Pennsylvania church gets a charge out of creation care

Jun 17, 2019 by

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LANCASTER, Pa. — About 15 years ago, a Sunday school class discussion at East Chestnut Street Mennonite Church led to an initiative that is still reverberating today.

In the church’s parking lot, two new electric vehicle charging stations are the latest outcomes of the brainstorming that created a committee and a formula for funding the congregation’s care for creation.

A group from East Chestnut Street Mennonite Church celebrates the charging stations going live. In the foreground is Brandon Hol­linger’s 1968 Saab, converted to electric power. — East Chestnut Street Mennonite Church

A group from East Chestnut Street Mennonite Church celebrates the charging stations going live. In the foreground is Brandon Hol­linger’s 1968 Saab, converted to electric power. — East Chestnut Street Mennonite Church

The class was working its way through MennoMedia’s Second Mile: A Peace Journey for Congregations curriculum when the idea of moving beyond individual lifestyle changes to collective action began to take root.

The class proposed a self-assessed voluntary gas tax, which any church attendee could donate to a creation-care fund. The fund would be available for projects based on respect and care for God’s creation in the congregation’s urban environment.

Over the years, the fund has been used for a variety of projects, including tree planting on the church property and the neighborhood, insulation for the church attic, use of mugs rather than Styrofoam cups, installation of white rubber roofs on several  of the church properties, low-flow toilets, a bicycle rack, composting and LED lights.

Interest in electric vehicles was sparked when attender Brandon Hollinger converted his 1968 Saab to electric power. As hybrid and electric cars became more widely available, it was a natural next step for the congregation’s creation-care fund to support several new charging stations. These funds were supplemented by a grant from Mennonite Church USA’s Mennonite Creation Care Network. The congregation is also seeking a grant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

“Building a charging network is critical for making the switch from fossil fuels to powering our vehicles from renewable sourc­es,” said Marlisa Yoder-Bontra­ger of the creation-care committee. “We hope that these charging stations will create more points of connection between the community and our congregation and that more members will consider purchasing an electric vehicle the next time they are shopping for a car.”

The charging stations are available for free to anyone in need of a charge. Located in the heart of the city in an area surrounded by residences and businesses, the stations are easily accessible and listed on a Plugshare website app.

A charging station is just one component of a larger network whose transformation into a creation-friendly system is a work in progress.

For example, if the source of the electricity for the charging station comes from fossil fuels, the amount of carbon emissions released into the atmosphere by the larger system may not decrease by much. The congregation has switched its electric supply to a renewable, hydroelectric source, a small but visible sign of the larger conversion to renewable energy that is slowly beginning to take root.

“Churches should be on the forefront of these changes,” Yoder-Bontrager said. “This Earth is a beautiful gift from God, and we have the responsibility to treat it with reverence and respect.”


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