In October 2013, Fellowship Presbyterian Church (FPC) in Huntsville, Alabama started their witness for earth care conservation by simply changing their light bulbs. In March 2014, they became a PC(USA) Earth Care Congregation (ECC). This year they will hold Earth Day worship services as a recertified ECC, which includes an earth care mindset that permeates their congregation and is complemented by an impressive food distribution community outreach program. As PC(USA) Associate for Environmental Ministries, Rebecca Barnes, says, “we recognize that earth care ministries do well to encompass issues of poverty and hunger alleviation, peacemaking, and more. Caring for all in God’s creation include social justice.”
Fellowship Presbyterian Church is a relatively young church founded in the late 1950s. The congregation of nearly 300 members has a strong legacy of community involvement. Its nursery and kindergarten is believed to be the first African American church-related pre-school in Huntsville.
In October 2013, member Dr. Ted Bixie, Sr. started researching energy-saving ideas for the approximately 20-year old church building. He called on the state-sponsored environmental agency and Huntsville Utilities (part of the Tennessee Valley Authority) to perform an energy audit. As one might expect, the utility responded with a comprehensive 30-page recommendation, but that didn’t mean the church was prepared, or had the resources at hand, to act on many of the recommendations.
“Dr. Bixie asked the utility company the best way to upgrade the church facilities,” says Anthony Thompson, current chairperson of the Earth Care Committee at FPC. “He started by single-handedly changing the types of light bulbs we used, and implementing motion-sensor lighting so that empty rooms wouldn’t be lit. We put insulation on pipes, screening in the sanctuary and shades in high-sun areas—really simple things that didn’t cost a lot of money.”
Shortly thereafter, FPC implemented an earth care component into their older adult worship services, a group called the Golden Charmers. They added an earth care worship element to their youth ministry, and their Presbyterian Women and Men organizations, as well as their prayers, hymns and meditational readings. In March 2014, FPC received their initial Earth Care Congregation certification.
“Every single Earth Care Congregation has a unique story to tell and a special witness to share of how they are embodying God’s call to care for creation in their own corner of the world,” says Barnes. “I am impressed with the ongoing ministry at FPC and thankful for all the saints engaged in ministry there.”
Today, FPC’s devotion and commitment to earth care ministry is a congregational mindset. They include earth care components in all Sunday school, new member, leadership, and confirmation classes, sponsor an environmental education series that features guest speakers on earth care issues, implement electronic recycling and food waste management programs, and continue to review and audit the original list of energy recommendations from the utility company.
Earth care ministry also includes hunger and poverty ministry, and Thompson and his colleagues are most proud of FPC’s food distribution program. Every third Wednesday, in conjunction with a north Alabama food bank, member volunteers gather to prepare food packages for the “hunger insecure” in town, giving peace of mind to those unsure where their next meal might come from.
“We serve and minister to at least 96 families through our food distributions program, and we have a waiting list for more,” says Thompson. “We’ve been doing it for three years and it just gets bigger each year. The effort that goes into preparing the food packages is very humbling, but it’s a great time of fellowship and makes all of us in the congregation feel good. Getting involved in the church, and not just ‘attending’ has opened so many doors and opportunities for me, I encourage anyone to serve, and truly become a servant for the Lord.”
FPC congregants from the youth ministry to the Golden Charmers will participate in Huntsville’s Earth Day celebration on April 23. Last year more than 11,000 people participated in the city’s Earth Day festivities.
Congregations looking to commemorate Earth Day on Friday April 22, 2016, can worship God’s creation April 17 and/or April 24. The PC(USA) Environmental Ministries program, part of the Presbyterian Hunger Program, offers Earth Day worship resources.