St. Matthew's Evanston Banishes Winter Woes

January 29, 2014

St._Matthews_Evanston_photo.jpgTo ease the dark, cold winter and the high utility bills that come with it, the people of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Evanston have figured out how to cut energy costs by practicing good environmental stewardship. Their work has garnered impressive support.

Earlier this month, St. Matthew’s announced that it had earned a grant of $6,772 from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation to upgrade lighting fixtures throughout the church building and serve as a model of greater energy efficiency in the community. In addition, through ComEd’s Small Business Energy Savings, the congregation will convert to energy-saving electronic ballast and bulbs, putting it on the path to upgrading nearly 600 lighting fixtures and units in its 1950s-era building.

ComEd’s program will pay 75 percent of the costs of the church’s costs for the upgrade, while Project Green Environmental Solutions, a Chicago area environmental consultantancy subsidized by ComEd, will discount the remaining costs by 15 percent.

“These grants provide much-needed assistance in our efforts to demonstrate leadership in our community as wise stewards of our resources and of the environment,” said the Rev. Charles de Kay, rector of St. Matthew’s. “They also are a substantive and meaningful response to the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago’s convention resolution that asks churches to reduce energy consumption.”

The project required nearly a year of work by the administrative team at St. Matthew’s, former Warden Jeff Wilson, and the Vestry, said Beau Surratt, the administrative assistant who wrote the grants in consultation with Toni Carrigan, facilities coordinator and Derek Handley, operations assistant. Help from Project Green’s consultant Anthony Capuzzi was also essential.

What made St. Matthew’s application stand out from the rest, said Surratt, is the congregation’s commitment to the community.

“We invite people into the church building for everything from ballet lessons and AA meetings to Scout activities and theatre groups,” said Surratt. “The congregation also works tirelessly on ministries in Evanston and Chicago and on national and international outreach and mission.”

Work on the lighting project, which began last week, is not the end of St. Matthew’s commitment to environmental stewardship. Christina Padilla, who is married to de Kay, has organized a Green Team that is launching initiatives to reduce the church’s carbon footprint and move St. Matthew’s toward becoming a zero-waste community. “They’re doing such cool stuff,” said Courtney Reid, the Diocese of Chicago’s director of operations, who is particularly impressed by the congregation’s composting program, which includes coffee hour scraps and grounds.

In the last four years, interest in environmental stewardship has increased across the Diocese of Chicago, says Lisa Rogers Lee, who co-chaired the Bishop’s Task Force on Sustainability from 2009-2013. One of the goals of that group, which disbanded at the end of 2013, was to make sustainability “part of the diocesan fabric,” said Lee. “Now that we have resources in place and more people are aware of the need to work toward sustainability, everyone can participate. The bishop’s staff has integrated sustainability resources into the comprehensive support they offer to congregations that want to thrive.”

Lee cites St. Matthew’s as a model. Her advice to congregations that want to develop a sustainability plan is to start with a Green Team. “Get everyone on board,” she said. “All of the players and stakeholders should be involved, or at least aware. For example, if you’re starting a recycling program, make sure your sexton or custodian is on board.”

Lee also recommends that congregations start slow. “Make a plan and look at the big picture of what you can do,” she said, “but don’t take on too much at once.” St. John’s Episcopal Church in Chicago, for example, started out by asking people to bring their own coffee mugs to church. “That simple change lead to more comprehensive programs in reducing waste and energy consumption."

She recommends the ComEd audit process, which is free, as a good way for congregations to investigate the long-term savings they can realize. But saving money is not the only reason to work toward environmental sustainability.

“As Christians, we’re responsible for taking care of the earth. This work is a ministry, and preaching and teaching about care for creation is an integral part of moving forward,” said Lee. “We also need to be good stewards of our budget, so people who are motivated by the spirituality of sustainability can come together with people who want to reduce the budget.”

Congregations interested in learning more about how to form a Green Team, undertake an energy audit, or pursue other sustainability initiatives can call Reid at 312-751-6725 or email her to get connected with experienced volunteers, several of whom spearheaded the Task Force’s work, who will help congregations get started.

Category: Sustainability