Bill Johnston a member of the Unitarian Church on Dundurn Street,with some of the trees have been planted around the church to help green the environment.Bill Johnston, a member of the Unitarian Church on Dundurn Street, kneels in one of the gardens that the church has planted around its building to green the church environment. The church has earned one of this year’s Greening Sacred Spaces awards for its efforts in promoting environmental sustainability.Bill Johnston a member of the Unitarian Church on Dundurn Street, in one of the gardens that the church has planted around their building to green their church environment.
First Unitarian Church of Hamilton board member Bill Johnston is modest when speaking about the Dundurn Street church's efforts to become a greener place of worship.
"We aren't unique. Are we greener than any other church community? I doubt it," Johnston said. "But we've never had any particular problem when we do promote things that we do."
However, First Unitarian has become a standout among several local religious communities on a mission to get green.
It has earned one of this year's Greening Sacred Spaces (GSS) awards for its efforts in promoting environmental sustainability.
Hamilton Victory Gardens is also being recognized for its seven community gardens, which give produce to local food banks.
Johnston's church is part of Faith and the Common Good, an interfaith network of religious communities formed in 2008.
The network is behind GSS, a provincewide program dedicated to helping faith groups get green. Locally, the funds for the program are dispersed through Environment Hamilton.
First Unitarian has taken several steps to update its building and make it more energy efficient.
The original flat roof was converted into a peaked shape and insulated. Reused fluorescent lighting was replaced.
Dropped ceilings were installed and walls were insulated.
Last April, it installed 10 kilowatts of solar panels.
"We decided we would only put up solar panels if people donated the money to pay for them. We raised a little shy of $45,000 to do that in a month," said Johnston, a former editor at The Hamilton Spectator.
Now, they're in the middle of a naturalization project in the church gardens.
Beatrice Ekoko is the project facilitator for GSS and says faith-based organizations get involved in many ways, from energy conservation, solar projects and growing food to using green cleaning products.
"Basically, the idea is to reflect your faith in a more sustainable way," Ekoko said.
"You'll find that almost every philosophy and faith teaches people that they should respect and take care of the Earth."
Transportation is a hot topic and, over the weekend, GSS put on its Get to Worship Without Your Car challenge. Ekoko thought it would be a fun way to encourage churchgoers to find ways to travel to centres of worship other than driving.
While many religious communities' green efforts are relatively recent, some have been around for decades.
Loueen Madill is the chairperson of SAGE, the Study and Action Group for the Environment, at Westdale United Church. More than 20 years ago, it started an organic garden that is still growing strong. All of its crops go to local food banks.
It uses a composter, a rain barrel and offers bicycle racks for parishioners. The church also installed sensor lighting and low-flow toilets. It raised money to purchase a commercial dishwasher that doesn't use as much power and, two years ago, installed solar panels on the roof. It also uses green cleaning and personal care products.
"The United Church has put into their mission statement … a line about caring for creation. For us, it's the responsibility, the stewardship of creation around us, what we've been given and our care for that," said Madill.
Westdale United also belongs to the Eco Churches of West Hamilton, a group started about four years ago to support its member churches through brainstorming, workshops and discussions.