Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

How green is your church?

I don't generally discuss religion too frequently, mostly because I'm a recovering Catholic and I like to leave well enough alone, but the concept of greening one's congregation came up over a discussion the other day. A Facebook friend was looking for ways to replace the disposable plastic cups they used for communion.

Not having heard of such a thing since the only churches I've been too all used the common communion chalice complete with the obligatory, yet not quite sanitary, "wipe" across the cup. So, on one hand, the hypochondriac in me was pleased that such highly delicious communicable-by-mouth diseases wasn't something to fear in these churches, yet the environmentalist in me was horrified at the amount of cups a church must go through every year. Well, that and the cost.

I'm sure most churches, in this day and age of fear and swine flu, wouldn't go back to the shared chalice, but there are other alternatives, such as glass or stainless steel cups. The stainless steel ones are a little harder to come by in the U.S. but the glass cups seem more available. Better yet, why not BYOC. Or is packing your own shot glass a little too over-the-top for church? What if it's got some great biblical quote etched on the side? No?

Anyway, how about reducing the energy used at the church either by investing in solar panels or wind power? From the Sierra Club website:
The Energy Star web site, a program of the U.S. EPA, has devoted a number of pages to helping congregations get started on saving energy. Some projects are simple, like changing lightbulbs or installing occupancy sensors in light switches so lights turn off when no one is present. And then there are the more involved projects, like upgrading heating and ventilation and landscaping with plants native to your climate.

Some other ideas for greening your church include using green cleaning products and encouraging church-goers to take public transportation, carpool, walk or bike to church. Hosting a sewing circle for making reusable cloth grocery bags or even making them out of plastic shopping bags that could be auctioned or sold to support greening the church would be a good place to start.

Holding a canning session in the church kitchen for using the season's surplus and providing for the poor would be invaluable. Better yet, start a community garden to provide an additional source of food for the poor. And replacing disposable eating utensils with good old-fashioned silverware, glasses and plates that are washed for reuse would cost more to start, but would save money in the end.

Finally, providing recycling services for those who don't have it at home is a valuable resource since people would, ultimately, be showing up once a week for church/recycling drop-offs.

For more ideas, check out what these Presbyterian churches are doing. What efforts is your church doing to be greener?


Anonymous said...

I'm a Unitarian, so communion isn't really an issue for us. However, I've seen a whole other option altogether, called 'intinction'. What you do is dip the bread in the wine and then consume both at once. It's considered totally valid as far as I understand, and it removes even the need to wash cups so it's a pretty green choice. And as long as no one's double dipping it's sanitary, too.

Farmer's Daughter said...

It's been years since I've stepped foot in a church other than for a wedding or funeral. I remember my congregational church having glasses, and communion was only once each month. Plus, it was grape juice, not wine.

I hadn't thought about it at all since I no longer practice religion, and I'm not sure what the church uses now, it could be plastic.

Anna said...

Our church uses intinction every week for communion, so there's no wasted cups. We use reusable plates for the bread and glasses for the wine.
We also decided as a community to invest in some mugs so we wouldn't be constantly throwing away cups for our fair-trade coffee.
Another thing we do that's cool is around Christmas time, we do all sorts of workshops (knitting, fudge-making, card-making) for people to make their own gifts instead of buying all sorts of useless stuff.
Thanks for your post!

amandaginn said...

I LOVE the glass communion cups. I think they help give communion the weight and significance it deserves. When I drink out of those plastic ones, communion feels cheap and disposable -- as if there wasn't enough in our culture that already fits that bill.

We have been church "hopping" for a couple of years, and the churches we attend don't own their buildings but rather rent out a school or another neighborhood church on Sundays.

I have wondered many times why all these churches with their land and people power don't convert part of their meticulous lawn into a community garden, giving what they grow back to those in need.

From my experience, evangelical Christians (especially conservative evangelical Christians) are slow to the boat when it comes to making a positive environmental impact. It is really quite sad to me.

Thanks for the encouragement without the harassment.

pigbook1 said...

our communion type ritual used to use paper cups. they were little and all pleated (don't know how else to describe it). my current congregation uses plastic

Lisa said...

Thanks for the post! I'm working on the "green team" for the local Presbyterian church where I am a member but don't attend right now (long story). I am truly a Quaker but in my small town in the bible belt we don't have any meeting houses so the Presbyterian church I was raised in is my church home for now.

I seem to remember the church uses glass communion cups at one point but not sure. At times they do the dipping the bread in the "wine" (grape juice lol) but most of the time they use the plastic cups. Communion isn't ever Sunday and it's a small church so the waste isn't HUGE but it still adds up.

We are recycling and doing things like that but we need to do a lot more!

Joanna said...

My church has definitely made "creation care" a priority. My favorite? A community vegetable garden, with CSA shares to help support it, and shares specifically set aside for the local food pantry. Fair-trade coffee and biodegradable coffee cups are also good steps. In the church's latest building project, there was a stated goal of locally-sourced materials and zero waste.

Unknown said...

The church I grew up in used glass communion cups--and they still do to this day. Now my church meets in homes and we try to share a meal together instead of just a little piece of bread and a little cup of juice (since that was what the Lord's supper originally was--a SUPPER). We do take time for reflection ("communion") but we use the cups we already have been drinking out of. Several of our church members are eco-conscious/friendly and we encourage the others to be as well! Even my dear hubby is coming around . . . slowly but surely!

barefoot gardener said...

I, too, grew up in a church that had little glass cups....I remember helping with communion and being TERRIFIED that I would drop the tray!

YogaforCynics said...

My church, to the extent that I have one, is the great outdoors, and, where I live, it's very green this time of year....

What really concern me are the very anti-green churches that tell people the Lord's coming soon, so there's no need to worry about the environment (back in the 80's, James Watt, Ronald Reagan's Secretary of the Interior actually said, when asked about containers for nuclear waste that would only last for a certain number of years "I think the Lord will have come by then"). Unfortunately, this is the mindset of a significant portion of the American electorate.

cynthia said...

Hm. The church I've been in most recently has done what Amber's has and has the congregation dip the host into the challis.

The methodist church in Fountain Colorado has set up an urban garden and has a farmer's market and craft market on Saturday's from their garden.

Kate said...

I'm Episcopalian and even though we talk a lot about being green and respecting 'God's' creation (still not sold on that one....)I'm not sure there is really an effort to make changes in the way individual churches run things.

Sure my congregation has the obligatory blue or green recycling cans but I've picked more trash out of them than I can count. I've also wondered why my church feels the need to air condition or keep the heat turned up in the sanctuary all the time. If we aren't using it or about to use it - turn it off or at least down! Even changing the light bulbs would help.

In terms of communion, in Episcopal and Catholic services the blessed sacrament must be consumed entirely (or put away for a future use). It may be put directly onto blessed ground (as we did at summer camp) but usually the chalices and plates are washed in a piscina (a special sink that doesn't run into the sewer system). There is probably minimal water usage for washing because of the process - but I'm more concerned about the bleaching of the linens. You need a lot of chemicals to get those red wine stains out.

There have to be a number of ways to 'green' our churches - maybe starting with Sunday school classes (for all ages). We had a forum on the Oklahoma food co-op last year. So I guess there is hope even in Oklahoma.

On the discussion of getting sick from communion, I did hear someone say because it's blessed sacrament we can't get sick from a common cup - woah.... that's a little more faithful than I tend to be (or want to be!)I just trust the wipe and turn method.

Segwyne said...

I am also a Unitarian Universalist and my church has been working hard at becoming recognized in the UU community as a Green Sanctuary.

We have switched to cloth napkins for coffee hour and children's snacks, only free trade coffee is served, we lowered the thermostat to I think 65 and people unused to that temperature just bundle up, we sometimes hold services in the smaller parish hall to save on heating the enormous uninsulated sanctuary, sermons are delivered specifically for environmental issues (it is one of our 7 principles), and lots more. I believe they are all listed in the application and audit on the church's website.

I am really proud of my church and congregation.

Robj98168 said...

I remember taking communion at church (no there was not lightning) at my old (Lutheran) church they used little glass shot type glasses. All I could think was who has to wash all them glasses- and of course they had Morgan David wine in them- talk about sticky.

Rosa said...

amandaginn, our church has a community garden. It's small because it's a small city lot, but I think other churches in the neighborhood do that too.

I don't know if there's a way to really green a church everyone has to drive to get to, myself - we're still heckling - uh, gently encouraging - our pastor toward a bike, and about 2/3 of our congregation walks or buses. Among other things, there's no parking lot so people who drive have to walk a block or two anyway.

Katy said...

I go to a lot of different churches. One uses the plastic cups... and good luck trying to get them to change anything! (You would think Jesus himself used the plasic cups)

Another does intinction.

Another does the communial cup thing.

Really though, if you want to start greening a church I would say ask everyone to bring their coffee mugs to church. You can't have a church function with out coffee and food! So yeah... start a BYOM campaign while you push for plastic free communion. Okay.. I guess now I need to Bring My Own mug... :)

Anonymous said...

While no cup at all sounds best, perhaps those who prefer plastic cups could consider switching to the compostable ones?


Jason C said...

There's a book kinda about this topic - - and there was a segment on Sundance Channel once about greening churches. Very interesting topic as many are religious people. The one pastor said that to really get the green movement going - have religion grasp on. I tend to agree with that statement - there are plenty of us secular folks who are already greenies. I don't know a ton about the inner-functions of a church - but a weekly handout could be eliminated. Making a conscious effort to use an ecofriendly dry cleaner is another option. Then there are cleaning supplies and having no-idle zones.

A Green Atheist

Anonymous said...

Sorry to be teh's "chalice." Challis is a fabric.

I belonged to a church in which the bread was mixed with the wine and hot water in the chalice and the priest dipped a spoon into the chalice and fed the congregants. If you had a cold you were asked to go last. I never got sick from communion, but sure did from the little kids running around with their little noses and hands.

We were not very environmental, but I did request, one year when I had a position to do so, that we did not buy Easter flowers from Wal-mart.

emmer said...

i am also unitarian universalist. our church does a flower communion twice a year. bring a stemmed flower from your garden (or?), place in a basket or vase up front. near end of service, the children pass thru the congregation and hand out the flowers.
we are a certified green sanctuary. this involved a committee arranging and energy audit and then following thru on the recommendations. we also switched to fluorescent lights, use recycled paper in the newletter, order of service, etc. we recycle and compost. we put in a water permeable parking lot when the congregation size required an expansion. we have an "ask greenies" column in our newsletter, in which the green group tries to answer enviro related questions from congregants.
many of us carpool, ride the light rail or bike to church and every where else.
this denomination has 7 principles which serve as its foundation. the 7th is "respect for the interdependent web of life, of which we are a part." we have several sermons annually on "green" subjects, from the minister, members of the congregation, the children, or an outside speaker.
our children spend several weeks each year learning age-appropriate info about our natural world and they do multiple service projects. they sell chocolate bars, for example, to support the jane goodall institute. the church uses a portion of the grounds for a community garden. this year a trench was hand dug by members for a water line at the garden site.
our church has hosted all of the discussion courses which the northwest earth institute offers. these include voluntary simplicity, sustainable living, deep ecology, globalization and its critics, healthy children/healthy planet, menu for the future, and discovering a sense of place.we also provide cheap meeting space for non profit groups such washington county peak oil (like transition towns).
we use and wash real dishes, cups, and flatware. fair trade coffee and tea is a given. we buy locally and seasonally for events involving food. awesome and getter better every year.

Anna in Atlanta said...

Like Kildare Girl, I'm Episcopalian, and I totally belive in the "wipe and turn" -- what the alcohol doesn't kill can't hurt me!

For the religious history part, wasn't the first communion cup a single, shared one?? The separate cups are an odd custom to my way of thinking. Intinction (aka "dipping") is another option to share the symbolic single chalice.

My church is green out the ears -- we all know our carbon footprints (questionnaires handed out by church), we recycle, we use ceramic mugs and plates at coffee hour, we are a dropoff point for a CSA, etc etc. It's one of the reasons I like it.

Deanna said...

We attend a Presbyterian church in a rural town in Oklahoma. Not exactly a hotbed of environmentalism in this area but most in our church are at least open to the concept. My daughter: (

another friend and myself have started the process of "greening the church". So far we have done a green audit of sorts and have made a preliminary report to the Session. We hope to host some classes on going green that would also be open to the community.

Abby said...

I think that my church still doesn't really know what to do with this. There are over 7000 people in attendance every weekend, so we not only use disposable cups, but pre-packaged cups with the bread on top. Lots of plastic, lots of waste. But they are collected at the same time as the offering in small plastic trashcans passed through the aisle. I don't know if this means they are recycled or tossed, but the church IS making efforts in other places.
There are recycling collection spots in the lobby all over the place, and there is a Paper Retriever bin in the parking lot, which the church makes a small amount of money from (it's like a money-making venue for charitable organizations--they're all over the city). The church also has a "creation care" group that plants gardens around the city with the produce going to our church's food pantry, and various other things, including a reduction in bulletin handouts, re-collected bulletins (for reuse, then recycling), and the random handouts that used to go into the bulletins are now given out only to those who want to take them. This is a far cry from several years ago when the bulletin was regularly stuffed with announcements, and the bulletin itself was larger than a legal-size sheet of paper. Everything is smaller and optional now.

I don't think it was even all about recycling, just about the amount of waste being tossed out, and how it seemed really wasteful in general to do that. I know a lot of people who don't like that churches HAVE become focused on reducing waste, because they think that it takes away from the true focus, but I think that as a Christian, I should be responsible and not wasteful of the resources of this earth.

EnviRambo said...

Thanks for the post Crunchy! I was able to find stainless steel cups, but the minimum order was 3,000! We're not even close to 1,000. I also found the elusive rack for washing glass cups in the dishwasher. I am taking my findings to our next "Greening the congregation" meeting at the end of this month. We'll see how it goes.

It's great to here other churches out there are looking at their environmental impact and thinking of ways to improve it. My church (lutheran) has formed a "Green Task Force" that meets once a month. Some other things we are looking into: better forecasting the number of bulletins that need to be printed to reduce paper waste, starting an email database for church newsletters rather than paper mailings, programmable thermostat for the parsonage, relamping the church, local wine for communion, starting a community garden.....

Malayali said...

Churches should reduce the no of candles to reduce CO2 emission and heat generation. Instead of 100 candles light only one or two candles...i am sure god will forgive...

waste auditor said...

Greeen Sheeep

If you are able to send me any info about the elusive dishwasher tray for glass communion cups I would very much appreciate it. My church has glass and wants to switch to plastic. I am begging them not to but if I am going to stand a chance I need to find a better way to wash our existing glassware.