United By Faith Lutheran Church Does Renewal and Goes Green 
by Participating in the GreenFaith Certification Program 
and tapping Lutherans Restoring Creation Resources

By Johan Bergh

When you are baptized into Christ at United By Faith Lutheran Church in Evergreen Park, Illinois, you are literally baptized into the world! The baptismal font in the sanctuary at United By Faith (UBF) is a beautiful bowl with the earth’s seas and continents adorning its surface. Entering life in Christ in this way certainly reflects the theology and mission values of this congregation that entered the GreenFaith Certification Program in December 2012 and is now well on its way to completing the 2-year environmental program. Bonnie Osborne, the congregation’s “Creation Team” Leader has led the Certification Program work which for any enrolled congregation includes completing requirements in three key areas: Spirit (worship, education, spirituality), Stewardship (energy/transportation, food/water, waste/toxics, ground maintenance) and Environmental Justice (education, relationships with leaders, advocacy).

Currently with a leadership team of 3 persons (The UBF Creation Team), Sunday worship attendance averaging 25 and a called term pastor (Rev. Frank Showers), UBF is a vibrant testimony to the ability of congregations of any size to take on the wonderful and challenging work of congregational earth-keeping! What is needed in this stewardship work is strong leadership, deep passion and a focused and attainable plan. UBF has all three, and it’s the GreenFaith Certification Program that has given the congregation the tools to formulate and execute a “do-able” plan that fits their community and needs.

Why would an ELCA congregation follow in UBF’s footsteps and choose to participate in the GreenFaith Certification Program? Try these reasons on for size (from GreenFaith.org):

Why Participate?

  • Save money. From $6,000 to $50,000, participating congregations have saved significant money through Certification activities. See an article in Reform Judaism Magazine (link to: http://greenfaith.org/media/press-clips/smart-strategies-for-facility-savings) about a temple that has saved $20,000.
  • Attract members. With front page news stories, and programs that involve the entire community, congregations are attracting new members.
  • Receive invaluable guidance and support. One-on-one coaching, connections to houses of worship across the country, free webinars, & access to a website with 200 resources.  Tried and tested resources from GreenFaith's 20 years of experience.
  • Accomplish Bigger Projects. Farmers' markets, gardens, green cleaning, solar installations, environmental justice advocacy, interfaith programs, worship services on the environment...participants are taking bigger steps than ever in their history.
  • Join a Growing Movement that is Interfaith: Over 80 houses of worship from 23 states, rural to suburban to urban. 

 UBF started in their earth-keeping ministry by coordinating it with a larger congregational renewal plan. The plan, put together through the Metropolitan Chicago Synod, ELCA’s, Turn-Around Initiative, is a movement to engage congregations in making a difference in their communities.

Recalls Osborne, “the result was a vision that led us to develop three working teams to deal with the over-all health of our bodies, minds, and spirits. Our Soul Team works on our worship and educational efforts, our Creation Team works on ‘greening’ our congregation and taking care of our environment, and our Outreach Team works both internally and externally to care for those who may be hurting or lacking. The teams each have a specific action plan and also collaborate with each other.” The Creation Team felt the GreenFaith Certification Program, with the resources and support it provides, was the best way to make their action plan a reality.

In their first year of the Certification Program, UBF has made significant strides in the stewardship of resources component, most notably by starting up a “CommUnity” Garden that now has 21 large boxes, many rented by community residents and 5 of which are designated for veterans and the congregation’s food pantry recipients.

In an effort to reduce their carbon footprint, UBF purchases electricity from a renewable energy source and is working with their electric utility company toward installing solar panels. They are completing an energy audit and searching for energy efficiency grant funds to replace windows in their day care center, changing cleaning products to toxic-free versions, and more. Healthy food education is a vital part of UBF’s work: a “planting event” for the day care’s 3-5 year olds (growing plants from seed, weeding, harvesting), more fresh vegetables for the day care and food pantries, and Master Gardeners teach horticultural practices. Recently UBF launched a 6 month “Healthy Eating” program in the congregation, and held 2 healthy eating events for Confirmands , including 3 other Confirmation programs from churches in the neighborhood!

Significant for UBF is the year-round focus on care of creation in their worship life, including regular topical preaching by Pastor Showers and the dedication of the whole month of September as “Creation Month” with each week during the month showcasing a celebratory “green” banner

As any congregation considers environmental work on the order of what United By Faith has accomplished, the question is: with so much that is possible to do and so much getting done, how do you keep track of it all, not get overwhelmed and make progress that fits your goals and capacity? The answer: the GreenFaith Certification Program! Organized well with plenty of program and staff support when needed, the GreenFaith Certification Program provides an excellent channel for congregations to make creation care a vital part of God’s mission they serve.

Currently, GreenFaith provides a 50% reduction in the program fee for ELCA congregations. In order to assist ELCA congregations with this certification, Lutherans Restoring Creation (LRC) Coach Johan Bergh works with congregational leader(s) to make good use of the wide range of resources LRC provides. For more information on the program you can contact Bergh at 407-353-2006 or www.lutheransrestoringcreation.org or contact GreenFaith’s Certification Program and Shield Director Stacey Kennealy at  732.565.7740 ext 303 or skennealy@greenfaith.org. To learn more about the Certification Program, visit: www.greenfaith.org/programs/certification . For more information and additional pictures, see UBF’s website.