Emissions reduction grantees shed light on their journeys

Update, March 22, 2024: In 2023, nine congregations received Emissions Reduction Grants from MC Canada to help offset costs related to reducing their carbon footprints. Five additional congregations have shared their experiences - read here.

Winnipeg Manitoba — Ron Wiebe and Tony Dyck of Lowe Farm Bergthaler Mennonite Church are so excited about the new lights in their church’s sanctuary, they teasingly advised worshippers to wear sunglasses for their first worship service in the brighter environment. They wanted to draw attention to the improved illumination, just one benefit they are reaping from a lighting upgrade in their church building.

The congregation is one of nine churches across Canada that received an Emissions Reduction Grant (ERG) from MC Canada to reduce their carbon emissions.

The rural southern Manitoba church swapped out high energy use lamps for low consumption LED lights. They expect that the change will significantly reduce lighting costs.

Wiebe and Dyck’s stewardship efforts did not go unnoticed. The new lights are an improvement for seeing hymn books and offer new flexibility for both in person and live stream worship services.

The old lights required a warm-up time of ten to fifteen minutes or longer to reach full illumination after being turned off, said Wiebe, who is finance chair. The slow lamps hindered use of the projection screen. “Now… we can [instantly] turn the stage lights off [and on again] and it does a beautiful job of having the screen visible on the live stream,” he said Wiebe.

The lights they initially considered required fans to cool them, which added an unwanted noise element to their worship space. On further consultation with an electrician, they sourced LED lights that don’t require cooling fans.

The congregation, which uses propane for heat, had already upgraded their windows to reduce energy consumption. Wiebe quipped that the old windows, which were original to the building, “only slowed the wind down.”

A mix of contracted services and church volunteers accomplished the upgrades. Wiebe and Dyck, who is finance chair, are unsure how much the local community is noticing the upgrades, but they talk about their efforts when they meet with circles of friends beyond their church.

Listowel Mennonite Church is continuing its emissions reduction journey. Robert Sider is on the church’s property committee and coordinates much of the hands-on maintenance work for the southern Ontario congregation. The church also received an ERG from MC Canada.

The former farmer and hardware store employee is comfortable with DIY projects. He coordinated the church’s lighting change-out from incandescent to LED lighting. Sider projects they will consume 6,000 watts less energy per hour. As a small bonus, the LED lights generate less heat than the old lights, so Sider also expects some energy savings during the air conditioning season.

“People have said they can see their hymn books better, because the light is whiter,” said Sider.

The congregation has already installed skylights in the foyer to reduce the need for artificial lighting, high efficiency windows, low water usage toilets, and waterless urinals. A dishwasher in the kitchen recovers heat from its rinse cycle to heat incoming water for subsequent cycles.

An unexpectedly large water bill caused by a running toilet prompted Sider to install a wi-fi camera on the church’s water meter. No matter where he is, he can now easily monitor the meter for dials that are spinning out of control.

As for the future, Sider says that as furnaces wear out, heat pumps will be a consideration. He’d also like to float the idea of solar panels for the church.

“[A previous property committee] tried about ten or twelve years ago, but it didn’t fly. Looking back, it was a good deal. [Hydro One] was paying back $0.80 per kilowatt hour, or something like that. [The solar panels] got voted down, and I wasn’t in favour of it either, because all the taxpayers were paying for [the subsidy]. Basically, you’re becoming a burden on some other person.”

First Mennonite Church in Edmonton has made significant progress in their current plan to reduce carbon emissions from their 25-year-old building. Herb Kuehne, treasurer and stewardship committee member, said the congregation began its journey in 2018 with an energy audit. The church will use its ERG from MC Canada to continue its lighting upgrades, primarily in the basement where a daycare operates on weekdays, said Kuehne.

Since 2018, they have installed high efficiency lighting in the sanctuary, a high efficiency water heater and high efficiency gas furnaces, and rooftop solar panels.

Kuehne said that between 2019 and 2023, the congregation observed a 26.5% reduction in energy consumption and an overall carbon dioxide reduction of 20,712 kilograms. Kuehne added a caveat: “Those [numbers] were during the covid years” when most of the building was used less.

The congregation commissioned their roof-top solar panels in August, 2023. They have already saved $2200 in electricity costs up to January 2024. Kuehne expects their energy consumption and emission numbers to continue declining.

As for future plans, Kuehne said they hope to install high efficiency lighting in their parking lot. “Our building is getting older, so over time we’ll have to keep track of our windows, and make sure they’re energy efficient,” he said.

Kuehne said that when they constructed the building in 1997, they insulated beyond the building code requirements. “We’ve tried to be good stewards of our environment since day one,” he said. “A lot of people are working on [emissions reduction], a lot of people have the interest here. It’s the effort of the whole congregation working on it,” said Kuehne, added that an active fundraising program has been at the heart of the upgrades.

To keep their efforts in front of the congregation, there is a laptop in the church lobby that continuously displays the energy being generated by the solar panels. As for community awareness about their efforts, Kuehne says the church sits at a major road intersection. “I’m sure people see that we have the [rooftop solar] panels.”

Gerd Heinrichs, treasurer at Sherbrooke Mennonite Church in Vancouver, keeps a close eye on his congregation’s utility bills.

The congregation, which has already upgraded to high efficiency heating and windows, will focus on a high efficiency LED lighting upgrade for its basement, which is heavily used throughout the week. The congregation hosts five different intercultural Christian churches, newcomers to Canada, a food bank, and outreach programs such as "Cooking Affordable Food" and "Free Music Lessons."

Heinrichs, who has a degree in electrical engineering, projects a 50% cost reduction in lighting energy. He anticipates completing the lighting upgrade by the end of March.

Future upgrades to their 1968 building are on hold, said Heinrichs, due to a proposal that is in discussion. Sherbrooke is considering building a four level congregate living facility on its large parking lot. “That’s why we’re not doing all the lights, because part of the [existing] building will be torn off [if the proposal is approved],” said Heinrichs.

Back at Lowe Farm Bergthaler Mennonite Church, Dyck and Wiebe express gratitude for the ERG. “We were very thrilled to plug into the [grant]. We are a small church, so finances are tight,” said Dyck. “We sincerely thank MC Canada for promoting the energy efficiency of our churches… when we get a little kick start like this, it really is appreciated.”

Wiebe, vice-chair of finance, added, “It also shows people that we as Mennonite Church Canada are cognizant of the world that we live in, not just in a spiritual sense, but in a stewardship sense, so we do take note of that and responsibility for our part in that as well.”