Hundreds of churches benefit from Faithful Footprints program

Pamela Canning’s church is no longer living on a wing and a prayer.

Like many churches across Nova Scotia, St. Paul United Church in Westville, N.S., used to be crippled by operating costs.

“We didn’t know how we were going to continue to put oil in our tank. We got to the point where we had to do something,” recalls the outreach coordinator.

But now St. Paul’s fortunes have begun to turn around and it’s rediscovering how to be a blessing to the surrounding community once again.

The lifeline came in the form of an initiative by the United Church of Canada (UCC) which has resolved to reduce carbon emissions in its buildings by 80 per cent by 2030.

The stewards at St. Paul’s learned that, under the Faithful Footprints program, they could receive $25,000 toward sustainability and another $5,000 to decarbonize the building — which they did by taking the chimney out and discontinuing oil as a heat source.

It’s been almost a year since the church improvements were completed, and they have already noticed a big difference. Utility costs have been halved, Canning says. Before the upgrades, the power bill was “around $800 every two months and now it’s around $200.”

“Our church has a new feel because we’re going ahead again. We’re also using the church more now, because before it would cost so much to heat it up and turn the lights on,” Canning says.

The church takes part in a series of community luncheons and operates a program with local schools and homes called Food for Focus. Canning says they’re now doing more outreach since they’re able to be open more often.

“It made all the difference and it really reinvigorated the whole congregation,” Canning says.

“It’s helping us focus on being disciples of God and it’s now given us more opportunity to share with the community, because now we’re not just trying to raise money to keep oil in the tank.”

Faithful Footprints is the result of a study by the UCC which looked into reducing carbon in its faith buildings. Next came a plan to implement change and to turn the church into a leader in climate action.

Each region in Canada has a support centre aiding with the delivery of the program through outreach, engagement and project assistance. In Atlantic Canada, that role fell to the Ecology Action Centre (EAC) in Halifax, N.S.

Chris Benjamin is senior energy coordinator at the EAC and focuses on the efficiency side of things

for Faithful Footprints. Benjamin says the program came about because “the United Church has long preached humanity’s role on Earth under God’s direction is to take care of it and be stewards of it.”

“So, I think a decision was made to put their money where their mouth is and to really try to transform their own buildings, which is a lot across Canada.”

The funding available for each church is $30,000 and groups are encouraged to partner with other entities, such as Efficiency Nova Scotia or Nova Scotia Power, to attract more funding. The UCC focuses on heat and light generation, as these two factors are the largest carbon contributors and biggest expenses.

The rollout of the program was a godsend for many congregations.

Stacey Brenton is a member of the fundraising committee at Middle Stewiacke United Church, which hosts community breakfasts, music nights and other events. Once the group heard of the grant, they contacted Faithful Footprints right away. “We’re a small congregation, so we had to try and cut costs as much as we can,” Brenton said.

The 100-year-old church used the grant to stop relying on oil and switch to heat pumps. They also acquired an energy-efficient fridge and installed energy-efficient lighting for the church basement.

Part of the reason the group went after the funding was to help the environment, Brenton says, but a “big part was to save the church money.”

It has only been a few months since the new installations and they’ve already noticed a drop in their costs. Brenton says they are hoping it’s going to lead to more money in their accounts.

“And then we can focus on doing things for the community and build our congregation up and keep going forward,” she said.

The church was also able to hire local contractors to complete the work, further supporting the community.

“It’s been a really great thing all around,” Brenton says.

So far, EAC has partnered with 121 churches that have begun to take climate action.

“It’s had a tremendous impact in actual greenhouse gas emissions and in community development,” Benjamin says.

“It’s really given the congregations a great unifier and a way to work together on something very tangible, that has united people and saved them money in the process. And we’ve been really happy to be part of that along the East Coast.”

For more information on how your community of faith can get advice, inspiration and grants on reducing energy costs and your carbon footprint, check out 

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