“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”(Genesis 2:15, NIV)
Within the first writings of the Bible, God instructs mankind to be stewards of His creation. It is this instruction taken to heart by members of Creation Justice Churches, and specifically the Church of the Good Shepherd (COGS) in Carbondale, Illinois, the first church in Southern Illinois to have solar energy installed. It is one of several churches in Illinois to utilize renewable energy and sustainable practices as part of their mission. St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island is another religious institution employing green energy methods.
Church of the Good Shepherd, a United Church of Christ, has undertaken the covenant of being a Whole Earth church, “committed to living in harmony with the earth as advocates for the integrity of care of God’s creation.” Putting this into practice, the church assembled a Green Team and installed 24 solar panels in February 2018, with first power occurring the following month. The project is a true success story, reducing costs while limiting the church’s carbon footprint.
The total electric charges in 2017 were reduced by two thirds in years 2019 and 2020, the first full years of solar power usage. Through 2020, the church has also reduced their carbon dioxide emissions by 17 tons. Through the Solar Renewal Energy Credits (SREC) program, COGS received nearly $10,000 from the Illinois Power Agency, effectively refunding approximately 70 percent of the total cost of the solar installation.
The church Green Team is focused on expanding their sustainable practices and inspiring their congregation to participate in earth stewardship. In late 2019, a building energy audit was conducted, and the following improvements were implemented: use of high-efficiency LED light bulbs, re-caulking leaky windows, replacement of door weather stripping, and replacement of ceiling fixtures. COGS has served as the blueprint and inspiration for additional churches in Carbondale to install solar panels including First Christian Church and St. Andrews Episcopal Anglican Church. The church has also been an active participant in the launch of the Solarize Southern Illinois program which aims to help convert homes and small businesses to solar power.
St. Mary Monastery’s experience with green energy dates back to 2001, during its construction in Rock Island, Illinois. When the Sisters of St. Benedict decided to close their boarding school in Nauvoo, Illinois in the late 1990’s and move to Rock Island, they carefully planned their new building design to include geothermal energy for heating and cooling. Adhering to the values of “Prayer, Community, Hospitality, Peace and Justice, and Care of Creation”, the sisters have earth stewardship as one of their key tenets. A lake was dug during initial building construction to serve as a heat source or heat sink, depending on the seasonal need for heat or cooling. The design consists of a closed-loop series of pipes filled with heat-transfer fluid that are submerged in the lake. The system takes advantage of the more constant temperature of surface water, rather than having to heat or cool the more variable ambient air temperature. Adding to their green energy ambitions, the sisters installed over 1,000 solar panels in 2021, to power the monastery and the Benet House Retreat Center, their community outreach ministry. The solar array is capable of providing up to 98% of electricity for the monastery and 80% of retreat center power. The monastery took advantage of the “Illinois Solar for All” program, which offers an affordable option for non-profit organizations to install solar power.
Stewardship of the Earth is explicitly stated and also implied throughout the Bible. God created the Earth for humans to both enjoy and preserve. Many religious institutions are putting these values into action, while also saving money in the process. Illinois religious groups are partaking in a growing movement to utilize renewable energy to help fulfill their missions.