Beale Memorial Baptist Church in Tappahannock, Virginia, instituted a solar energy plan and installed solar panels on our picnic pavilion behind the church about a year ago.
This small array of panels has made a tremendous difference in our energy consumption in the last 12 months.
Before, we were averaging a total electric cost of $13,167 annually. Now, after a full year of having our solar panels installed, we realized a savings of $5,612, which is roughly a 43% decrease in energy costs in a single year.
You can see in the chart below that our energy dropped immediately after the March 2019 installation.
As the days got longer and the sun burned hotter, we even had a credit of nearly $300 one month.
The only month our cost was comparable to before solar was during a very cold December where days are also very short, leading to less solar energy production.
As a congregation, we would not have been able to get into solar energy without the generosity and assistance of a deacon in our church who owns a solar installation company.
He donated the panels and their installation as a gift to the church in honor of his late mother, who even in her 90s was an early adopter of technology.
This family is a testimony to what God can do with creative and generous hearts and minds.
Such creative generosity even inspires our church to think in new ways about our consumption.
We were the first church in our region (that I am aware of), and the first institution in our county, to adopt solar energy into our physical plant.
We have a number of area leaders in our congregation, and after watching our energy footprint decrease and our costs go down for a year, leaders at the school board, on town council and at the county facilities office are having conversations about what going solar could do for our county.
Our church’s energy bill is small compared to these other groups, and it is fun to imagine the kinds of things we could do as a county through solar energy adoption.
Not only would we help lower our own carbon footprint, but we might also be able to sink more money into developing green spaces like parks and trails for public use, adding solar energy maintenance and installation to STEM classes at our high school and community college, and using cost savings to develop a plan to implement rural broadband as a public utility.
If the county and its agencies adopted solar, the potential good that could be done with the cost savings would be tremendous.
The exciting part is this: All these conversations are now happening because of one family and their creative generosity.
Something like the adoption of a solar energy plan was never on our church’s radar; we might not have been able to afford the solar panels and installation costs under normal circumstances. Generosity and faithful witness changed all that for us.
Since the solar energy project took off, our church has begun to think in other creative ways about creation care and financial stewardship.
For example, we have ceased purchasing Styrofoam cups for our coffee hour and gone to recyclable and decomposable options.
We are in the process of changing all of our light bulbs and fixtures over to LEDs, which provides additional cost and energy savings.
Our fellowship hall alone has gone from using several thousand watts of power to less than 150 when all the lights are on.
We are a small-town congregation in a low population county. Nearly 75% of our public school children are on free and reduced lunches. Our county is overwhelmingly conservative politically.
I say these things to point out we have not adopted solar energy because it is trendy or because we live in a progressive city like Austin, Boston or Seattle.
If our church can find a way, perhaps other churches in similar contexts can begin to dream about what good creation stewardship might look like.
Our people hunt, fish, farm and tend big gardens. They, in many ways, already feel a deep – even spiritual – connection to God’s good creation.
Keeping our air and water clean and using less energy is not only a way to honor God and act as good stewards of earth and finances, it is also a way to protect a way of living for future generations.
On Earth Day 2020, I am reminded that desires for creation care, for financial cost savings and for protecting and conserving a rural way of life are not mutually exclusive motivations for a church like mine.
With a small solar panel array, a new creativity has been unleashed in our church.
Last week, our leadership voted to begin development of a community garden as a way to care for our county’s most vulnerable during the COVID-19 crisis.
We have gone from a way to care for the earth to actually working it for the sake of our neighbors.
The garden will be right beside the pavilion with all the solar panels, and I think there is a sermon or two in there.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series for Earth Day 2020 (April 22). The previous articles in the series are:
COVID-19 Linked to Our ‘Dreadful’ Treatment of Environment | Martin Hodson
4 Ways Your Church Can Begin to Care for God’s Creation | Margot Hodson
Jonathan Davis pastors Beale Memorial Baptist Church in Tappahannock, Virginia. He holds a D.Min. from Logdson Seminary, where his studies focused on helping rural churches thrive in the midst of 21st Century change. Jonathan is the founder of the Small-Town Churches Network where he shares research and ideas to help rural churches and clergy thrive. He also serves on the Coordinating Counsel for CBF Virginia, and on the Mission Counsel for the Baptist General Association of Virginia.