The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries
Will They Hate You?
On occasion, I talk with people from churches that are involved with a building project -- either an entirely new building, or a major renovation. The question that I pose in starting a conversation, is "Will they hate you, or love you?"
The "they" refers to members of the church 40 or 50 years into the future, which is when the next big building project might come along. I ask, "Will the church members of your children's and grandchildren's generation speak proudly of your foresight and wisdom, or will they curse you for saddling them with a building that doesn't work for them?"
The church structures that are being built now should be able to serve congregations for the next four or five decades without substantial modification. In 2050, how well will these church buildings be functioning? I'm not thinking about whether the foundations will crack and the roof will leak. I am interested in how environmental and energy planning will shape the ability of churches to be faithful and effective. Will they be able to afford the operating costs, or function at all?
Long before 2050, the world will pass the time of "peak oil". The production of oil and gas will decline, even as demand is rising. As a result, gasoline, natural gas, and heating oil will be dramatically more expensive than we see now. The price of electricity, will probably rise, too.
In the face of climate change, I fervently pray that the governments and other institutions of the world will take the hard steps necessary to cut the use of fossil fuels by 80 or 90% by 2050. We are seeing the first steps in the process now, and global stability requires that we meet those targets by mid-century. In 2050, "carbon neutral" will be the standard expectation for all structures. Buildings that do not meet that standard will be prohibitively expensive, and morally obsolete. Is that what we want for our "new" church buildings?
In several recent church construction projects that I've seen, green design has been a core principle, and the congregation loves the results. But in other churches, these don't seem to be front-and-center questions. Instead, making new buildings pretty, spacious and affordable seem to be the most pressing considerations.
This is an important matter of theology and ethics. We need to talk about our use of energy and other resources -- in our own congregations, and with other churches that are planning building projects. As people of faith, is our greatest responsibility to reduce costs now, or to give primary consideration to those who will follow us? These are both valid questions of stewardship, and they don't have to be mutually exclusive. Too often, though, the burden being placed on future generations is not being considered very well.
If you know of a church that's looking at a building project, please pass this issue of Notes along to them! And while my discussion is focused on churches, the same considerations apply to homes, schools and businesses.
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How does this work in practicalities? I suggest to churches with building plans that they do everything that is possible now to be green, that they make it possible to take future steps, and that they avoid horrible mistakes.
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The Church of England, in all of England, Scotland and Wales, has taken on the challenge of cutting their total energy use by 2050 to 40% of current use -- and that involves a lot of very old buildings. As part of that program, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, said, "For the Church of the 21st Century, good ecology is not an optional extra but a matter of justice. It is therefore central to what it means to be a Christian."
When churches remodel or build new buildings, those considerations of ecology, justice and stewardship must be seriously considered. Don't let your church, or a neighboring one, start construction without maximizing their "green" impacts.
Eco-Justice Ministries * 400 S Williams St, Denver, CO 80209 * Home Page: www.eco-justice.org
Eco-Justice Ministries ended all programming on July 31, 2020. This site is an archive of writings and resources.
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