Sustainability

Heavenly Energy

Imagine a church that not only views taking care of the earth as a fundamental Christian value, but whose green consciousness is at the heart of its gospel; a church that not only talks about responsible stewardship, but has photovoltaic systems mounted on its rooftops; a church that not only feeds solar power into the local grid, but inspires and supports other congregations to follow suit.

A Lutheran congregation and its intrepid pastor in the small Black Forest town of Schönau (population 2,382) are at the forefront of the solar revolution in Germany. With 431 solar modules on its rooftops, Schönau’s Bergkirche (Mountain Church) generates more than 40,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year, enough for eight churches of its size. Dubbed “Creation Windows,” the installation feeds what Pastor Peter Hasenbrink calls “heavenly energy” into the local grid that’s run by one of Germany’s largest cooperative clean energy companies.

The Creation Windows didn’t happen overnight. The seed was first sown when a handful of concerned parents, alarmed by the dangers of nuclear power after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, turned to their church for support. Ursula Sladek, a mother of five and 2011 Goldman Environmental Prize recipient, recalls telling her husband, Michael, a doctor who was a member of Bergkirche’s council at the time, “This is also the church’s concern, because we’re dealing with God’s creation here. We can’t just destroy it like that!”

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From the Editors

Mohandas Gandhi was keenly aware of the root causes of hunger, and he knew that the problem was not a lack of resources on God’s good earth. "There is enough for everyone's need," Gandhi said, "but not for everyone's greed."

ECHO, a broad-based Christian organization in Florida, understands that principle. The group aims not just to eradicate perpetual hunger, as Fred Bahnson explains in this issue, but to help people all over the world develop the tools to live abundantly. As an ECHO staff member put it, "Redemption doesn't just start after we die. We can begin to experience life in all its abundance right here on earth."

As Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann recently explained, faith in God’s bounty is the opposite of the myth that one can be self-sufficient. "Abundance narratives demand a firm grounding in a conviction about the reliability of God’s generous creation," Brueggemann told a conference in San Antonio this spring. "The earth is blessed. God intended the world to produce abundance."

Koinonia Farm in Georgia has been practicing a theology of abundance for almost 70 years. Koinonia has stood as a beacon of gritty love and audacious peacemaking since its founding in the 1940s by Florence and Clarence Jordan, author of the Cotton Patch version of the New Testament. As Melissa Aberle-Grasse explains in "Growing Together," over the last decade Koinonia has experienced a renaissance, agriculturally and spiritually, thanks to a renewed commitment not only to permaculture but to the prophetic, community-based vision of the Jordans. Turns out, for the folks at Koinonia, sustainable farming and life in community are rooted in the same thing: faith in God's abundant love.

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Temptation in the Consumer Wilderness

In Jesus' temptation in the wilderness, the devil asks Jesus to convert stones into bread, to leap from a pinnacle, and to worship him. Living with this gospel story has inspired me to reflect on humanity's role in climate change. As a Christian and a historian of technology, I've realized that each of Jesus' temptations can reverberate for all of us living in the age of fossil fuels -- because there is a powerful analogy between those three temptations and the temptations humanity faces in using those fuels.

In Matthew 4 we read that the devil first tempted Jesus by saying, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." Jesus refused, but we have, in a sense, taken the devil up on the offer: "Petroleum" means "rock oil" -- and in our American agricultural system we now burn about 10 calories in fossil fuel for every calorie of food we produce and deliver to the supermarket.

Such inefficiency is far from the system of food production that God created. On the third day, according to the Genesis account, God created plants; on the fifth day, birds and fish; and on the sixth day, humans. All animals, including humans, depend for their livelihoods on the solar energy photosynthesized by plants into stored chemical energy.

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July 2011 Sojourners
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A Time for Moral Reckoning

We have seen unbelievable pictures of endless swaths of brown oil mixed with the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico, of dying wetlands and marshes, of miles of contaminated coastline, of dead birds and animals, of helpless and hopeless Gulf Coast residents sadly witnessing their livelihoods and their way of life slipping away.

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Sojourners Magazine August 2010
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Green Your Church

The award-winning environmental ministry of Haygood United Methodist Church in Atlanta got started in 2007, when the climate gave congregant and stay-at-home mom Willa Paton-Smith a wake-up call. “We were experiencing a level-four drought and record temperatures, and it just felt like this is something we should be concerned about,” she told Sojourners. Today, the Green Team she leads is helping sustainability spread throughout the church’s ministries, from reusable mugs at coffee hour to a recycling plant tour during Vacation Bible School. Greening your church building can mean not only shrinking its carbon footprint, but also hosting educational events and getting active in policy advocacy. “Coming out of these things, there’s always some political problem that has to be dealt with,” says Paul Burks, a retired minister and leader in the Earthkeeping Task Force at Christ Church, a United Methodist congregation in Santa Rosa, California. So how can you get started?

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Sojourners Magazine March 2010
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'Growth' That Kills

For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether you have enough to complete it? —Luke 14:28

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Sojourners Magazine February 2010
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