First Mennonite Church installs solar panels


Solar panels are installed on the roof of the First Mennonite Church on Springfield Ave. in Urbana.

Loving thy neighbor means more to the congregation of the First Mennonite Church than fund raising and mission trips. To them, it’s their moral duty to take action on climate change — that’s why they installed a series of solar panels on their roof last week.

“We believe human beings have been given an important role in stewarding the earth,” said Janet Elaine Guthrie, lead pastor of the church. “We’re called to lives of simplicity, scaled in such a way that there is enough for all.”

They finished installing the panels last week, and Holly Nelson, chair of the church’s green committee, said the church starting getting estimates and planning it about a year ago.

At that point, the church had taken some steps in what they term “creation care” with installing rain barrels and using reusable dishes, as well as starting a community garden — but they wanted to tackle something bigger, Nelson said.

“We see news stories and hear things all the time about how global warming is impacting people living in poverty,” Nelson said. “They aren’t very well equipped to deal with rising sea level or increasing droughts and floods.”

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    Nelson, who works at the University’s Smart Energy Design Assistance Center, used her grant-writing and research expertise with the project and won the church a grant that covered 40 percent of the cost. From there, the congregation raised funds for the rest.

    “It’s great because individuals may not have the funding to put up solar panels on their homes, like I don’t even own a home so there’s no way I could do that on my own, but I have a job and I can contribute money towards putting them up here,” she said.

    The green team that oversaw the project was put in place with the help of an organization called Faith in Place, which helps congregations across Illinois operate sustainably.

    “The amazing thing to me about this project was that the church’s primary motivation for moving forward on this was concern about the negative impacts of climate change and doing something on a broader scale in response,” said Executive Director of Faith in Place Brian Sauder.

    He said the church is one of the first in central Illinois to adopt PV solar energy, and that he hopes other churches in the Faith in Place network will follow suite.

    “Now that we’ve done this project, we’ve been able to go to some Faith and Place events to share our experiences, and other churches have expressed interest and hope to do similar things,” Nelson said.

    Austin can be reached at [email protected] or @austinkeating3.