NEWTOWN (08/25/2016) – It took less than three years for Newtown Congregational Church to become a standout model for environmentally conscious churches in the Connecticut Conference. On July 24, the church received the highest level of Green Church designation from the CT Conference Environmental Ministry Team, making Newtown only the third church in the conference to receive this designation.
The Green Church award is given to churches who have accomplished 80% of the Green Congregation Action Steps published by the Environmental Ministry Team. Churches in Level One have accomplished at least twelve measurable goals; those in Level Two have accomplished at least twenty-four measurable goals; and those in Level Three have accomplished at least thirty-six measurable goals.
Newtown has incorporated a variety of changes in their daily operations to make the church more environmentally sustainable. These changes include installing an energy efficient, cost saving computer system to regulate heating and cooling systems; encouraging use of environmentally friendly, low impact products for church functions; banning Styrofoam; using environmentally sensitive cleaning products, continuing to recycle and reduce paper use; operating a thrift store to sell and repurpose donated goods at low cost and donating the rest to Goodwill and Big Brothers/Big Sisters; and sponsoring a statewide contest that encouraged churches to submit poems, art creations, and videos to show environmental action.
Efforts to make these changes were lead by the Newtown church's Green Team, consisting of Judy Stowell (co-chair), Barbara Donahue (co-chair), Emi Lydem, and Marlene Whitney. According to Stowell, the church had been working on "green church things" for sometime when they decided to pursue Green Church designation. The team did not seek one level at a time. Instead, they worked on a variety of energy conservation projects and environmentally sound practices. In October 2013, the church had accomplished enough to received the Level 1 designation. By October 2014, they had reach Level 2.
The biggest challenge came when co-chair Barbara Donahue left the church. According to Stowell, Donahue, an energy auditor, "spearheaded what was taking place" and it became necessary for others to "step up" to keep the efforts moving forward when she left. Another challenge was re-educating members of the church on lower impact practices, such as recycling. This was further complicated by the fact that the town only provides recycling pickup for residential addresses. Members of the church have to take the recycling to the town transfer station on their own.
Newtown is just the third Level 3 Green Church in the CT Conference. The other two churches are First Congregational Church of Old Lyme and the Congregational Church of Guilford.
Stowell says the Newtown church isn't done. For now, they are focused on maintaining the practices they have incorporated to ensure that the church remains a low impact organization. In the future, she says they want to explore the possibility of solar energy for the church.
Drew Page is the News & Media Editor for the CT Conference, UCC. Dorothy Lovett Buckley, a member of the CT Conference Environmental Ministry Team, contributed to this story.
Drew Page is a member of the Conference's Communications Team. He writes and edits news, blogs, and devotionals, produces video, and spends a week each summer deaning at Silver Lake Conference Center with his wife, Debby.