Cool Congregations Winners are leading the way to a more resilient future

Cool Congregations Winners of 2015


St. Mary’s Catholic Church of Johnson City, Johnson City, TN

Our challenge was to step up to Pope Francis’ direction for all to help green the world. We have been doing recycling, turning off lights when not using, and have installed thermal heating system. Now to expand on what we have done, without effecting an already tight budget. There was no money in the church budget for most of the changes we wanted to do. We not only wanted to save dollars, make our church more energy efficient, but to help the parish to understand the importance of being good stewards of our earth.

We formed an Energy Assessment Committee. The GINI Organization help us conduct an energy audit of both electric and water systems in our church, school and out buildings to see where we could be more energy efficient. We started with big return items, i.e. replacing all the incandescent 60 watt Exit Lights with 7 watt LED’s. Next additional replacement of CFL lights in the church with LEDs. Added a water collections system to provide water to both the community gardens and the school garden. Also, fixed leaking toilets and drinking fountain. That is saving 1,000 galons a month. We put timers on instant coffee pots so they would be off night hours but still be available when needed. We discovered the large amount of electric used even when pot wasn’t being used. Thus unplugged offer devices that draw current even when not in use.   Recycled a very old freezer that was only used a few times a year, but was always on. We replaced missing and worn out gaskets around doors.   We added new double doors to church entries. We published an   article in the church bulletin and newsletter to let the parish know what we were doing and a how to do a self-audit home audit to save energy. We had over 40 homes that did the audit and did energy saving actions. Within the first six months, we had saved over $1,000 in energy costs. We have been using JCPB tracking system for power usage. We are saving thousands in energy use.

St. Mary’s Justice Peace and Integrate of Creation Committee (JPIC) mission is to do everything we can to keep our earth as God gave it to us. Also trying to live up to Pope Francis recent encyclical, “Laudato Si'”, a call to action to combat pollution, conserve energy, care for ecosystems and ultimately be better stewards of the environment. We believe our churches can lead their congregations to more environmental world view.



St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Seattle, WA

Our project has resulted in direct and indirect reduced emissions. Our solar panel system saves six tons/year in terms of electricity not drawn from the grid. Indirectly, we add an additional 32 tons from our purchased carbon offsets.

The National Episcopal Church adopted the Genesis Covenant, a public commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from every facility it maintains by a minimum of 50% by 2019. This covenant resonated with parishioners at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Seattle, Washington, many of whom are members of a ministry called Creation Keepers.

In early 2014, when faced with a capital campaign for facility repairs and updates, St. Andrew’s Creation Keepers spearheaded efforts to go beyond what needed, to look instead at what could be done; specifically further reducing our power needs and generating “green” power by adding solar panels. This project required significant research on the viability of solar panels in Seattle, finding a vendor who would provide the best, locally sourced product, and finally negotiating an agreement which provided St. Andrew’s parishioners with a discount for any solar systems purchased and a matching donation to St. Andrew’s. St. Andrew’s solar panel array and eGauge began operating in April 2015.

In terms of practical results, for 2015, St. Andrew’s will have reduced or offset approximately 80% of its carbon emissions. Systems and funding sources are in place to meet the Genesis Covenant for 2016. The solar panels and vendor donations are the result of our community’s belief that we are global citizens, responsible for acting on behalf of our planet and fulfilling a promise made on our behalf. The discussion at St. Andrew’s, often led by our Creation Keepers, about our physical environment, its well-being and future is ongoing. The discussion rolls into how we practice our faith at St. Andrew’s — from serving shade grown coffee to growing organic produce which is used as part of our feeding ministries to having a robust recycling, on-site composting and waste management system. St. Andrew’s actively fosters the discussion of how a house of worship can be a good steward to our planet, even in the rainy Northwest.

We hear from new members that how St. Andrew’s lives its faith, including our solar panels, is a key factor in choosing St. Andrew’s. Following the words of Professor Wangari Maathai, we at St. Andrew’s choose to be a hummingbird; doing the best we can for the future of our planet.


First United Methodist Church Omaha, Omaha, NE

Our church’s eco team wanted a project that would educate about the need to change our lifestyles to be more sustainable. The need to be accountable for our own individual and community responsibility for green house gas production. Food waste was the means to an end. People, who signed up to bring in their bags of food waste, were amazed at how much food was thrown away each week. One 80+ year old was being helped with the ten pound of food waste she brought one week (she collects from all of her condo neighborhood) and she said, “This is such a fun way to make the world a better place.”   We’ve had two other area churches ask us for our process and plans for this composting project.   Our eco team has been very excited by our success.

Our eco group was blown away by the 65 families that signed up to bring their food wastes to church. Our pastors invited our state IPL director (Kim Morrow) to preach and we had a children’s message with real red wigglers to explain to kids (and adults) the process. The kids were both grossed out and all wanted to touch the worms. We also had a forum for all the adult and youth Sunday school classes about environmental stewardship. All of this on our first Sunday of collecting food waste. We are now (seven months later) up to 80 families and filling the 500 gallon drum weekly with food waste.



Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax, Oakton, Virginia

Climate change can seem so overwhelming that people can feel hopeless.   Through the actions we have taken the last three years, we are creating hope in community; we are forming a supportive climate activist network. We are helping UUs become more mindful and appreciative in their relations with the Earth and with other people.   We are using social media, music, movies, rallies and community festivals to get outside the walls of UUCF. We especially reach out to communities often not engaged in climate advocacy, faith communities with diverse ethnic and racial congregations and youth. In November 2013, We led UUCF to pass a congregational resolution on climate change, committing us to “taking personal and congregational responsibility for reducing our carbon footprints”, and “to live and act with hope.”   We create opportunities for UUs to act on their values through environmental justice work. We now have 22 congregations in Northern Virginia involved — Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical Protestant, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Unitarian Universalist.   We raise funds and work on energy efficiency retrofitting low-income housing, organic community gardens for immigrant children, and earth healing activities for religious education programs.   Through our self-imposed voluntary carbon tax, we purchased and installed LED lighting in low income housing and purchased CO2 offsets.

We are comprised of people who believe that addressing climate change is an urgent, spiritual responsibility. We bring together faith communities in Northern Virginia to act on this deeply religious challenge to creation, our world, and who we are to one another.   We demonstrate to elected officials and the regions’ citizens that people of many different faiths care deeply about climate change. As a result of our advocacy, Fairfax county invested over $500,000 in new energy conservation projects in 2014 and a similar amount in 2015, committed to a public website showing energy use for all 250 county buildings, and is planning installation of photovoltaics on 10 county schools. Pope Francis asks, in his encyclical letter “Laudato si’” “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” In September, we started actively promoting IPL’s Paris Pledge, challenging congregations to commit to aggressive greenhouse gas reductions. Through our website, FACS will help congregations share their successes and challenges in reducing energy waste.   Through actions in community, we are creating a supportive, faith-based climate activist network in Northern Virginia. As Pope Francis’ encyclical concludes: May our struggles and our concern for planet never take away the joy of our hope.



Congregation Albert, Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Congregation Albert Green Team formed and spent the first year writing a Sustainability Plan that was adopted by the synagogue Board of Directors. Its central theme is Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. The Congregation Albert administration was employing some green practices, but needed a holistic approach. The Plan encourages strategic spending to reduce waste and conserve energy and water. It also encourages activities to help congregants learn about climate issues and how to be better earth stewards. Rabbi Rosenfeld is a great supporter. He encourages the Team and regularly chooses prayers and sermons with green themes. This last fall he gave a sermon during the Jewish New Year about earth stewardship and social justice. Most of the 600 congregant member families and others attend Jewish New Year services.   The team regularly talks with the Hebrew School and Pre-school administration to introduce new projects. This year we introduced the compost bin and asked for input about locating the butterfly garden. It will be accessible from the children’s play area.   Green Team members often talk with other people working on green projects in other faith communities and other environmental groups.

The Green Team leader was involved with Interfaith Power and Light and other environmental organizations.     The Temple administrator helped us understand Temple approval processes and funding so that we would succeed. She had been making green decisions for several years as mechanical equipment was replaced and grass needed removal, but realized that the support of an adopted plan would help her accomplish more.   Everyone brought their interests and talents to a year-long process of hashing out a mission, long term goals, objectives and a starter list of tasks that are strongly connected to our Jewish values of social justice and earth stewardship.


The following are recognized as Runners Up in the 2015 Cool Congregations by Interfaith Power & Light.

Energy Saver


Drepung Gomang Center for Engaging Compassion

Louisville, Kentucky


First Congregational Church

Stoneham, Massachusetts


Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth

Leavenworth, Kansas


Sisters of Charity of Nazareth

Nazareth, Kentucky


St. Columba’s Episcopal Church

Washington, Distict of Columbia



Renewable Role Model


Congregation Beth El-Keser Israel

New Haven, Connecticut


Kehillah Synagogue

Chapel Hill, North Carolina


The United Church of Santa Fe

Santa Fe, New Mexico


University United Methodist Church

Wichita, Kansas



Sacred Grounds


Beth Jacob Synagogue

Montpelier, Vermont


Cornerstone United Methodist Church

Naples, Florida


Midway Christian Church (DOC)

Midway, Kentucky


Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church

Oak Ridge, Tennessee


Towson Unitarian Universalist Church

Lutherville, Maryland


United Church of Santa Fe

Santa Fe, New Mexico




Community Inspiration


Central Baptist Church

Wayne, Pennsylvania


Franciscan Renewal Center

Scottsdale, Arizona


Sisters of Saints Cyril and Methodius

Danville, Pennsylvania


St. Anselm’s Episcopal Church

Lafayette, California


West Raleigh Presbyterian

Raleigh, North Carolina



Cool Congregations Planner


First Congregational Church of Berkeley

Berkeley, California


St John’s Episcopal Church

Boulder, Colorado




Print Friendly, PDF & Email