By Steve McCloskey, Pastor of Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship
Members of the Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship display some of the projects they are engaged in to promote sustainability, foster environmental stewardship, and mitigate climate change. Photo: Nick Wolfe.
On March 25, Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship was officially recognized as a Cool Congregation through Interfaith Power and Light–a national organization based in California that “inspires and mobilizes people of faith and conscience to take bold and just action on climate change” as part of their stated mission. Two days later, the church grounds at Taftsville Chapel were designated as a Certified Wildlife Habitat through the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). Both of these recognitions come as a result of the congregation’s ongoing effort to pursue a way of life that is not only sustainable (into the future) but regenerative; bringing healing to previous harms to our planet, our global neighbors (humans, and other species), and providing hospitality to future generations yet to come.
Our congregation came into contact with Interfaith Power and Light (IPL) during the Summer of 2018 when we collaborated with Sustainable Woodstock and the Taftsville Country Store to host a Green Drinks gathering in celebration of the green initiatives that had been launched in our hamlet by both Taftsville Chapel and the Taftsville Country Store. While hosting the gathering in our chapel, as the pastor, I was introduced to Betsy Hardy who served, at that time, as the Coordinator for the Vermont chapter of IPL. Among other resources from within IPL, Hardy presented the Katy Gerke Memorial Program (KGMP) as a source of financing for churches that are pursuing strategies to offset or reduce carbon emissions.
This gathering inspired our church to consider ways that we could do more. Although we had established several practices and initiatives toward environmental stewardship (including the solar panels on our roof with energy credits being donated to nearby Bethany Birches Camp), we saw an opportunity in doing work to upgrade our building. We applied for funding with KGMP and were grateful to receive several thousand dollars in grant money–along with incentives from Efficiency Vermont– that went towards insulation and weatherization work that we began alongside adding new siding and paint to our aging, historic chapel. These efforts have reduced our carbon footprint by over 40% since the time we began these intentional steps towards sustainability in 2017, that ultimately brought us our new Cool Congregation status. (Cool Congregations are houses of worship that have been designated as “renewable role models” by IPL for the work that they are doing to cool the planet and reduce carbon footprints).
Heather Wolfe has been attending Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship for over a decade. She has spearheaded several of these initiatives along the way. Wolfe serves as Taftsville Chapel’s “Mennonite Creation Care Network (MCCN) Liaison” and is in touch with a wider network of Mennonite churches and organizations across North America that are seeking ways to intentionally “care for creation.” Wolfe sees the various steps we’ve taken to pursue harmony with our planet as “an outward expression of our internal core values and faith.” She says that these efforts are “a public witness of our commitment to creation care.” Wolfe recognizes that there has been tremendous value with the organizations that we’ve partnered with and received support and recognition from (including Sustainable Woodstock, IPL, NWF, and MCCN) who are, as Wolfe says, partners in “a good work for us to join in and be a part of.”
With Wolfe’s leadership, we are actively exploring ways to regeneratively make use of the land surrounding our church which include the planting of permaculture gardens, the maintenance of Soil Saver compost bins, and the recent addition of a birdhouse to provide housing for some of our neighbors with wings.
Taftsville Chapel is joining with 350Vermont’s Rewild Vermont campaign and planting additional trees on our church grounds next month. We are also pursuing additional certification with the NWF for our church land as a Sacred Grounds designation. The central requirement for a house of worship to be designated as a Sacred Grounds site includes planting a native plant garden/wildlife habitat. Our installation of the birdhouse was a step toward achieving this.
As a church family, we recognize that we are fortunate to live amidst the beauty of the Green Mountain State; we cherish the land that our Creator has provided, and we hope to preserve this habitat for future generations. Underlying this commitment is a willingness to keep asking the question: “How can we live simply that others may simply live?” This, to us, is implicit in faithfully loving our neighbors, and, ultimately, our Creator. We also hope that–as we’ve been inspired along the way–we might in turn be a source of ideas and inspiration to others.