The parishioners of St. Charles Borromeo Parish (Detroit), first under the leadership of Rev. Dave Preuss and currently under Brother Ray Stadmeyer, are committed to living their faith by making their church more sustainable. The parish formed a Peace, Justice and Ecology committee to carry forward the good works already done to honor creation, educate the congregation, and conserve natural resources.
Here are a few of the actions St. Charles has taken to reduce its ecological footprint:
- When St. Charles first started to examine its energy use in the late 1980s, the parish’s utility costs consumed 60% of the Sunday collection. By implementing energy efficiency measures, St. Charles was able to dramatically reduce its energy use. By 2000, the church had cut its gas use by half and was spending only 12% of its Sunday collection on utility bills. This allowed the church to keep its doors open and continue its vital ministry.
- The church upgraded its heating system and did some upgrades to the building shell. By replacing the old, coal-fired boiler with an efficient natural gas-operated boiler, replacing the old, non-functioning controls and valves, and adding a programmable thermostat, they ensured that the building’s heat was generated much more efficiently. They also added insulation to the church’s vaulted ceiling to help retain the heat.
- They replaced virtually every light bulb with compact fluorescents, including the bulbs in the hanging fixtures that were originally 500 or 700 watt incandescent (and were the size of footballs). This helped them save a lot of electricity.
- In the rectory, they also replaced the heating system, installed storm windows and doors, and added a solar water heater. These measures cut the summer gas bill in the rectory by 60%, and also made for substantial savings in winter. The rectory also upgraded to an ENERGY STAR washer, which uses 2/3 less water than a conventional machine, while also using less electricity.
- The church uses compostable cups, made from natural and sustainable materials, from Michigan Green Safe (remember: there is an 8% discount for Michigan IPL members!) for the coffee hour after worship services.
- Although at the time of this writing (4/2014) the City of Detroit does not have a comprehensive recycling program, the church makes the extra effort to recycle metal, plastic, and cardboard.
- Parishioners have organized education and faith formation events, including an “Awakening the Dreamer” day-long retreat, meant to inspire and educate people bring to forth an environmentally sustainable, socially just and spiritually fulfilling world.
- In addition to the sustainability measures they’ve implemented in their church, almost 100 parishioners have considered sustainability issues more broadly and signed the Catholic Climate Covenant’s St. Francis Pledge, a commitment to “protect God’s Creation and advocate on behalf of people in poverty who face the harshest impacts of global climate change.”
- The parish had Sunday preaching about St. Francis, patron saint of the environment, distributed “30 Ways to Lower Your Carbon Footprint” checklists, and published articles in the church paper to highlight various sustainability issues from the viewpoint of St. Francis. This was especially meaningful at St. Charles because the Capuchin order, to which Brother Ray belongs, is part of the international Franciscan order.
- Parishioners have also engaged in political advocacy for environmental issues, contacting lawmakers to voice their concerns (for example, on issues relating to toxins in consumer goods, energy policy, and so forth).