“We are called to care for Creation.” says Fr. Bob Stagg, pastor of The Church of the Presentation in Upper Saddle River, NJ. Presentation is the first Catholic parish nationwide to be accepted into the GreenFaith Certification Program, the country’s only interfaith environmental certification program for houses of worship. I talked with Fr. Stagg about his parish's participation in the program.
NCR: Where are you located?
Fr. Bob Stagg: We’re right on the New York border, a 45-minute ride west of New York City. We’re a large parish and about 40 percent of our people work in the city.
How did you get involved in the green activities?
We’ve always had a strong justice and peace initiative in the parish, and we’ve also had a very strong mission strategy. We send a large group to Haiti twice year; to New Orleans to help in the rebuilding about six times a year. We have three soup kitchens. Our environmental activities began with a St. Francis ministry within the justice and peace group. We started looking into the GreenFaith certification program, thinking it was right where we need to be.
We went solar this year with 400 solar panels on the roofs. The whole archdiocese of Newark, of which we’re a part, has been moving down that direction because there is a state initiative that runs out at the end of this year for solar energy. When we go solar, it’s a win-win strategy all around.
We formed limited-liability corporations (LLCs), separate entities from the parish itself. Thirteen parishioners own our panels and I lease them back. Our solar panels catch the DC power from the sun and change it into alternate current and send then send that back into our utility’s grid. The panels generate what’s called SRECs, standing for Solar Renewable Energy Certificate. An SREC is a tradable certificate that represents all the clean energy benefits of electricity generated from our solar electric system.
On the solar markets, in New Jersey today they’re trading for $660, in Nevada for $100, in Pennsylvania for less than $200. We’ll generate about 80 SRECs a year and they are good for the next 15 yrs. So the federal government is helping this infant industry get off ground; without subsidies it doesn’t work. The sunlight is free and it burns clean. What’s expensive are the panels that are made in China these days. If we get it right, though, we’re not aiding the search for oil and the use of the military to guard that oil. We’re using renewables.
What else have you done?
We installed environmentally-friendly bathrooms. All of our electric lights turn off when rooms are empty. We brought in a bee guy to set up beehives on our 20 acres; they are now pollinating our community. We have a garden. We do composting.
Part of being certified is that you do a number of worship services around the environment. In our religious education programs, this is the Year of the Tree. So we do scriptural reenactments once a month, centered on tree themes from the Old and New Testament – the Tree of Good and Evil, the Tree of Calvary.
We conduct Webinars to educate parish leaders, and the council. We put together a GreenFaith team, a subcommittee of the St. Francis ministry with 10 parishioners now serving on it. We have eco-tips every week in the bulletin. Our groundskeepers are well briefed on pesticide use, so we have eco-friendly lawns. We have repasts after all our funerals and we have the soup kitchens, so the food from our garden goes to soup kitchens and funeral ministry.
The local paper recently ran a photo of me on the roof. It’s a good program we’re involved in that generates a positive cash flow and good relationships with community. We are very enthusiastic about joining the GreenFaith Certification Program because it gives us the tools to become strong environmental leaders. We want to live out these ‘green values’ in everything our parish does.