Church: Savings from solar panels can be diverted to help needy


Brian Keeney, inside, and Aaron Kraus, installers with Roark Aluminum, put in the third of five new windows at Grace Episcopal Church in downtown Jefferson City. In an effort to save energy, the church is having insulated windows and solar panels installed.

Brian Keeney, inside, and Aaron Kraus, installers with Roark Aluminum, put in the third of five new windows at Grace Episcopal Church in downtown Jefferson City. In an effort to save energy, the church is having insulated windows and solar panels installed. Photo by Julie Smith.

Stewardship can mean more than dollars.

At Grace Episcopal Church, the congregation began exploring a broader view of stewardship by looking at talents. That led to outside-of-the-church partnerships with organizations including The Salvation Army and Common Ground Community Center.

More recently, the congregation has made a commitment to more diligent creation stewardship by installing energy-efficient lighting, windows, heating and cooling system and other tweaks.

That is becoming more common for churches within their denomination, said leader Ken Luebbering.

What sets them apart is the extra step of installing solar panels.

The solar panels and other energy-efficient steps fulfill stewardship both by reducing the church’s overall carbon footprint and also by creating a cost-savings for the small congregation.

The 96-panel system should produce about 70 percent of the Jefferson City church’s electric use. Although the church didn’t qualify for tax credits, the move still made sense, Luebbering said.

The savings may be directed to future community outreach and may help with the church’s ambition to become a tithing church, giving 10 percent of the operating budget to mission projects, he said

As they continue with their year-round stewardship education, instead of a singular campaign, a major shift has taken place, Luebbering said.

Before the broader emphasis, the church was not active within the greater community, although individual members were.

For members like Eric Hedges, the initial survey of talents several years ago opened his eyes to where he might share his abilities, he said.

This summer, he was a chaperone for the church youths who spent a week at the Heifer International Ranch in Arkansas, which was steeped in sustainability, Hedges said.

And, he has become a leader in the congregation.

What has resonated for Hedges is the idea of “passing on the gift,” he said. He has been blessed and now the challenge is to find ways to share that blessing with others.

The regular offertory prayer is a reminder: “All things come of Thee, oh Lord, and of Thine own have we given Thee.”

Part of the Episcopal theology centers on the goodness of creation and the responsibility of humans to care for it and not exploit it, Luebbering said.

The Rev. Shariya Molegoda brought with her knowledge and experiences from her former career in wildlife biology.

“It informs who I am and how I go about my life and my work,” she said. “I’m a big advocate of leaving as small a footprint as possible.

“This is a congregation that’s serious about that.”

The key has been connecting to the sense of God as the creator and from there living out the Gospel.

“We recognize God who created us and all that is around us has also summoned us into this role of tending each other and what is around us,” Molegoda said.

Beyond leaving a more “green” impact on the earth, the creation stewardship helps build one’s spirituality.

“Scripture is full of examples of people who discovered in the wilderness an encounter with God,” Molegoda said.

She has felt such sacred encounters many times herself, she said.

“It has a way of tuning your heart.”

The combination of Scripture and nature extends an invitation for closeness with God, she said.

From the Garden of Eden in Genesis to the heavenly landscaped describe in Revelation, the Bible is full of stories from a natural setting.

This is not the end to creation stewardship efforts at Grace.

The inner courtyard is mostly concrete right now. Some members are dreaming of ways to bring more life into the space, creating a place for quiet times.

“That can be our own little wilderness experience,” Molegoda said.

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