With 45 years championing environmental causes, the United Church of Canada has ramped up its commitment to tackling the climate crisis by getting its own house in order. One of the church’s climate commitments, outlined in its strategic plan, is to reduce its carbon footprint by 80 per cent by 2030 with the help of its Faithful Footprints program.

Erik Mathiesen, chief financial officer for the national church, considers the goal “aspirational, even audacious” but also “a call to action” for the whole church. With 2,500 physical sites across the country, in communities big and small, the point is to contribute to a larger dialogue.

Faithful Footprints provides resources, support and grants of up to $30,000 to communities of faith to retrofit their buildings, conserve energy and develop renewable energy projects. Over $3 million has been granted as of the beginning of 2022, with plans to increase the amount to $1 million annually.

“We are asking, ‘What am I doing in my church, at home? How are we engaging municipalities?’” says Mathiesen. “The idea is to start building a movement that the country and the world needs and maybe multiply that out.”

Faith & the Common Good, the delivery partner for the program, reports that since its launch in 2018, it has worked with more than 300 communities of faith.

“It’s more than decarbonizing and reducing operational costs — which is significant on its own. There’s the halo impact — the idea that improving and retrofitting buildings extends outwards, benefiting broader communities,” said Michelle Singh, executive director.

Inclusive, connected

United Church communities prioritize inclusivity and serving the broader community. St. Paul’s United Church in Morden, Man., redesigned its sanctuary to be more flexible and have more use in the community. This included switching out pews for chairs, creating new rooms and adding a new stage in addition to replacing four furnaces with high-efficiency ones and installing a heat recovery unit. “We want to be joyful in worship and our new sanctuary has brought renewed joy,” says Bruce Shewfelt, co-chair of the building committee.

“Our goal is to grow our involvement and if we can do so by reducing our carbon footprint, that will be a win-win for us.”

The United Church of Canada provides resources, support and grants of up to $30,000 to communities of faith to retrofit their buildings, conserve energy and develop renewable energy projects, writes @BeatriceEkoko #ClimateAction #ClimateChange

Similarly, Lakefield United Church in Lakefield, Ont., used its grant to upgrade gas furnaces, ceiling fans, exterior doors and appliances and insulating parts of the building. The church has also made live online streaming available, reducing the need for travel and cutting down on fossil fuels.

“With over 40 groups using the church, it has become a community hub,” says Jim Pendergest, chair of the finance committee. Quoting the church’s motto, “A place that’s here for you. Here for all of us,’’ he describes the church as “a place to connect, find comfort and celebrate.”

A sense of place

Bethel United Church in Marion Bridge, N.S., is a small church in a village of 800 people near the growing Sydney metropolitan area. The church underwent retrofits, including spray foam insulation, LED lighting, heat pumps and a kitchenette. For Kenneth MacKeigan, a steward and member of the property committee, the church is more than just a building — his grandfather was involved in its building. “There are connections, history and a sense of place. These matter.”

Practically speaking, MacKeigan says that focusing on operational costs to sustain the building was what got the congregation on board. The committee is interested in investing in the church to make it a hub for activities. It also serves as a respite centre during storms.

A sense of awe

Lumsden Beach Camp, the oldest summer camp in Western Canada since 1905, is in a valley half an hour north of Regina. The camp prioritizes environmental stewardship and recently installed a 19.75 kW solar system with its grant. Making sure the camp is accessible to everyone is equally important and it welcomes city kids, community groups and Indigenous people through the Treaty Land Sharing Network.

“I always say that my favourite part of camp is the sunsets and the stars. As soon as you come out to our site, you can feel nature, sense the importance of it all,” says Kylie Orr, executive director. "This land has always been there and was there before us and we want it to continue to be there after us, so even having an example of what is possible is really nice, like our solar panels have made a big difference; it’s significant.”

Setting a good example

Oromocto Pastoral Charge in Oromocto, N.B., serves a suburban community of 20,000. Board member Vaughan Roxborough says they are setting a good example. “People see our building being retrofitted. Our newly installed heat pumps are all outside, so everybody knows what we are doing.” And “money we are not spending on energy, we have available for mission and outreach. That’s practical.”

Vaughan points out that their efforts dovetail with the community’s plan for increased energy efficiency and a decreased carbon footprint.

“It's important to focus on what we agree on.”

Communities in conversation with themselves

Duncan United Church in Duncan, B.C., upgraded its lighting, appliances and windows and replaced an oil furnace with an air-source heat pump. The church plans to install solar panels to offset 70 per cent of its power load.

Keith Simmonds, former minister for worship and pastoral care, is interested in preserving church buildings as affordable public spaces for “activities of mutual support” given the loss of such spaces — schools and halls — thanks to treating them as commodities.

“Churches, especially United Churches, are places where communities can come and be in conversations with themselves — safe spaces,” he says.

“You can have difficult conversations on a range of subjects: death and dying, water conservation, sexuality. You can talk about reconciliation and the church's history in running residential schools. But only if the church is there. The church can’t be there if it costs too much.”

Beatrice Ekoko is the chief storyteller and social media specialist at Faith & the Common Good. She also works with the non-profit Environment Hamilton's Pollinator Paradise Project. Ekoko has been working on sustainability projects for 12 years, including energy conservation, renewable energy, active transportation, Greenbelt protection and habitat enhancing for biodiversity. Ekoko also co-authored the book, Natural Born Learners: Unschooling and Autonomy in Education.

Keep reading

"Unschooling?" Apparently homeschooling MINUS the curriculum?
Note that the guy who came up with this concept is a military guy who somehow was hired to teach at various places in the States (known for privatizing education with charter schools, the majority being religious) without even having a teaching degree himself. Which utterly dismisses the entire body of our human collective knowledge accrued from the concerted, evolving study of how to best educate children/people as being without any merit whatsoever! Further to that ignorant premise, ANYONE can "teach," especially parents who, after all, know and love their own children best. Right?
I would suggest that this premise assumes a degree of ownership of one's children that is not only fundamentally wrong and disrespectful of them but also likely to be destructive to all concerned. This is currently being aired in a political conflict in New Brunswick around "gender dysphoria." Bottom line, some parents insist they have a right to know if their kids have "come out" at school, even if their children want to keep it from them because they know they probably won't accept it. The teachers are on the kids' side, but the conservative government (of course) is introducing legislation focused on the parents' rights rather than their children's rights. Hard to think of a more basic right than a bodily right, as with women, but it's also those same "believers" who want to control them TOO, these adults they don't even KNOW. It's almost like religious doctrine is primarily about controlling other people and so completely contradicts our ever-evolving human society at this point. Isolating your kids and walling them off CAN maintain your control for a period of time, but....
A central contradiction also exists in that religious doctrine is also a "curriculum" of sorts, is it not, based as it is on what is considered "essential for teaching and learning?"
So "indoctrinating" your kids is not questioned at all because you want them to believe what YOU were taught to believe so they'll be in your bubble of "faith?" It's not just automatic to believe what you do, you know. Every cult, and every ministry for that matter has people who can no longer suspend their natural disbelief in the way that you are motivated to do for the sake of solidarity and imagined safety.
One or more of your kids may well be in that group. Then what?