“Our congregation knows there are finite resources—if we don’t care for creation, it won’t be around. Earth care is something we don’t have to push to talk about and act on; it’s an inherent thing.” – Ruth LeSage, church member
Chanwick Roach, former pastor of TriPoint Church of God (previously First Church of God) in Alpena, was instrumental in articulating the earth care notions that many congregants already held as part of their value system. Like many rural areas and farming communities in Michigan, a connectedness to the land and everyday realities of working within the bounds of natural systems has resulted in TriPoint congregants’ awareness of sustainability issues. The former pastor began using earth care language to bring these values into current conversations of sustainability and earth care, and in 2007 became a member of IPL.
An energy audit was performed in 2007, and through the leadership of the pastor the church began a plan for reducing their energy footprint (as well as their energy bill!). Some changes included: lower watt florescent light bulbs; new roof installation; new windows in fellowship hall and storm windows over stained glass windows in the sanctuary; and replacement of one hot water heater to an on-demand type. Another energy audit was performed in 2014 and the church is now in the process of obtaining a grant from DTE; the grant will allow a switch to indoor LED exit lights and efficient parking lot lights.
TriPoint is also currently keeping track of gas, electric and water usage for the next year via Energy Star Portfolio Manager. Sustainability efforts have reached beyond the church’s walls to the wider community; TriPoint hosted an Alpena-wide presentation on sustainability through IPL. With the help of the Church board and many congregant volunteers, the church is quite involved with community members and organizations through earth care.
Ruth, a 21-year member of TriPoint and church secretary for the last 18 years, is largely responsible for keeping track of the amount of energy being consumed each month and reporting to the board how they are doing on their ongoing sustainability efforts, especially after Pastor Chan retired in 2009. Ruth also serves as a visionary by studying about new forms of energy, including suggesting that the church’s energy someday be supplied by geothermal (she noted Alpena’s Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary building as a successful model of geothermal utilization).
TriPoint is located just outside of town and owns a large piece of land. The reality of its spacious grounds combined with the knowledge of a neighboring apartment complex’s lack of green space led to the development of a 33-plot community garden, named Grant Street Gardens. Ruth described the church board’s thought process of “We have all this land, so how can we bless others that don’t?” TriPoint partners with Resurrection Lutheran Church Alpena for the garden; congregants from both churches have become quite involved, and feel the project is a great example of churches coming together for the betterment of the community. The partnership has allowed for additional joint projects, resource sharing and saved money (which has been allocated to an after-school food program).
Congregants have attested that they find the actual gardening and resulting interaction with the wider Alpena community to be a fulfilling ministry. Several congregants have plots and everything produced goes to the local soup kitchen. Special relationships have formed between congregants and some apartment tenants; one tenant, a young mother, has become very involved with the community garden, and has gardened all three seasons with her two girls.
Grant Street Gardens has become well known throughout Alpena throughout its three seasons of existence. While lack of funds has traditionally been a stumbling block from implementing some of TriPoint’s larger dreams of sustainability practices (i.e. geothermal), Ruth is encouraged by the reality that community enthusiasm is strong, and much more church land exists for expanding the community garden alongside an increasing demand from budding Alpena gardeners.