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Social Justice and Solar Panels

First Mennonite Church (Urbana, IL)

If you’re traveling down North Lincoln Avenue in Urbana, Illinois, one of the first things you might notice when you pass First Mennonite Church’s charming brick building with a steeple and white shutters are the solar panels on the on the rooftop of their building.

How does a Mennonite church of 150 members go about installing an array of photovoltaic solar panels? It turns out that it takes a lot of patience, creativity, and dedication by members of the Green Team, starting with smaller projects that lead to bigger impact.

In the spirit of their Anabaptist beliefs, this faith community has always had a strong concern for social justice and peace.

As humans continue to emit greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, the impacts of climate change, such as increased flooding and harsher droughts, will continue to impact more people and displace communities. Disruptions in natural weather patterns and growing seasons also have the potential to cause conflicts in regions of the world where water, food, firewood or other resources are scarce. Much of the burden of this devastation and unrest will be felt by people in developing countries who have emitted fewer greenhouse gas emissions and are least responsible for the problem.

Because of this, church members feel a Biblical call to promote justice and peace for their neighbors around the globe who will be negatively impacted. They live out these convictions by taking action to lessen their impact on the planet in the ways that their community worships and interacts and shares space together.

The Green Team collaborated with Faith in Place and started with small projects. They put up rain barrels to promote water conservation. They changed out old light bulbs to more efficient ones. Instead of throwing away plates and cups after church functions they switched to washing reusable dishes to cut down on waste.

They also work with their neighbors down the road at Central Illinois Mosque and Islamic Center on an inter-faith peace garden. The fresh veggies cultivated by the two houses of worship are donated to a homeless shelter and a women’s shelter.

After these projects and more became second nature, the Green Team decided they wanted to tackle a bigger project that would make a sizable impact on reducing the faith community’s carbon footprint. Creative visioning and financial incentives offered by the state of Illinois resulted in the idea of installing solar panels on the roof.

The 9.44kW photovoltaic array was installed in June 2014. It reduces First Mennonite’s greenhouse gas emissions the equivalent of planting 185 trees per year!

Not only does First Mennonite Church have a green building, sustainability is also interwoven as a way of being in life of the church. Two members of the congregation participated in the People’s Climate March last September in New York City with a delegation of other Mennonites. This past winter, Pastor Michael Crosby offered a creation care Sunday school class exploring what the Bible has to say about environmental devastation & ecology.

First Mennonite’s sunny outlook gives all hope that other faith communities throughout Illinois can take action on a variety of scales to promote healthy communities and a healthy planet for future generations!

Want to learn more how your faith community can take smart energy actions? Then check out our program page to learn more!

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