Interfaith Power and Light practices creation care
By Christie Storm
Posted: January 26, 2012 at 5 a.m.
FAYETTEVILLE — One of the state’s oldest churches is getting a makeover – a weatherization touch-up courtesy of Arkansas Interfaith Power and Light.
Founded in 1828 by settlers from Tennessee, Mount Comfort Presbyterian Church has used its current building for more than 130 years. The small, white building sits on a foundation of stacked stones and logs. Its timeworn hardwood floors creak underfoot. Architectural distinctives of a bygone era, such as the pressed tin ceiling, hint at the true age of the building, which has been fitted with modern touches throughout the years.
Even with these additions, heating and cooling bills remained high. Now, thanks to a $3,000 grant and assistance from Arkansas Interfaith Power and Light, the small congregation hopes to save money on utility bills. Volunteers have already completed one phase ofthe project.
“They came in December and put foam insulation into the attic to fill gaps, which in a building this old, there are a lot of gaps,” says Randi Henderson, church pastor.
Vo lunteers and staff from Stitt Energy Systems of Rogers worked in the attic spraying a soybean-based insulation foam. An infrared pressure test of the church revealed that heat was escaping through the floor, so the crawl space beneath the building will be weatherized, too.
“It was a blessing for us,” Henderson says about receiving the grant.
The project is being supported by a grant from the Larson Family Foundation in cooperation with Arkansas Interfaith Power and Light, a state chapter of the national Interfaith Power and Light organization. The Arkansas chapter grew out of the Green Team at Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church in Little Rock. Team members, inspired by a 2008 Caring for Creation Conference at Mount Sequoyah Conference and Retreat Center in Fayetteville, established the Arkansas Green Faith Alliance. The group drew members from various denominations and gathered monthly to share ideas and resources. The organization became an affiliate of Interfaith Power and Light in 2009.
The nonprofit organization’s goal is to encourage houses of worship to be good stewards of creation by improving energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions.
“We’re trying to communicate a theological message across a broad spectrum to people of faith – Christian, Jewish, Muslim – that we should be concerned about creation because God is concerned about creation,” says Stephen Copley, an ordained United Methodist minister and co-chairman of the organization.
Copley says they work with congregations and nonprofit groups to improve energy efficiency. They look at utility bills and usage and assess the efficiency of the building and offer advice on how to improve the facilities.
“For Mount Comfort we were able to secure a grant to do that,” Copley says. “Truthfully, a lot of churches are older structures, and many times they aren’t energy efficient.”
This year, the organization has partnered with the Arkansas Energy Office to offer energy efficiency talks to faith groups. They also have other energy improvement projects in place, including one at a Boys’ and Girls’ Club facility in Little Rock.
Frank “Mac” Mayfield, cochairman, says he hopes the project at Mount Comfort will generate interest from other faith groups and encourage congregations to look into improving their buildings.
“That’s the real hope, to have people be more aware and change their behaviors,” Mayfield says.
Mayfield says he had an epiphany while inching along in the cramped crawl space beneath Mount Comfort Presbyterian. “The main support beam is mortised and it shows that old timber craftsmanship,” he says. “I looked at that piece ofoak and realized it was growing during the Revolution. That congregation stands on the shoulders of people who came before and built that church and survived the Civil War. … What kind of shoulders will our children’s children be standing on? What kind of world will that be?”
Mayfield said making a house of worship energy efficient is good fiscal sense, but a larger purpose is caring for God’s creation for future generations.
Early in its history, Mount Comfort was surrounded by farmland, and Henderson has been emphasizing their roots of living lightly on the earth. They planted a garden last year and partnered with St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fayetteville to provide fresh produce for their free community meals.
The congregation is small, with an average of 30 worshippers on a given Sunday. They come from throughout Northwest Arkansas, not just Fayetteville.
“I don’t know what draws them here,” Henderson says. “But there’s a ‘coming home’ feeling when you come to a church like this.”
The energy improvements have also increased enthusiasm among members.
“It’s generating a lot of energy in the congregation,” Henderson says.
For Henderson, who was an environmental engineer before becoming a minister, caring for creation goes hand in hand with the church’s mission.
“Our Reformed ethos is to embrace a simplicity that shuns ostentation,” she says. “We believe that the physical world was made for us … and it makes sense to be good shepherds. It really fits the mindset of this congregation.”
Churches or groups interested in an energy efficiency presentation can contact Arkansas Interfaith Power and Light at email@example.com or call Scharmel Roussel at (501) 772-9906. Information is available online at arkansasipl.com.