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SC group combines faith, environmental issues
A new group in South Carolina wants churches to consider the environment.
With roots in Spartanburg and Wofford College, South Carolina Interfaith Power and Light is a group with a mission to harness the potential of churches in addressing environmental issues such as water, waste, wildlife, food and energy.
“Faith commitments are so strong in South Carolina that it seems like we should bring these concerns together,” said Ron Robinson, chaplain at Wofford College and founder of South Carolina Interfaith Power and Light. “Faith communities are connected with so many people, and they can do everything from inspire people to care for the creation to getting folks involved in projects that help weatherize homes.”
Interfaith Power and Light is a nationwide organization that started in 1998 in California, where Robinson toured the organization's headquarters before deciding he wanted to establish a South Carolina chapter. The South Carolina chapter launched in January in Columbia.
At a national level, the group's overarching mission is to create a network of churches to advocate for energy sustainability through a faith-based lens of stewardship.
“Our theological grounding for this work is that we are stewards of what God has given us and of God's world,” said Scott Neely, pastoral executive at First Presbyterian Church in Spartanburg, which has a sustainability committee.
Many of Interfaith Power and Light's goals involve low-cost options such as installing energy-efficient light bulbs, starting a recycling program or planting a church garden.
Apart from upgrades to the churches themselves, Interfaith Power and Light promotes church sustainability committees like the one at First Presbyterian. Those committees can get their congregations thinking and acting on sustainable initiatives in their homes and communities.
Another aspect is the language of worship.
“For instance, I've talked to some clergy, and I've suggested that when they pray, they remember to thank God for the good earth,” Robinson said.
Energy efficiency is a challenge in South Carolina, a state that has higher energy costs per resident and higher energy consumption rates per resident than the national average.
In a report drafted in 2008, the state's Office of Regulatory Staff identified South Carolina's low median income and high illiteracy rate as barriers to increasing energy efficiency.
Often, the poor cannot afford to purchase new, energy-efficient appliances or do home improvements that would increase energy efficiency. Residents may also lack the income to take advantage of federal tax credits for residential renewable energy devices such as solar panels, and they're ineligible for ConserFund, South Carolina's low-interest loan program for energy-efficiency improvements.
But faith groups can pool money and tap the expertise of individuals in each congregation. They qualify for the low-interest loans because they're registered not-for-profit organizations.
At First Presbyterian in Spartanburg, the church sustainability committee used low-interest loans to replace its aging boilers, Neely said.
He said the church's engineers, contractors, executives and other professionals have used their professional knowledge and resources to help the church retrofit its facilities to be more efficient with energy.
It's this kind of model that Interfaith Power and Light would like replicated throughout South Carolina's many places of worship. To that end, the group is forming partnerships in the state's environmental and faith communities.
In the coming years, Robinson said he hopes these communities will come together for a common cause.
“We spend so much of our lives inside, and we are often unaware of the sources that make life possible,” he said. “We want to have a renewed appreciation.”
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