Huguenot Church in Pelham, New York has taken their commitment to the environment to a new level; they have decided to install a geothermal energy system in their 135-year-old church, taking a major step toward independence from fossil fuels.
Going to geothermal power is a dramatic move, but Elysa Hammond, an elder at Huguenot Church and co-leader of their environmental stewardship initiative, said that this is just the most recent step in years of making changes.
One of the first seeds of “climate awareness” was planted in 2004 when a speaker from New York Interfaith Power & Light spoke at Huguenot, discussing the reasons why people of faith need to care about climate change. That presentation led to Huguenot’s membership in NYIPL and to their church building’s first energy audit.
Then the congregation showed An Inconvenient Truth to a full house, and brought in other experts on global warming including an environmental economist, a journalist from National Geographic, and a theologian. Increasingly their congregation began to believe that addressing climate change was “the right thing to do.”
From there, they began taking concrete steps such as switching out incandescent light bulbs for compact florescent ones, placing recycling bins throughout the building, and reducing their use of disposable dishes at social events. When presented with routine maintenance needs or investments in furniture, carpets and flooring, they began to seek out the use of more sustainable materials. With each decision they would ask themselves, “Is this compatible with our mission?”
The geothermal plan began to take shape two years ago when a few things happened that necessitated –and inspired– change. First, another congregation that had been sharing the space and maintenance costs found their own church building and left. Then, Huguenot began to have difficulty with their oil-based heating system, and they decided that it must be replaced.
Huguenot’s minister, who is very committed to the environment, and other leadership decided to hold a retreat to “re-imagine” their building space so that it would support the whole ministry of the church, which includes a pre-school, several youth groups, multiple choirs and other community organizations.
After much discussion at the retreat, they decided that the wisest energy choice, given their long-term commitment to remain in the building and community, would be geothermal. One advantage is that it provides year-round heating and cooling. When they looked at the positive impact this would have on their annual utility bills, “the payback was huge.”
They named their fundraising campaign “Sustainable Huguenot” because geothermal power is not only a renewable source of energy where the planet is concerned, but also investing in geothermal energy would lead to a long-term reduction in energy payments, increasing the financial sustainability of the congregation. It will take at least fifteen years to make their money back, but in the life of this 135-year-old church which plans on being around for another 100 years, fifteen years is an investment that makes sense.
Huguenot’s campaign has been blessed with a wonderfully diverse group of people who are helping to make this dream a reality including church leaders with professional backgrounds in architecture, finance, engineering and environmental science.
Jeff Marcks, who led the capital campaign, mentions that congregations might consider using their own endowments to finance such projects. Huguenot did this, and is paying back into their endowment as contributions for the capital campaign come in.
Marcks says that one thing that helped Huguenot achieve their goal is that the leadership and congregation share a common vision to make the building and its management consistent with their mission as a church. Huguenot is deeply committed to being a good steward of their natural resources. They also know that the money saved on utility bills can be put to use in more positive ways. Hammond offers these words of encouragement: “It takes time to arrive at a decision like this,” she says, “but looking back I can see how our small steps in environmental education and action have added up. We hope our story will encourage others to consider this path.”