Turning up the Heat on Creation Care in Oregon

In early 2008, Pastor Brian Brandt and the members of Central Lutheran Church in Portland, Oregon, entered a discernment process. The goal was simple: determine what they as a congregation liked about themselves as well as what they might want to change or areas for growth.

The process revealed an exciting new possibility, one garnering lots of enthusiasm from church members, including Brandt who was pastor of Central at the time: become a greener congregation.


Brandt and others assembled a Care for Creation team charged with identifying action steps to help Central become greener. One immediate step the team determined was to eliminate the use of paper and Styrofoam products, giving way to regular use of the church’s ceramic dishes and dishwasher. A second action involved setting up a system for composting.
Moving full-steam ahead, the team got wind of a third possibility for making their congregation more earth-friendly, however the task would be far more difficult than the first two—revamping the church’s ailing 60-year-old heating system.

“Central was built in 1950,” said Brandt, “and it had a state-of-the-art heating system at that point. But over the long passage of time some things wore out, some had been improperly fixed, and some weren’t working.”

Fortunately, one of Central Lutheran’s members, Jon Gerlach, worked as a building contractor. He spent many hours tracking down all parts of the system. “Whether it was pipes or heat exchangers or boilers—you name it—it was a fairly complicated system,” said Brandt. “Jon got everything working right. We’d been spending $18,000 a winter on heating oil. It went down from that to about $8,000. So you can see we really reduced our carbon footprint by having done that.”
Upon greening its kitchen and improving the church’s heating system, “The Care for Creation team went into hibernation after 2008 because they ran out of things they knew how to do,” Brandt said. “We had done all the major practical things we could do, and it wasn’t clear at that point what more we could do.”
In the fall of 2010, Brandt and three other pastors from the Oregon Synod, including Robyn Hartwig, attended a training in Illinois led by Lutherans Restoring Creation.
“We brought this stuff back and I started talking about it right away at Central in addition to working with [Pastor Hartwig] and the others to try to put together synod-wide events,” said Brandt. “I got the council to pass a resolution saying ‘yeah, we want to go further into this,’ and so the Lutherans Restoring Creation program has brought the Care for Creation Team out of hibernation and reenergized it.”
Central’s Care for Creation Team then established liaisons from the team to work with other members who oversee each of the five areas of congregational life that LRC promotes through its core training program: worship, education, building and grounds, discipleship/lifestyle at home and at work, and public ministry/advocacy.
“[The team] is very excited about expanding the scope of their influence so that care for creation really does become the organizing theme for all the various congregational ministries in years to come,” said Brandt. “Lutherans Restoring Creation has given Central a holistic vision about all the different things they could be doing for care of creation.”
In early 2011, the Care for Creation Team used its newfound zeal for environmental foci and implemented an educational series during the four Sundays in February based on the book “Awakening to God’s Call to Earthkeeping,” an environmental study guide written in the Lutheran tradition by Kim Winchell, an ELCA Diaconal Minister and member of the Lutherans Restoring Creation steering committee.
Being one of LRC’s pilot synods, the Oregon Synod takes a unique approach to their method of training. “Instead of just going to one site and training one congregation at a time, when we identify a congregation that's interested in being trained we enlist their support to invite other congregations in their cluster to be trained at the same time,” said Hartwig, a key organizer among synod leadership regarding LRC. “Congregations enjoy conversations with members of other congregations about what they are doing and the ability to share ideas.”
[Green Christ and tryptic artwork by congregation member Abby Houston for Central's "Creationtide" worship series.]

Lutherans Restoring Creation (LRC) is a grassroots movement within the ELCA seeking to foster care for God's good creation in all expressions of the church's life and mission. LRC is supported by grants from ELCA World Hunger and the Lutheran Community Foundation.