In an unprecedented development three of the four churches earning recognition as Energy Star Congregation Award winners for 2009 are Southern Baptist.
Usually the winners list for energy conservation consists mostly of United Methodist, Catholic, Lutheran and other typically socially active congregations. But this year churches in Arkansas, Texas and Florida that were recognized for excellence in energy efficiency and for being “great examples of financial and environmental stewardship,” according to Energy Star, which is a partnership of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy.
Energy Star Congregation Awards “salute the thousands of congregations across the nation who are working to save energy and prevent pollution.”
This year’s winners were First Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas; First Baptist Church, Springdale, Ark.; Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Fla., and Swarthmore Presbyterian Church in Swarthmore, Pa.
“We have never had one denomination ‘sweep’ our annual awards,” Jeff Lawson, national manager of Energy Star Small Business and Congregations Network told Jonathan Merritt, who founded the Southern Baptist Environment and Climate Initiative. “The explanation seems to be that there was extraordinary support by two Energy Star affiliated contractors, Siemens and Energy Education, Inc. who are working with Baptist churches.”
The only other Southern Baptist church to earn an Energy Star Congregation Award was Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, in 2007. That 26,000-member church was paying $2 million in annual utility costs in 2006 before the energy upgrades. They have saved over $1 million dollars in utility costs since then.
Prestonwood leadership even created a new staff position — energy education manager — to ensure consistent implementation and develop in-house green initiatives.
The recognition of Southern Baptist churches has not gone unnoticed by secular and Christian environmentalists.
“It is a great witness to the world when Southern Baptists show themselves to be leaders on energy efficient and environmental stewardship,” says Rusty Pritchard, president of the Christian environmental group Flourish. “The world is looking for spiritual leadership on these issues, and Southern Baptists are increasingly demonstrating faithfulness and common sense in this area.”
Pritchard will be speaking on these issues at a Creation Care Conference hosted by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary Oct. 30-31.
“Environmental issues are on everyone’s mind, and some environmentalists are quick to criticize evangelicals for not doing much to confront those issues,” said Merritt, credited with raising the issue among Southern Baptists. “When friends, co-workers, and policymakers ask what Southern Baptists are doing to address these things, there is more to say then perhaps ever before.”
Jonathan Merritt is author of “Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for Our Planet” (Faithwords, April 2010) He blogs regularly at www.jonathanmerritt.com