Jane “goes green” for her faith

Mary Kay McPartlin

Jane Esper Vogel believes attention to climate and stewardship of the earth are interchangeable, and also part of her Catholic faith. This belief drew her to Michigan Interfaith Power and Light (IPL), where she is president of the board. The non-profit organization includes many different faith traditions focused on improving sustainability.

“It’s really as a mother that I’m concerned about the changes in our climate system,” Jane says. “I really work hard on the narrative about why this attention to the changes in our climate system is important. What we all care about in Michigan IPL is how we are called to be stewards of God’s creation.”

The goal of Michigan IPL is to support and encourage faith communities to work toward sustainability on faith campuses and in members’ homes. Success in implementing sustainability practices requires a love of neighbor, acceptance of stewardship and knowledge of how changes in the climate affect the least of our brothers and sisters.

Michigan IPL created a sustainability framework for faith communities, and was in need of a pilot program. Jane’s parish, St. Francis of Assisi in Ann Arbor, stepped up to the task.

“It’s part of our Catholic identity,” Jane says.

Jane was the catalyst for the pilot program at St. Francis, but success has been dependent on the group effort of a team of committed parishioners, including Steve Lavender, Kelly Gauthier, who co-chairs the peace and justice committee, Scott Wright, director of parish service and justice, and then-pastor, Father Jim McDougall.

“This is part of who we are as Catholics,” says Father Jim. “We are called to continue to build and strengthen creation of God.”

The purpose of the St. Francis of Assisi Sustainability Project is “to build our capacity to be good environmental stewards, make changes in our parish and homes to reduce our carbon footprint and educate parishioners on warming trends to strengthen our work on social justice.”

Jane has been the facilitator and the parish’s link to Michigan IPL. Father Jim guided the parish from the pulpit, emphasizing stewardship. Steve has led parishioners to implement energy efficiency at home. Scott has worked to make sure the parish is green through energy efficiency campus improvements, and Kelly is the link to focus through peace and justice.

Sustainability as part of Catholic theology has been explored in bulletin articles and in Father Jim’s sermons. A Lenten project in 2012 guided parishioners on an energy fast. A Lenten calendar suggested ways to save energy each day with the financial savings set aside for Lenten tithing.

Sustainability topics have been added to the curriculum for St. Francis School and parish religious education. The idea has been presented along with social justice in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) program.

The Department of Energy’s Better Buildings for Michigan provided home energy audits for the rectory and 24 parishioner homes. DTE came to the parish with a presentation outlining ways to improve energy usage, from an individual level to a global level. Michigan IPL held workshops, and helped the parish find ways to pay for the energy audits.

“Michigan IPL was a great enabler,” Steve says. “We clearly felt empowered to make changes.”

A parish sustainable garden was created, as well as one with Michigan native plants. The parish explored solar aggregation with assistance from a Michigan IPL solar program.

Sunday’s coffee and donuts went green by switching from Styrofoam to biodegradable cups. The goal of St. Francis kitchen is total green operation, from day-to-day food preparation to special events at the parish. Parish replacement of everything, large or small, is assessed, and Scott makes sure every change is as green as possible.

During Lent 2013, the social justice of sustainability was highlighted locally as the parish renovated a Green Habitat for Humanity House, and donated food from the sustainable garden to Perry Nursery School in Ann Arbor. On a global level, a contribution was made to Water Missions International.

“It’s been a good start,” Jane says. “This isn’t hard stuff to do. We have a robust framework. Michigan IPL is going to replicate the St. Francis pilot at other churches and with other faith communities.”

Being green is becoming a way of life at St. Francis, thanks to the parish working as a team.