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  • Writer's pictureSt Clements Church Toronto

Following Jesus -Footsteps or Footprint?

Creation Care and the Net Zero Church


 

By Roger Dickhout

 



Jesus was an itinerant teacher.  He drew his early disciples from the shores of a lake. He delivered his core thesis to his flock on top of a mountain. He didn’t appear to have a house. He walked across the countryside - using parables about nature to bring to life his message of God’s all-encompassing love. He created community in the process. Many followed Jesus – both figurately, as we do, and literally in his footsteps as he journeyed.


Enlivened by the Holy Spirit, after Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection, his followers established the “Church” to propagate His Good News. Notwithstanding its early struggles, the church flourished and became a cornerstone of Western society as it developed through centuries. 


As society became more capital intensive, so did the Church. Church communities built specialized meeting places rather than continuing to meet in open air or in people’s homes. They erected ornate cathedrals to glorify God - ultimately transforming even the meaning of the word “church”. The number one definition in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is not a community but “a building for public and especially Christian worship”.


History and Footprint of St. Clement’s Buildings


In 1871, in the small farming village of Eglinton north of Toronto, the Anglican parish of St. Clement’s built a new church – the building in which our church offices are now located. In the roaring 20s, as the town of Eglinton expanded toward Toronto, the growing parish erected another building, the one that is now our place of worship. At the end of the Great Depression in 1938, perhaps in celebration of a return to prosperity, they built yet another - a large meeting hall to hold their events. 


This bustling community now centered around a very large, 40,000 square foot complex. We can only imagine the thousands of people who developed the parish over generations - their life’s milestones shared within the church’s walls and the impact of their ministries in their evolving communities felt outside those walls. Our ministry, now in heart of one of North America’s largest metropolitan areas, is built on this legacy.  


While we are following in the footsteps our predecessors, we have also inherited their footprint. 


The good news is that around the turn of the century buildings were built to last with solid masonry construction.  The bad news is that their environmental footprint was not a consideration. At the time, an ever-present fog of black smoke hung over the city. The source was burning coal – which powered the church, the city, and indeed the economy.  And insulation was non-existent. So, the walls and roofs of each of the 40,000 square feet of our complex have an insulation R value of about 1/5 of today’s standard building.


Over the years, by switching the heating source to natural gas and taking energy conservation measures such as changing to LED lights and replacing some windows, the footprint has been reduced. However, it is still enormous.  Simply burning the natural gas to heat the building in the past year directly emitted about 145 tonnes of C02e (not including CO2e produced by extracting and transporting the gas). This is the equivalent of 50 typical houses heated with natural gas! (Almost an extra ½ house for each family that comes to the church on a Sunday.)


Creation Care Imperative


As a parish we have been exploring the implications of the Creation Care paradigm on our mission to follow Jesus. I have written previously about how this process has profoundly reshaped my understanding of this mission and made it more congruent with some of our biggest challenges today.   Creation Care scripture attests that God’s love extends to all creation. To love God, we must also love and serve God’s creation. Jesus came to Redeem the whole World not just its people.


We are in the midst of a dual ecological crisis driven by climate change and biodiversity loss. These crises disproportionately impact the world’s most disadvantaged. Little time remains to make the significant reductions required to avert catastrophic scenarios.  The science-based goal adopted by governments, businesses and organizations around the world is to achieve net zero emissions.


What is our responsibility as stewards of God’s creation to be part of the solution?


Solutions and Next Steps


The St. Clement’s building committee has been exploring this issue over the past few months. We reviewed the previous energy efficiency study and sought out preliminary perspectives from experts. There are limits to what can be done with our very inefficient building envelope. Therefore, significantly reducing our footprint with a goal of ultimately achieving net zero will very likely require, once again, a move to a new heat source – probably electric heat pumps. They reduce energy demand by producing up to four units of heat for every unit of energy that they consume. If powered by a green grid, they can have net zero emissions.  The churches in the Anglican Net Zero Church Network, that are ahead of us on this journey, have taken that path.


We don’t have the resources to fix this issue in one fell swoop. To chart a path forward, we need to do an engineering study that better quantifies the situation, evaluates options, lays out a long-term blueprint and defines a phased implementation plan. The $600,000 budget in the Giving for Growth campaign should provide the funds for a first phase of improvements, focused on the highest impact items.


We aspire to follow in Jesus’s footsteps. He carried out his ministry and community building largely outdoors - and with a very low footprint. Inspired by his example, how can we reimagine our approach to following Jesus to reduce our footprint?

 

 

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