Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Creation care gaining momentum

Twin Cities congregations trying out dictum ‘waste not, want not’

Two men are out fishing. One of them accidentally dumps over his freshly-opened can of beer. It makes a puddle beneath his feet. So he drills a hole in the bottom of the boat to let it drain out.

This is not an Ole and Sven joke. Many in the Christian community have treated the boat in which we all sail, planet Earth, as if were intended for recreation and needs no protection. We can drill deep holes in it, clear-cut its green cover, fill its oceans with plastic, overheat the air above, and convince ourselves we have not done any real damage.

Except, it doesn’t really work that way.

Lutherans in the Twin Cities are beginning to get proactive about caring for the earth — one small step at a time. On March 3 of this year, representatives of a dozen urban and suburban congregations (plus a few from outstate Minnesota) gathered for an ELCA-sponsored “Lutherans Restoring Creation” workshop. They shared what they had already accomplished and drew support from one another for expanding their efforts.

River of Life Lutheran Church in North Minneapolis put in a rain garden a couple of years ago. Photo provided by River of Life Lutheran Church

The congregation is trying to cut down on trash costs and landfill impact.

Here are some of what was shared at that gathering:

Holy Trinity Lutheran, a mid-size congregation in south Minneapolis reported the presence of “many champions” for earth renewal in the congregation. Facing the need for a new boiler, some are beginning to discuss solar for the church building.

St. Andrew’s Lutheran, a large parish in Mahtomedi, has had a “green team” since 2007. The congregation has partnered with an area high school to get a wind turbine constructed.

Calvary Lutheran, a small faith community in south Minneapolis is looking for a new water heater and wants to consider one that’s energy efficient. The congregation has a rain garden and uses green cleaning products, as well as reusable cups at fellowship time.

Bethlehem Lutheran, a large congregation in south Minneapolis, has been promoting composting and gardening classes for its members.

Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer (LCCR) in south Minneapolis, a small community of faith, offers worship services dedicated to “honoring the earth.” Members at LCCR are inclined to declare “the truthfulness of climate change” and to seek ways to deal with it.

Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in suburban Roseville, another small parish, has organized a “creation care team” and is considering planting a community garden.

Christ the King Lutheran, a large congregation in New Brighton, is promoting fair trade products (as are countless other Twin Cities congregations). To demonstrate the impact plastic waste can have, a member brought a bag of it, collected over a short period of time, to a meeting at church. The parish has an active creation care group.

River of Life Lutheran, a small parish in north Minneapolis, has a rain garden. (See the accompanying photo.)

Mount Olivet, perhaps the country’s original Lutheran mega-church, in south Minneapolis, now has a “creation care volunteer project leader” in the person of Carrie Sandgren. When you have over 13,000 members, the opportunity to make an impact is magnified.

Sandgren got her consciousness raised in an unexpected way. She told Metro Lutheran, “I live within walking distance of the church building. A couple living near me were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. They gifted everybody on our block, both sides of the street, with a rain garden. That was 12 families, including mine.”

Mount Olivet Church also has a rain garden.

Reduce, reuse, redemption

Sandgren heard about a “green workshop” offered by Hennepin County and signed up. She also participated in the Lutherans Restoring Creation workshop. “Our focus at Mount Olivet,” she says, “is reduce, reuse, and recycle. Our concern is care of the creation.”

According to Nancy Nash, business administrator at Mount Olivet, there are now blue receptacles around the church campus. “Our trash handler accepts co-mingled recyclables,” she explains. That means it’s easy for members to recycle at church — cardboard, paper, plastic, and more.

Nicole Schnell is the congregation’s director of integrated marketing. She says, “We’ve been recycling paper, cardboard and plastic for more than 25 years here. Now we’re going to the next step.” She cites the kitchen staff, who are becoming more intentional about recycling organic waste. “It makes a difference. We serve a lot of meals in this church.” Pastoral and lay church staff are also becoming more intentional with recycling.

The congregation is trying to cut down on trash costs (and landfill impact). Toward this end, members recycle Dixie cups, pizza boxes, and even Kleenex.

Congregations aren’t the only places Minnesota Lutherans are working to care for creation. When Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota (LSS) replaced its 1950s-vintage structure on south Park Avenue in Minneapolis with a new multi-purpose structure, it created a LEED (“Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design”) structure.

Here are some green features built into the recently-constructed LSS facility, and what they accomplish: Reflective roof materials and window technology increase energy efficiency. Low-flow plumbing fixtures reduce water consumption. Locally-purchased recycled building materials went into the construction. Fuel-efficient automobiles get preferred parking slots. Rain gardens are estimated to be saving LSS around $7,000 in annual storm sewer fees. And, like many local congregations, LSS has a green team that works to find ways to save even more.

There are other signs of green energy at work, but you have to leave the metro area to discover them. Just to name one example, Lutheran colleges are taking all kinds of steps to become “green campuses.” You can see wind generators providing electricity these days at St. Olaf, Luther, and Wartburg colleges. (There are doubtless other schools on board with such initiatives.)

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