In my real life, I'm active in a vibrant, urban church. In fact, I'm on both the Fundraising Committee and the Board. This after a decade of doing youth and young adult ministry. One of the things I am wrestling with now is how I can do a better job of integrating my concerns about climate change and peak oil into my work at the church.
My concerns are very much influenced by my faith. I think climate change and peak oil have the potential to cause massive human suffering, and therefore I have a responsibility to do what I can to avoid that. I believe that a benevolent and powerful deity exists, but I know that throughout history God has often not prevented human made or natural catastrophes. The Black Plague and the Potato Famine come to mind. In Bible college I developed a passion for the writings of the minor prophets, and over and over again they cry out to the people for the sin of being overweight while others starve. I think we're in a situation where the people who have the money have all the options and the people who don't are going to live or die based on how we spend it.
Okay. So that's the long and short of how an evangelical Christian can get really motivated by Global Warming. What does it mean in practical terms? Well, it means that I can influence a building other than my home. Buildings are estimated to contribute 48% of the CO2 produced on a daily basis, and commercial buildings constitute 17% of that. So everything I do for my home, I should be eager to also do for my church home. That includes paying for CFL and LED lighting and leading a project to change bulbs and continuing to look like a stick in the mud when I resist replacing our swamp coolers with AC.
It means that I can be a voice for less car-dependent congregational life. Home study groups can draw neighbors together instead of asking everyone to drive into church for every event. E-mail lists can allow for planning to happen outside of meetings. Providing secure, supervised bike storage can encourage more bike riding. And planning for public transportation and ride sharing would allow more people to engage those options (and perhaps encourage the bus system to run more buses on Sunday...)
And then there's fund raising. Fund raising is an essential element of most urban churches, just as it is of most school districts. As much as we grooved on the idea of "paying it forward" for a couple of years, we've lost the sense that by investing real money in our communities we are actually paying ourselves forward. We forget we benefit when we have strong schools even when we don't have kids going to them. Our churches compete with our shopping and for many of us, what church we go to and whether we go at all is subject to whims. So the idea of setting a significant chunk of my money aside for something that other people are getting more benefit from than I am is totally foreign.
Fund raising is designed to get organizations enough to survive on by providing you some other good or service you need or want. It puts these organizations back in the mall, obviously arguing for those dollars. So, how do we do that sustainably? At my church, we look for the following opportunities:
- Events that bring people together. One thing we do is for the summer months we have a barbecue after church on the lawn. We encourage people to buy lunch from us and stick around to have conversations.
- Re-sell items. We don't have a thrift shop, and I don't think we could get one to fly, but we have two events where we ask people to donate sell-able goods and then throw an event to sell them off.
- Sell services. We have a service auction where we auction off service donations ranging from haircuts to hotel stays.
- Events that showcase talents. We have enough musical and performance talent in our church to do concerts to raise money.
- Events that turn time into money. We have a contract with the local sports arena to staff a booth during season games. It works out to about minimum wage for the folks working, but the church gets the money and the stadium gets a booth full of folks who normally get paid more than minimum wage.
- Sell value-added items. A few years ago we gave up on the chocolate and wrapping paper sales. On the food side of things, there are many people in our congregation living with diabetes and heart disease. We knew the pool of people who could buy candy in good conscience was much smaller than the pool of people who wanted to give money. We also ran the numbers and hated the margins we were looking at. A $1 candy bar might net fifty cents for the church, but the time and the guilt associated really eroded that. We found a nursery that would sell us plants at wholesale, so we pot them up and get them ready and have a plant sale. We've also designed an attractive necklace we can make from items we buy direct from the cottage industries that make them and sell them, making 90% profit, as long as the labor is donated.
Personally, I am urging us to look at some of the following as well:
- Waste-free events. We don't have a dishwasher or a working kitchen, so this is a little tough right now. But I think it's a good goal to work for.
- Using our property for power generation. Our buildings are mostly empty during work hours, which would allow us to upload solar and/or wind-generated electricity to the grid during peak use and download it during off hours.
- Selling home improvement items. I'd love to see us sell compact fluorescents as a fund raiser. I can't find a way to get our cost below what Home Depot sells them for when the local utility is doing their specials though.
- E-waste collection. One stream is to collect usable items and sell them to a re-seller. This is recent mobile phones and items like that. The other stream is things like CRTs. I think this would take an 'angel' to establish a bounty program. For every CRT donated, the organization gets a couple bucks and the recycling fee is covered.
- Low carbon fast. I think it would be interesting to get a Sunday School class or whole church to fast beef or most meat for a month and to make a donation to the church for every pound of meat avoided. Perhaps during Lent... Could also work for household improvements. Avoid using lights after 9 pm for a month and give .25 cents to the church for every kilowatt hour saved.
- Swap-o-Rama-Rama. An event where people come and re-make used items for their own use. Extra items could possibly be sold as a fund raiser.
- Honey-Do list. Keep a list of personal errands at the church. People who put something on the list add what kind of help they want and how much they're willing to donate for it. People who do the work go and see what's needed. Helps turn talent and time into cash.