The Solar/Butterfly Garden Blessing on Aug. 22 at Euclid Methodist Church became a”solar-bration” for the 100 people in attendance to celebrate what the congregation has done in its attempt to become more earth-friendly — an opportunity to reaffirm their green values and a chance to engage in mutual encouragement.

The first speaker that emcee Lisa Parker, NBC-5 reporter and member of the congregation, introduced was the Rev. Sally Dyck, bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church, who took the Blue Line from her downtown office to Oak Park and then walked from the el stop to the corner of Washington and Euclid. She is the co-author of A Hopeful Earth.

The bishop began her praise of the congregation by noting that most of the installation of solar and geothermal technology is presently done in new construction, where no retrofitting has to be done and that Euclid Methodist’s installation of both in an older building is an inspiration and proof that it can be done.

She put a new spin on the commandment, “Love your neighbor,” noting that “neighbors” are not just the people living in your town, nation or the world right now but also those who will come after us. She said Euclid’s investment in earth-friendly technologies and practices is an investment in future generations.

State Senator Don Harmon also looked to the future, asking the audience to imagine a future in which every building will have solar panels, producing electricity with no power lines in sight. Oak Park Trustee Bob Tucker said that what the congregation was doing was a social as well as a financial investment.

Ginger Brown from the local branch of Wild Ones, an environmental organization, lauded Euclid Church for planting their butterfly garden and described her vision of a corridor of such sanctuaries all along the butterfly migration route from Central America to Canada.

Congressman Danny Davis (D-7th) praised the congregation as a model of what churches, businesses and individuals. He quoted his father, who would say he’d rather see a sermon than hear one. He concluded his remarks with a recitation from memory of Joyce Kilmer’s poem “Trees.”

Euclid member Teri Blain reinforced those messages with a solo performance of Jason Mraz’s “Back to the Earth.”

In addition to high-profile projects, Euclid Church has been intentional and specific in their attempt to become greener. A 2013 document called Sustainability Policies and Practices reads, “Becoming responsible for God’s creation is more than a laundry list of accomplishments. It is a way of life, an ongoing process of restoration and regeneration. What follows is more than a list of best practices. It is our family’s covenant for a New Heaven on Earth.”

The document includes three pages of detailed, specific practices as simple as turning off computers overnight, using recycled craft materials in their Sunday school, purchasing candles made of beeswax instead of petroleum based products, serving foods free of harmful chemicals, composting organic waste, increasing the use of drought-resistant plants on the church grounds, and making their outdoor space available to the community by providing benches and gardening opportunities.

Rev. Brian Sauder, executive director of Faith in Place, used the image of harmony to talk about what needs to be done to counter the effects of global warming: “We have destroyed our music. Our harmony is sour, but you at Euclid Ave. United Methodist Church have taken these strong steps to restore the earth’s music. … These projects are helping us re-organize the choir!”

That image could also be applied to the representatives present from government, religion and nonprofits. Tucker, for instance, pointed out what Oak Park is doing to make village practices greener.

No one in the audience doubted the reality of global warming. Even the weather — the flooding of the Eisenhower Expressway that morning — seemed to be in harmony with the analysis of the state of the planet and the values being upheld.

Following the program, Bishop Dyck took the children outside to bless the butterfly garden and tours of the solar panels were led by Euclid members. A buffet table of healthy food and iced tea was available for participants as they checked out representatives of green organizations in a “Share Fair.” Literature was handed out by representatives from Seven Generations Ahead, Faith in Place, Wild Ones, Renewable Energy America, Elevate Energy, Geothermal, Green Community Connections, Interfaith Green Network, and Citizen Climate Lobby.

Rev. Marti Scott, pastor of Euclid Methodist Church, put the event in a religious context by leading the gathering in a Native American prayer, part of which reads:

Great Spirit whose dry lands thirst, 

Help us to find the way to refresh your lands.

Great Spirit, whose waters are choked with debris and pollution,

Help us to find the way to cleanse your waters.

Oh, Great Spirit, whose voice I hear in the wind,

Whose breath gives life to the world, hear me;

I need your strength and wisdom. May I walk in beauty.

Rev. C.J. Hawking, also a minister at the church, followed with another prayer which included the words, “Gracious God, may we always experience your ever-renewing bounty of light with gratitude. … As we celebrate our ability to harness the sun’s power, may we rededicate ourselves to the task of reducing the frightful effect of global warming on your creation.”

VOP Green Award nomination

   Nick Bridge, chair of the Environment and Energy Commission, who was at our celebration on Friday, nominated Euclid Methodist Church for a Green Award from the Village of Oak Park. The nomination narrative states: 

   A sustainable community doesn’t just happen — it is the result of extraordinary effort. The Oak Park Environment & Energy Commission presents Green Awards in recognition and appreciation of specific deeds or actions that embody and advance the mission of the village of Oak Park to work toward a sustainable and secure future. By celebrating these achievements, we hope to inspire more such ventures.

Euclid Avenue United Methodist Church, with the leadership of Rev. Marti Scott, the Green Action Team, and great support from the congregation, has compiled a substantial set of sustainability accomplishments. Highlights include:

   With the help of a grant from Illinois Clean Energy Association for $50,000, and a congregational capital campaign Euclid installed a geothermal heating and cooling system that reduced its energy consumption by 81%.

   Since the church parking lot had to be re-surfaced after removing the asphalt to dig the wells for the geothermal system, the congregation chose permeable brick to replace it. The permeable brick allows 100% of the rainwater that falls on the property to be used to replenish groundwater rather than run into the storm drains.

   After participation in zero-waste events hosted by Seven Generations Ahead and inspiration from District 97 and District 90 schools and the chance to participate in the village’s organic compostables program, Euclid has stepped up its recycling and composting, resulting in substantial reduction of the quantity of material sent to the landfill.

   Other projects included hosting a winter farmers market each winter, promoting the Energy Impact Illinois energy efficiency program with members, hosting environmental film showings as part of the One Earth Film Festival for the last three years and hosting sustainability-related studies like Menu for the Future and Voluntary Simplicity.

   With the help of neighbors at Good Shepherd Lutheran and plants from West Cook Wild Ones’ native plant sale this spring, Euclid started a native plant garden designed to attract butterflies and other pollinators. Monarch Watch recently designated the garden as a certified Monarch Waystation. 

   Euclid completed its most recent milestone in July with the help of a second grant from Illinois Clean Energy Association in the amount of $76,032. Euclid installed a 99-panel solar photovoltaic system on the roof of the education building that will reduce electricity usage from the grid by 27%.

   Euclid Avenue United Methodist Church hosted a dedication of its solar energy system and butterfly garden along with a Sustainability Fair, on Friday, August 22. 100 participants gathered to celebrate these accomplishments, including representatives from 10 congregations in Oak Park, River Forest, Chicago and Maywood. The event was hosted by ABC Channel 5’s Lisa Parker and the group was addressed by Congressman Danny Davis, state Senator Don Harmon, OP Village Trustee Bob Tucker, and Northern Illinois United Methodist Bishop Sally Dyck among others.

   Euclid is a member of the Interfaith Green Network, Faith in Place, and also participates closely with PlanItGreen and Green Community Connections.

   Nominations for the village’s Green Award may be submitted by anyone on behalf of any person, organization, group, or business. For more information, call 708-358-5707 or email publicworks@oak-park.us.

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Tom Holmes

Tom's been writing about religion – broadly defined – for years in the Journal. Tom's experience as a retired minister and his curiosity about matters of faith will make for an always insightful exploration...

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