Brief History of Environmental Stewardship at First Presbyterian Church
We call our environmental mission, “Caring for Creation,” but in church lexicon it also is known as ecojustice, environmental stewardship and environmental justice. Since the late 1990s, “Caring for Creation” has been a vital mission of First Presbyterian Church that is embraced by our members and is fully integrated into our worship, actions and outreach to our community.
We are guided by our denomination’s policy actions, in particular by:
- Restoring Creation for Ecology and Justice (1990)
- Call for Presbyterian Institutions to Go Carbon Neutral (2006)
- The Power to Change: U.S. Policy and Global Warming (2008)
Creation care is based on three theological principles:
- The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 24). Theologically speaking we human beings don’t own anything. We’re merely stewards, caretakers of a creation that belongs to the Creator.
- As wonderful as the creation is, it has its limits. We cannot exploit the earth’s resources with abandon. When we do, we disrupt the balance God built into creation from the beginning. That, more or less, is the lesson Adam and Eve learned when they ate the forbidden fruit. Without limits, the whole system goes haywire.
- Human beings are made in the image of God to live in community with one another. The answer to the question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is “Yes.” We cannot love God without also loving our neighbors. I cannot honor God without honoring God’s image in my neighbor. Hence, it’s not enough for me and mine to flourish. I must see that my neighbor flourishes as well, living in dignity, freedom and justice.
These basic theological principles prompt a moral mandate to care for the earth not merely for our own sakes, but also for the sake of others. “Caring for Creation” is not just a choice. It’s a vocation, a calling, the will of God for humankind.
We strongly believe that we can’t expect others to change their lives if we are not willing to change our institutional lives first.
Session Commits to Environmental Justice: In 1998, the session committed the congregation to be “An Environmental Justice Covenant Congregation,” pledging to be involved in ministries of environmental justice through worship, learning and teaching, congregational and individual lifestyles, and community, national and global involvement.
Education: Even before our formal commitment to environmental justice, we began educating our members about environmental stewardship, specifically about Florida’s environmental problems, climate change science and renewable energy. These programs were implemented in Sunday school classes, Youth group meetings, Presbyterian Women’s programs, Wednesday night suppers and with field trips. Monthly Caring for Creation columns in the Florida Presbytery newsletter have expanded our educational outreach to 37 other churches.
Actions: We began by taking the simple steps of recycling our waste and using porcelain dishes and glassware instead of plastic or Styrofoam ware. We also invested in an energy efficient dishwasher.
In 2006, the church committed to lower its energy usage and to offset its remaining emissions in response to the General Assembly call for Presbyterian Churches to go carbon neutral. This began with the purchase of carbon offsets, but quickly moved to members helping others in our community to lower their carbon emissions. This eventually morphed into the Sustainable Tallahassee Community Carbon Fund, which continues to this day to do energy retrofits for charitable organizations using carbon offset donations. Every year, we offset our carbon emissions with the Community Carbon Fund as do many of our members.
Also in 2006, we retrofitted our 1950s Education Building with double-paned windows and modern fluorescent fixtures. We replaced our old roof and aligned the new one to receive the maximum benefit from the sun’s rays. This allowed us to install a solar voltaic generating plant on the roof, following the example of the Unitarian Universalist Church, the first congregation in town to install solar panels. Our 25.6 KW panels produce about 25% of our total electrical needs. When we are not using all the electricity the sun generates, our meter runs backwards and we sell the surplus to the City of Tallahassee.
The next step was to renovate our sanctuary, which was built in 1838. We replaced our air conditioner with a state of the art system and retrofitted the entire building with the most efficient lighting system we could find.
In 2015, we installed an energy efficient heating and cooling system, called a Mini-Split HVAC system, in our education building.
Since 2014, our church session has sent overtures to the Florida Presbytery and the General Assembly asking the denomination to categorically divest its fossil fuel holdings in its pension fund and from the Presbyterian Foundation. The overtures have failed three times.
In response to the denomination’s refusal to divest, we asked the Presbyterian Foundation to create a fossil fuel free fund for us. In 2015, First Presbyterian Church became the first church in the denomination to divest its endowment from fossil fuel holdings. The creation of this fund has lead to 33 other churches divesting their fossil fuel holdings.
Our Youth Caring for Creation: We recently determined that seven of our youth have pursued or are in the process of pursuing degrees in environmental law, engineering, science and other related environmental fields. To read about these amazing young people please go to:
Community Commitment to Caring for Creation: Members of our church are active participants in lobbying and implementing local, state and national policies to address the climate crisis as well as participating in the Tallahassee Greenfaith Alliance. For example, members helped stop the construction of a coal plant in our community and are now working with our local government to switch the community’s energy usage to 100% renewable energy.
They also have helped shape Presbyterian climate and energy policies at the General Assembly and in the Florida Presbytery. Most recently they have begun studying environmental racism in our community.
Please join us in this vital mission. For additional information please contact Pam McVety at email@example.com.