saving the planet as they are about saving souls.
Members say if churches reduce their environmental impact and save money, it is an effective way to minister to the world. It also allows good stewards to live a happier, healthier life – without the guilt of excess. This, in turn, is what God wants us for us, that through Him is a life we can live more abundantly.
Most every religious group including Baptist, Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish are recycling, using green technology and solar panels to lower electricity bills, paper bulletins and orders of service have been eliminated in favor of PowerPoint slide presentations, and opting to bring supplies from home to replace ordering plastic cups and other items in bulk.
"We've seen this explosion of activity at the individual and congregational level that is really a sign that this is firmly centered in terms of who we are as a religious people," Matthew Anderson-Stembridge, executive director of National Religious Partnership for the Environment, a coalition of Jewish and Christian denominations formed in the early 1990s, said in a recent interview.
Recent research reveals that houses of worship are some of the biggest wasters of energy on a per capita, per hour-of-use basis.
Many churches in the United States also are making the move toward green to reduce costs, according to a recent Religion News Service report.
"Even churches of conservative traditions that were opposed to going green may get there sooner than they thought because of the need to save money," said Simeon May, chief executive officer of the National Association of Church Business Administration.
With help from the "save not pay" attitude now spreading around the country, churches and other religious institutions are cutting back on energy consumption, investing in more efficient heating and lighting systems, buying renewable energy, and even, on occasion, joining the effort to "build green."
Congregations that practice environmental stewardship can save 30 percent on their utility bills, says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
If all U.S. congregations did the same, they'd save an estimated $573 million annually and prevent 6 million tons of CO2 from polluting the air – the equivalent of taking 1 million cars off the road, according to the EPA.
And saving money can be critical to ministries along the Gulf Coast region that are struggling to get back on their feet after Hurricane Katrina.
Organizations are getting involved in the "green church" movement including the Eco-Justice Program (EJP) at the National Council of Churches of Christ, which is an organization that urges Protestant and Orthodox communities to place a higher value on God’s call to protect His creation.
The EJP offers a gamut of programs that give churches the opportunity to implement sustainable programs such as energy, food, and water conservation just to name a few.
Cassandra Carmichael, the executive director of EJP, says they have seen more church communities become interested in protecting and restoring the environment.
She said the secular world is now trending foot-print reduction lifestyles that are designed to lessen the harm caused by humans on the environment.
For example, hybrid cars are rising in popularity, recycling, and reusable metal water bottles are becoming mainstream choices.
Therefore, most churches couldn’t help but catch onto their congregation’s growing desire to protect the environment and have made it a collective exercise. For example, Carmichael says most churches have incorporated “going green” into their spiritual teachings.
“There’s a congregation that grows their own food. It’s a huge garden.”
Carmichael goes on to say that the Church gives some of the food to the poor in order to fulfill Christ’s teaching of “feeding the hungry.” They also have local inmates comes and help tend the garden.
She said this not only provides work for the inmates but also serves as an opportunity to reach out to those who might not be familiar with the Gospel.
"The moral issues of our times, including environmental care, are a part of the practice of our faith and thus very important," said Joel Hunter, pastor at Northland Church in Florida. He added that nothing is greater than the importance of saving souls, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
The movement in the nation's churches seems to be led by the members and not the leaders at the pulpit.
"I think it's congregation-driven rather than leadership-driven. This is what people are bringing to the church," said Gerald Smith, religion professor at The University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., as quoted by the Sentinel.
"The surprising thing for me is there seems to be some consensus. We are seeing very conservative Protestant denominations embracing Earth care, and you are seeing some mainline, more-liberal denominations," said Darby Ray, associate professor of religious studies at Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., according to the Sentinel.
However, Carmichael insists that the call for churches to become environmentally friendly is biblically based.
“There’s two ways to look at this. First, in Genesis it talks directly about being good stewards and we are called to take care of God’s creation. Second, there is an aspect of justice to it which is also biblically based – the call to take care of ‘the least of these.’ The lifestyles that we lead should be done in a way that is sustainable because often times environmental problems come at the expense of communities of color.”
Many conservative Christians believed in years past that God intended man to exploit the earth for his or her own benefit.
Now it seems, most congregational members are taking more of a “steward” approach and have the desire to ensure God’s creation is left intact for future generations.
"In this economy, I have noticed that most churches have some version of a green committee at their church," said Cynthia Cannon, executive director of the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes, based in Austin, Texas.
Recent studies show that church members are moving toward green thinking not only because it affects future generations and those around the globe, but because it will hit hardest among the "least of us," the vulnerable communities and people in poverty across the globe.
By taking action in their own houses of worship and in their own homes – living lives that use less carbon – people of faith become examples to the rest of the community. By speaking out – giving voice to the voiceless – people of faith become teachers to the world.
Not all churches are embracing the green fever or share the enthusiasm most congregations possess.
Some church members remain unconvinced that global warming results from human activity, and see the whole green movement as part of a liberal agenda. Others resist discussing the environment in a theological context.
Green-energy products generally cost more until they are fully developed. In Massachusetts, one product, ReGen, currently costs 3 cents more a kilowatt hour, about 60 cents more a day for an average home, researchers said.
"If we pull our focus away from God and back into earthly matters, that will cause us to backslide," said Martha Baker, a church member in Biloxi, Miss.
"I think global warming is real and I think our church should save money but technology is changing so fast that whatever you purchase today – another bigger and better model hits the market tomorrow. I say rely on God and not technology to show us how to live."
For ten ways to go green and stay green visit the World Watch Institute at: http://www.worldwatch.org/node/3915