We Are All in This Together: Indiana’s Presbyterian Community
The Presbyterian Church (USA), headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky, includes about 190 certified Earth Care Congregationsthroughout the United States. Three of these are in Indiana, and a dozen other Presbyterian churches throughout the state are associated with Hoosier IPL.
The Rev. Rebecca Barnes, the Presbyterian Associate for Environmental Ministries, lives in Jeffersonville, Indiana. Rebecca says, “As a Presbyterian, I believe we're called to live our faith in the public square, to interact with society through key elements of faith—such as gratitude for the gift of God of this beautiful creation, love of our brothers and sisters who are most impacted by environmental destruction, and humble confession that the world is not to be used and disposed of for selfish human interest.”
Several Presbyterian congregations throughout Indiana contributed to this article describing what Presbyterians do for Earth Care. Three of them have the same name. You guessed it….
First Presbyterian Church in Fort Wayne, a member of H-IPL’s regional affiliate Evansville Area Creation Care, became a certified Earth Care Congregation in 2015. They then transformed a centrally located room in the church into an attractive, well organized center for recycling, collection of reusable goods, and distribution of earth related materials.
The artistic talents of their Green Team, including those of their leader Patty Griest, shine through in many of their other projects: For Earth Sunday last spring, emphasizing “Stewards, not Subduers,” the pastors wore stoles made by members from discarded ties collected by the children throughout Lent. The church’s Art Gallery featured “Tossed and Found,” an invitational exhibition of the work of eight local artists who used recycled, reclaimed materials to create incredible new works of art. In conjunction with the exhibition, FPC offered a workshop to emphasize the worldwide problem of trash polluting the planet and to encourage others to reduce, reuse and recycle, and to reclaim and honor the va
lue of discarded items for other uses.
On Arbor Day the congregation planted six trees on the grounds of another church. They continue to encourage support for the programs of H-IPL and the Sierra Club, currently concentrating on the closing of the Rockport coal-fired power plant.
First Presbyterian Church in Bloomington’s nearly decade-strong Green Team, Earth Stewards, “envisions a world in which all people treat God’s creation with reverence and gratitude.” They too host weekly recycling. Working with the church’s Property Management Committee, they have reduced their building’s energy footprint and costs by approximately 30% by, among other things, replacing an old gas-fired boiler with a high efficiency unit and installing LED lights as well as high efficiency appliances in their newly remodeled kitchen. A commercial grade dishwasher has enabled them to practically eliminate use of disposable dinnerware.
First Presbyterian was one of the first congregations to use Task of the Month to help households reduce energy use, and their “Wrap Rap,” written and performed by Buff and Lilly Brown, made wrapping hot water pipes very cool indeed. First Presbyterian belongs to H-IPL’s affiliate in Bloomington, Earth Care, and one of their key members, Allan Edmonds, is H-IPL’s faithful newsletter editor.
First Presbyterian Church in Jeffersonville, Indiana’s first Earth Care Congregation, has had a green team cheering the congregation’s environmental efforts along since 2008, but First Prez celebrated outdoor worship and had Blessing of the Animals long before that. Working with H-IPL program director Trisha Tull, they host recycling of difficult items such as batteries, CFL bulbs, cell phones, and wine bottle corks. They brought back real dishes to both communion and church dinners, introduced an annual winter farmer’s market in their gym, and designed and installed unique bike racks in the form of Presbyterian symbols.
They’ve held electronic trash recycling days for the community and regular earth care worship cycles. The congregation has had home energy audits with Energizing Indiana and used Task of the Month to help educate themselves on changes at home. The green team regularly sells Equal Exchange Fair Trade coffees, chocolates, and other products. Most recently they were instrumental in installing one round of solar panels and are working on a second round, and led the congregation in a drive for reforestation, sending funds to the Africa Inland Church in Kisumu, Kenya to build a tree nursery that will supply seedlings to congregations in western Kenya. First Prez’s property committee and the green team have worked together to reduce the building’s energy use by 18% so far, and are currently replacing most of the fluorescent lights in the building with LEDs.
Hanover Presbyterian Church, besides recycling and installing energy efficient lights, has very active gardeners sharing their produce with other members. Their annual outdoor worship services highlight the call to care for the environment, and their Blessing of the Animals reminds them of their love for all God’s creatures. Hanover’s pastor, the Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy, says, “I believe God created the earth to work together as a system—plants, animals, and humans—and we have to live together peacefully. That isn't always easy, especially with new technology that can damage creation. We have to do what we can to help care for creation, even if it is something small.”
Unity Presbyterian Church in Terre Haute is Indiana’s second Earth Care Congregation. Green committee member Dawn Chapman says their intergenerational green team encourages recycling in the church. They host a Family Organic Garden that helps feed food-insecure families by donating ten percent of their yield to the church’s Potts Food Pantry. They contribute funds for water wells in Africa, and they have improved their building with occupancy sensors to save on electricity in several rooms.
Every fifth Sunday, the Green Committee takes charge of Sunday School to teach about earth stewardship. They have collected enough plastic soda bottle caps to recycle into three benches for the church property. The dedication of the green committee has spilled out to the rest of the congregation. Member Bess Enright in particular summarized Unity’s values, saying, “As a person of faith I feel responsible to make our environment cleaner. Even one person can make a difference.”
Irvington Presbyterian Church (IPC) in Indianapolis embraces the theologically-sound idea that “we are all in this together.” They retrofitted 200 windows in the church, making them double-paned; replaced 137 lightbulbs and 25 fluorescent tubes with higher efficiency lighting; and added motion detectors to shut off restroom lights. They have encouraged members to conduct energy assessments in their homes as well.
The church has built six raised garden beds to grow vegetables for the local food pantry. They also began “Project Eden,” planting fruit and nut trees instead of ornamental plants on their grounds. They sell Equal Exchange Fair Trade products to assist small farmers in developing countries, and several members have participated in delegations of the Presbyterian Hunger Program in Nicaragua and Peru, bringing back inspiring stories of how others are making an impact in environmentally sustainable practices. The church has offered retreats and classes using curriculum based on food justice. They also support food justice by providing a low-cost apartment for VISTA workers volunteering in Indianapolis.
Irvington’s pastor, the Rev. Bob Heimach, says that the church’s leadership understands that “we are only hospitable to God if we are hospitable to God’s world. So, IPC is always seeking ways to grow in hospitality by promoting actions that will make our worldwide community cleaner, safer, and more sustainable to all of God’s children.”