Voices for Change

Advocacy ministries of the ELCA want to share stories and your voices about public policies and relevant advocacy issues that are of interest to you.

A Leap of Faith

Posted on June 27, 2012 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

This piece is part of the Colorado installment of the “Advocating on the Road” blog series.

By Jack C. Major
Holy Cross Lutheran Church, a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good (Genesis 1:31).

Holy Cross Lutheran Church of Wheat Ridge, Colorado, was faced with a building infrastructure problem: over 75 percent of the Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems in the church experienced a complete delivery system failure. The property committee noticed that we were starting to use an excessive amount of fresh water every billing cycle. It was leaking out of the radiant floor system and under the foundation, which was washing sand out from under the foundation and causing leaks in the foundation walls.

By the time the property committee realized the extent of the leak in the radiant floor system, we were using an estimated extra 15,000 gallons every three months and the leak had caused damage to the church’s steel tube boiler. In January of 2008, we learned we would need to shut off the entire heating system, except for a single 10-ton rooftop HVAC unit over the large meeting hall and office. The congregation council investigated alternative HVAC systems for the entire church and voted to pursue an option that would help to protect God’s creation — installing a new renewable geothermal HVAC system.

In basic terms, a geothermal HVAC system takes heat from underground wells in the winter and pipes it into our building, and takes the heat from the building in the summer and pipes it back underground. All we are doing is transferring heat from one place to another. By removing and storing solar-generated heat in the earth to heat and cool our church, our geothermal system reduces our use of fossil fuels and at the same time helps to preserve God’s creation for future generations.

My company, Major Geothermal, designed and installed the new system so I know it quite well. It has 14 water-source heat pumps located throughout the building to handle the heating, cooling and ventilation loads. In addition to this, five energy recover units were installed to handle the ventilation loads of the building. For the first time, the new geothermal system brings total comfort to the entire building, including air conditioning and fresh air ventilation to the sanctuary. 

This project was made possible through funding from the ELCA Mission Investment Fund. The faith of the Fund’s staff in this project was instrumental to its success, and we were blessed to have their help. Ideally in the future there will be federal and state tax credits or other incentives to encourage these types of investments.

The members of Holy Cross took a huge leap of faith by installing the geothermal system, and by doing this, we have made a profound statement to our community. We are known as a “Green Church” in the Denver metro area; we have many programs and special events to offer ideas to other congregations on how they can also preserve God’s creation.

We continue to look to the future and are currently working on a plan to add solar panels to the church’s roof to further reduce our use of fossil fuels.

May God bless you and yours, as well as the efforts of Christians everywhere to preserve Creation.

A Win for the Environment, Congregation, and Workforce

Posted on June 24, 2012 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

This piece is part of the Colorado installment of the “Advocating on the Road” blog series.

In 2009-10 Our Savior’s Lutheran Church of Denver, Colorado, took innovative steps to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and create jobs for a disadvantaged sector of the local workforce. The church became the first in the city to run on solar electric power, harnessed through solar panels installed by local residents in need of work. To supply labor for the project, the congregation partnered with a local nonprofit organization helping former offenders reintegrate into society by providing jobs, training, placement and support.

“We see this as part of our calling to be stewards of the resources we have been given”, says the Rev. Paul Carlson. “Caring for creation is central to who we are and who we are called to be. It’s the faithful response out of gratitude for the goodness and beauty of creation. At the same time, the congregation is helping people who need work but have a difficult time getting it.”

Made possible in December 2009 through a unique financing arrangement developed by one of the largest solar energy companies in Colorado, the solar installation provides an estimated 60 percent of the congregation’s electricity. The system is owned and operated by a third party, an LLC that receives Xcel Rebates, renewable Energy Credits and all of the available tax benefits. Our Savior’s Lutheran congregation purchases the electricity generated from the LLC at a guaranteed locked-in rate until the congregation exercises their option to purchase the system. At that time they will own the system outright, receiving free energy for the life of the system.

“This is a win-win for everyone,” remarks the Rev. Tina Yankee, member of Our Savior’s Lutheran and 14-year director of a nonprofit assisting those with criminal histories find employment. “The church not only gets its solar electricity, it gets to fulfill its mission to help those who have been in prison and other disadvantaged populations; our energy company gets the revenue from the sale and installation of the solar panels; and the investors get a decent return on their investment while helping to protect the planet.”

According to Pastor Carlson, the congregation hopes that this arrangement can become a model for other congregations interested in greening their operations. In addition to the environmental benefits, with over 2500 religious buildings in Colorado, the value of such investments providing economic stimulation and creating much needed jobs for the unemployed is huge, Pastor Yankee notes.

The Rev. Nelson Bock, a member of the congregation, is also a board member for Colorado Interfaith Power and Light, an organization that works with faith communities to help them be better stewards of creation and that helped facilitate the congregation’s connection with the energy retailer. “Communities of faith can and should be playing a lead role in modeling better energy stewardship and fighting climate change,” says Bock. “It’s part of their spiritual foundation, and they are already organized to do it. It’s just a matter of providing them with the tools they need; that’s what this partnership is all about.”





Advocating for Creation in Colorado

Posted on June 18, 2012 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA
The dome of the Colorado State Capitol Building

The dome of the Colorado State Capitol Building

We open the Colorado installment of the “Advocating on the Road” series with this piece.

By Brad Wood
Director, Lutheran Advocacy Ministry- CO

For Lutherans in Colorado, the opportunities to commune with God extend beyond our houses of worship into the great beauty of the Colorado landscape. Many times I am reminded of the greatness of God while hiking in the mountains, spending time in one of many parks, or driving past the grasslands and fields.

Energy is a major driver of the economy in Colorado, with much oil, coal and natural gas production for the entire United States happening within the Rocky Mountain Region. Amid  the great beauty of God’s creation in Colorado are expanses of prairie lands and over 300 days of sunshine a year, making Colorado an ideal place for new energy technologies like wind and solar to grow and prosper. 

Congregations in Colorado are committed to recycling, completing energy audits and using renewable resources. And ELCA members also know that we need to work hard to protect the beauty of God’s creation. I know many people who feel that God has called them to stand up to help protect God’s beauty and resources in different ways, from advocacy to trail rebuilding. 

Back in 2004, Lutheran Advocacy Ministry – CO worked to pass a ballot measure requiring that 10 percent of Colorado’s power come from renewable resources by 2015 (a goal that has been met already!).  New legislation passed in 2009 has set the bar even higher, at 30 percent renewable resource generation by 2020. People of faith have recognized that using wind and solar technologies is good for the planet and good for the people of Colorado as new jobs are created and the economy grows. 

In 2012 our network of Colorado Lutherans turned its attention to the issue of electronic waste (commonly called e-waste) recycling.  Currently, Colorado homes and businesses are generating between 40,000 to 160,000 tons of e-waste a year. Only 8,000 tons of this is actually being recycled.  Electronic waste has many toxic materials that if left in landfills can pollute our air, land and water. 

Lutheran Advocacy Ministry – CO worked to pass a measure this session that will ban e-waste from landfills and increase the amount of electronic waste recycled in the state. Banning electronic waste, such as televisions, laptops, copiers and fax machines, from Colorado’s landfills will decrease the amount of toxic metals entering our land, air and water. This was also an economic issue:  This ban will return valuable metals found in electronics, such as copper and aluminum, to manufacturing, strengthening our local economy and stimulating the development of green technologies and products that are easier to reuse. Recycling businesses will need to expand, hire more employees, and provide greater service and access to recycling to Colorado residents. Recycling  the materials used in electronics also saves energy: Recycling 1 million laptops each year would save the equivalent of the electricity used by 3,657 average U.S. homes in a year by avoiding the energy used in mining and refining metal and other materials.  Finally, more e-waste recycling will create jobs here in Colorado—for every 10,000 tons of electronic waste recycled, at least 130 jobs are created with the possibility of twice that many.

The passage of the bill was due in part to many ELCA members who chose to take action using Lutheran Advocacy Ministry- Colorado’s e-advocacy network, contacting lawmakers and asking them to support the bill. This piece of bi-partisan legislation was signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper, giving everyone in Colorado a chance to help support new jobs and protect the environment and make the beauty of Colorado sustainable for generations to come. 

ELCA members and congregations in Colorado will continue to take steps to care for God’s creation.  Our churches recycle, cut back on waste and explore new and innovative sources of energy.  In turn, we will continue to urge our lawmakers to adopt policies that encourage renewable energy production and growth that protect God’s creation and ensure a more stable economy in our state. 

Keep an eye on the ‘Advocating on the Road’ series on the Voices for Change blog for contributions from Lutherans in Colorado in the coming days.

“We are all beggars”

Posted on June 4, 2012 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

We close the Minnesota chapter of the “Advocating on the Road” blog series with this reflection by Kate Gaskill, ELCA Washington Office. 

“We are all beggars.  This is true.”    - Martin Luther

In 1546, a dying Martin Luther scribbled this sentence on a piece of paper.  It turned out to be one of the final missives Luther would physically write himself.  The man who transformed Christianity and altered the course of world history with his pen ended his career and life with these words.

“We are all beggars.”

In the final days of Luther’s eventful (and often controversial) life, he united all people by saying that before God we are all sinful, in need of God’s grace. Theologians debate the intent and meaning behind this heavily studied statement, but  it is interesting to note that  Luther made this point of common need by identifying all of us as beggars.  He aligned us all as  poor, as outcasts.

Alone we are all beggars in the eyes of God, yet the risen Christ justifies us, lifts us from “beggar” to “child”, from “outcast” to “beloved.”  Through Christ, we are free to live joyfully in God’s grace—and we are free to serve… free to tear down the walls of poverty and inequality that divide our society.  “For he is our peace,” reads Ephesians 2:14, “in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.”

It seems so often through our rhetoric and public policy, we distance ourselves from the beggar and we often reinforce walls.  How reluctant are we to unify with all people, and especially the person who is in need?  We often seek to do the very opposite of what Luther acknowledged  on his deathbed.  We don’t want to be thought of as lowly, poor, or in need of help.

Today people who use government assistance—no matter how temporary—are often vilified.  We’ve all heard the rhetoric, and sometimes it even comes from our elected officials.  Parents who rely on state and federal hunger programs for meals are often deemed “lazy.”  Families who must transition to government assisted housing are part of the “problem.”  Children who rely on programs, like the Minnesota Family Investment Program—or SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) or WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children) “threaten” our nation’s financial solvency.

Therefore, life-saving programs are cut.  Proven effective ways of aiding direct need and creating self-sufficiency are abandoned.  We don’t seem to see the people behind policies… or if we do, we immediately separate ourselves from them.  “They are different than me”, we might say, “They are a beggar.”  We build a wall between ourselves and the others.

But Luther reminds us that in the eyes of God, “We are all beggars.”  How can we separate ourselves from this commonality?  Regardless of socioeconomic status, race, or gender, we are alike in our need for forgiveness and grace—given to us through Christ.  And because of our freedom in Christ, how can we reject Christ’s example of breaking down the divisions between us and our neighbors?

Governments, at their best, can help tear down walls between people. They can be a gift that enables nations to live peacefully with one another and help cycle people out of poverty.  Government programs can aid immediate need all over the world, and government policies can help shatter cycles of homelessness, conflict, and hunger.  But this good government requires participation and direct advocacy from constituents.  It requires action from ELCA members—and our partners—to speak out for just government that serves the common good.

As Christians in the United States, we have unique opportunities to speak out for policies—like the Minnesota Family Investment Program, or SNAP and WIC—that help restore lives.  We also have the duty to reject harmful rhetoric that vilifies, and may even dehumanize, those living in poverty.  We are called to align ourselves with the beggar.

“We are all beggars.  This is true.”