This story was corrected at 9:45 a.m., August 3, 2012.
Presbyterian churches in Montgomery County are going green, thanks to a national program from the Presbyterian Mission Agency, which coordinates good works and missions within the church.
The 2-year-old program helps churches be good stewards of God’s creation, said the Rev. Dr. Kirby Lawrence Hill, pastor of Warner Memorial Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, which is certified as an Earth Care Congregation.
“That includes being better about how we conserve energy, making wise choices in what we purchase or recycle, and also in teaching our congregation to be more thoughtful about how we are taking care of the creation that’s been placed in our care,” he said. “It’s important for us because we see the environment being abused, because we value what God has created and want to take care of it. It’s both practical and belief-oriented.”
He said the church features alternative transportation Sundays encouraging parishioners to carpool, walk, bus or bike to worship services, recently has installed a bike rack, and plans to better insulate the sanctuary.
Five churches in the county are certified as Earth Care Congregations: Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Geneva Presbyterian Church in Potomac, New Hope Presbyterian Church in Derwood, Saint Mark Presbyterian Church in North Bethesda and Warner Memorial.
They are among more than 90 congregations in 30 states and the District of Columbia that also are certified, according to information from the Presbyterian Mission Agency website.
Certification is based on a point system in categories that include worship, education, facilities,and outreach. Recertification is required annually.
Points are awarded for managing stormwater runoff, creating wildlife habitat on church grounds and other initiatives, according to the Presbyterian Mission Agency website.
Churches must also take the Earth Care pledge to celebrate and protect God’s creation by educating the community, managing facilities in a responsible way, and encouraging public policy that restores and protects the earth and oppressed and neglected people.
Energy efficiency makes sense morally and financially, said the Rev. David Gray, pastor of Bradley Hills.
“I think modeling good stewardship of our own resources has an impact on members of the church and the community,” he said. “Good resource management is good for the bottom line, is good on a corporate and personal level, and is a good way to manage what God has entrusted to us.”
Most recently certified in Montgomery was Saint Mark Presbyterian, said Alison Bennett, a church elder.
“We’re all really proud of ourselves,” Bennett said. “This is a crowning achievement. However, you’ve got to keep it up.”
In the past, she said the church has sold reusable bags with proceeds funding reforestation efforts in Haiti, remodeled the sanctuary to be more energy efficient, and was the first in the Washington, D.C., area to encourage a carbon fast, reducing their energy use during Lent.
A local leader in the Earth Care program is Rosie Perthel, who heads the green team at Geneva Presbyterian in Potomac. She brags to other congregations about how many points the church racked up —double the required 50 — on its recertification application in January.
“That’s really powerful with other congregations, to see how you fast you can get certified,” she said.
The church garden does not use pesticides or other chemicals and is certified by environmental group the National Wildlife Federation as wildlife habitat, she said.
The garden provides food, water, cover and nesting habitat for wildlife, and also is certified by Monarch Watch as a monarch butterfly waystation.
Geneva also installed a rain garden, in coordination with Montgomery County and Geneva Day School, a nondenominational preschool and kindergarten that rents space from the church. The rain garden catches runoff from the parking lot.
To teach children about the environment, the church hosts local youth who do habitat restoration work.
“The wonderful thing about working within a faith-based organization is now matter what you do, they always let you come back next week, so you can keep working at it and keep working at it,” Perthel said.
Montgomery County congregations of all faiths have shown remarkable interest in going green, said Joelle Novey, director of Greater Washington Power & Light, which works with religious groups in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia. The organization provides education, practical suggestions, and a community of support.
She said congregations might differ in where they begin, but there is at least one person in every congregation who is passionate about fighting climate change.
“My experience is that every congregation has at least one green sheep,” she said. “I think it’s one of the blessings and challenges of climate change in particular, no one person or group of people will be able to solve it themselves. It sort of calls our bluff, and forces us to focus on the ways we are connected to each other.”
This story was updated to reflected the fact that it was Saint Mark Presbyterian Church that was the most recently designated Earth Care congregation in Montgomery County.