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Churches go green

Churches, mosques, and synagogues look for ways to make their buildings more energy efficient, both to heed ethical imperatives against waste, and also to save money.

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As the sun lights up the brilliant stained-glass windows of this 19th-century Gothic sanctuary, the small congregation at St. John's Episcopal Church listens intently to a sermon from a visiting layman.

"As people of faith, we are called in different ways to love our God and to love our neighbors," says Steven MacAusland, a fellow Episcopalian. "I am with you today to discuss energy. What is the connection?"

The cofounder of Massachusetts Interfaith Power & Light (MIP&L), Mr. MacAusland speaks of the effects of energy consumption and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to stabilize the earth's climate. He isn't preaching political activism, he says, but is offering a way for the church to practice its own ministry of care for neighbors and future generations. Next week, members will vote on whether to join MIP&L.

As evidence of global warming has mounted, congregations across the US are examining their habits and asking what their faith demands of them in response. Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish groups have turned to scripture for guidance.

Houses of worship, it turns out, are some of the biggest wasters of energy on a per capita, per hour-of-use basis.

With help from an interfaith power and light movement now spreading around the country, churches and other religious institutions are cutting back on energy consumption, investing in more efficient heating and lighting systems, buying renewable energy, and even, on occasion, joining the effort to "build green."

Congregations that practice environmental stewardship can save 30 percent on their utility bills, says the US Environmental Protection Agency. If all US congregations did the same, they'd save an estimated $573 million annually and prevent 6 million tons of CO2 from polluting the air - the equivalent of taking 1 million cars off the road.

Conserving congregations see direct financial as well as environmental benefits. For instance:

• By installing solar panels on the roof and changing lighting, Christ Church in Ontario, Calif., saw its summer utility bills drop from $600 to $20 a month.

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