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A Solar Springboard to Green Ministry

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In April 2011, Florida Avenue Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. became one of the first African-American churches in the nation to install solar on their roof, reducing their utility bill by 20 percent and saving them over $600 a month. But solar was just the beginning. The church has also launched a larger Green Ministry that includes sermons and classes connecting faith and the environment in practical ways.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Rev. Dr. Earl D. Trent and solar installation
    Connect climate with other priorities - Rev. Trent linked climate concerns with health, education, job creation, and cost savings.
  • Model sustainable behaviors - The improvements at the church served as both an example and a catalyst for inspiring the congregation's members.
  • Make it visible - A real-time monitor shows how much energy is being produced by the solar panels, which are now a part of the church’s logo and featured on its website.
  • Educate your members - A series of classes educated members about their utility bills and taught them what they could do to improve the efficiency of their homes.
  • Open your doors for others - Florida Avenue Baptist Church has had 70 other churches and organizations tour their building to inform their own efforts.  

Bringing In Your Members

The story of Florida Avenue Baptist Church’s solar roof began with a conversation between its Senior Pastor, Rev. Dr. Earl Trent, and Gilbert Campbell III from Volt Energy, a renewable energy company. Campbell had met Rev. Dr. Trent through his father, also a minister, a few years back. What ultimately swayed Rev. Dr. Trent to consider solar was not “going green.” Instead, it was the economics. “I looked at the numbers and they made a lot of sense to me,” Dr. Trent recalls. The solar roof promised to cut the church’s $3,000 monthly utility bill by $400/month.

Rev. Dr. Earl D. Trent speaking at solar installation
There was a catch, though. Because the church is a non-profit organization, the solar panels would need to be owned by its members in order to take advantage of tax credits. With the approval of the church’s board, Rev. Dr. Trent took the idea to the congregation. Rather than centering his message on the environment, however, he focused on the issues that matter most to his members, such creating jobs, educating a younger generation, and rededicating cost savings to the church’s ongoing missions. Within just a short amount of time, a dozen members had committed to funding the solar system. “If the church doesn't have the funds, trust the congregation and make the appeal. Because it'll surprise you,” says Dr. Trent.

We are a midsized church, not a mega-church. If we can do it, anybody can.

Rev. Dr. Earl D. Trent, Jr.
Senior Pastor, Florida Avenue Baptist Church

Green Ministry

The solar roof quickly became much more than a means of saving money -- it became a part of the church’s identity and a way to reach an even larger audience. The church’s formal ribbon cutting ceremony, held on May 3, 2011, was attended by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and received coverage on local television, the Washington Post, and other media.

Rev. Dr. Earl D. Trent in ribbon cutting ceremony for solar installation
Dr. Trent was determined that the solar panels mark a beginning rather than an end. So, he used the their installation as an opportunity to launch a broader “Green Ministry” campaign to engage his congregation. This campaign included sermons, events, classes, and an adult Sunday service lecture series focused on raising awareness of environmental issues, including climate change. The church even held events to teach its members how to read and reduce their home utility bills. “A carbon footprint might not mean anything, but a lower electric bill, that means something,” says Rev. Dr. Trent. 

Environmental stewardship now plays a central role in how the church relates to its members and the community. Not only does the congregation have a real-time monitor of its energy savings inside the church building, the panels make up the cross on their new logo as a symbol of their unique commitment to caring for creation. “This is the Green Church. It’s an integral part of who we are,” says Rev. Dr. Trent.

If We Can Do It...

Rev. Dr. Earl D. Trent speaking at solar installation

As Dr. Trent looks out on the horizon, he hopes to wake others up to their call to be stewards of the created world. This means continuing to lead and serve as an example. To date, more than 70 different churches and organizations have toured the church to gain inspiration for ideas they can implement in their own communities. Based off his own experience, Dr. Trent sees solar as something that could easily work for other congregations: “We are a midsized church, not a mega-church," he says. "If we can do it, anybody can."

 

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