Church cares for creation by reducing carbon footprint

St. Matthew's UMC has a 96-panel solar array that's providing energy for the church and the parsonage. (Solar OH Street drone view)

August 21, 2023

Holy God,
Your mercy is over all your works, and in the web of life each creature has its role and place.
We praise you for the ocelot and the owl, cactus and krill, phytoplankton and whales.
We honor you for whirlwind and lava, tides and topsoil, cliff and marsh. 
Give us hearts and minds eager to care for your planet,
Humility to recognize all creatures as your beloved ones,
Justice to share the resources of the earth with all its inhabitants,
and love not limited by our ignorance.
This we pray in the name of Jesus, who unifies what is far off and what is near,
and in whom, by grace and the working of your Holy Spirit, all things hold together.

Prayer offered by Susan Evans for the 2022 Earth Day worship service at St. Matthew's UMC

In 2002, Susan Evans heard that St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church was planning an Earth Day event. She volunteered. 
Two decades later, she’s the guiding force in the Acton, MA, church’s environmental efforts – the centerpiece of which is a 96-panel solar array. 
In 2020, the church connected its solar panels to the grid. They provided for 95 percent of the church’s electric bill. After a 2022 upgrade to LED lighting, the church has electricity to spare and is now powering the parsonage with a bit of surplus – and no electric bill.
While the energy and money savings are important, Evans keeps her focus on the larger mission of caring for creation. The church reduced its greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent between 2014 and 2023. 
“Greenhouse gas emissions heat up the atmosphere and accelerate climate change – having an impact on all of Earth’s living creatures, plants, water and air,” she said. That’s the “bigger story and mission,” Evans said.
Evans is well equipped for the task. Until earlier this year, she worked as an Assistant Energy Efficiency Consultant at the energy provider Eversource, and is a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) accredited professional and a Certified Energy Manager (CEMIT). 
Susan Evans in the attic.
The insulation is made from treated denim.

But her commitment to protecting the environment goes back to childhood.
“I am very passionate about this. When I was a young kid, my mother enrolled me in Girl Scouts. The leader was into camping, nature, anything about animals. I think that’s where I got it,” Evans said, pausing with emotion. “I get a little teary sometimes about how we’ve got to take care of it.”
Rev. Jinwoo Chun began serving St. Matthew’s shortly after the panels were up and running. He said the array was one of the first things he and his family noticed about the church. 
“The first impression I got was, wow, this church is really a green church,” Rev. Chun said, adding that his son, who was a college freshman at the time, agreed: ‘Wow, that’s cool. I like this church already,’ he said.”
The process has taken some time, and Evans admits she’s sometimes felt like the “lone ranger” in her quest to make the church more green. But by taking consistent steps and offering opportunities for the congregation to learn more, the church has made real progress. 
Evans, Rev. Chun said, has helped him learn about how to talk to members about the environment and the church’s role. 
Coming full circle, she led the church’s Earth Day worship service in 2022.
“She’s the real thing,” Rev. Chun said of Evans. “Everyone felt her authenticity. She looked kind of nervous, but everyone said it was powerful.” 
Encouraging good stewardship of the environment is a matter of being intentional and being patient, Rev. Chun said. 
“It’s not just Susan’s thing, it’s our church, it’s our ministry. It’s God’s ministry, and we want to be part of God’s ministry. The Earth will not wait for us,” he said. 
As for Evans, she’s not done. 
“We’re zero net electricity. We want to be zero net energy,” she said. “It’s my goal  … I’m determined to get this building off the grid, so we have no more fossil fuel. I don’t know how fast we’ll be able to do it.” 
Learn how they do it
Click on the PowerPoint below to take a tour of St. Matthew’s UMC and see some of the steps they’ve taken to reduce the church’s carbon footprint.