By Ulrika G. Gerth
AMESBURY — The congregation at St. James Episcopal Church in downtown Amesbury has taken the mission of honoring God's creation to a green level.
The Rev. Susan Esco Chandler only has to look at the church's energy bill to see that the effort is paying off. Soon, she will be able to add the savings from yet another series of initiatives that has received the backing of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts.
The diocese recently awarded St. James a $10,000 Green Grant to assist with four energy-conservation projects. Most of the money will be used to defray the cost of replacing a 13-foot-tall, leaky stained glass window and repairing and insulating the back wall of the sanctuary, according to Doug Hoyt, a church member overseeing the project.
Although the repairs and window installation come with a $71,000 price tag, the wall's thermal efficiency will improve by 300 percent, Hoyt said.
Established in 2010, the diocese's Green Grants Initiative was created to encourage, challenge and support congregations in environmental stewardship, a philosophy that fits perfectly with the green agenda that St. James adopted two years ago, Chandler said. The program is open to all 185 churches in the diocese; selected applicants receive up to $10,000 out of the $50,000 total available.
"We're all stewards of what we've inherited and what we've been given, so that stewardship is an important part of how we take care of our buildings and properties and how we take care of our people in the church and outside of the church," Chandler said. "It's all part of the big package."
Even before Hoyt and three other church members teamed up last fall to write the grant application, the concept of going green was driving investments and decisions. A high-efficiency furnace and barrels for the collection of rainwater were purchased, and energy-saving lighting was installed. The congregation especially welcomed the programmable thermostats, which eliminated the need to crank up the electrical baseboard heating and, as a result, cut utility costs by $1,000 last winter, Hoyt said.
But it soon became apparent that more work was needed to weatherize the church, built in river stone in 1899. When a storm ripped shingles off the roof, the ensuing water leaks damaged the plaster on the sanctuary's back wall. As the plaster was peeled off, workers discovered the quarter-inch wood strips that crisscross the wall were coated with mold.
"It must have been the first time in more than 100 years that the wall was opened up," Hoyt said.
The grant application spelled out not only the need to repair the wall and replace the more than century-old stained glass window, but, as revealed through an energy audit conducted by National Grid, the need for three additional energy-conservation projects.
One of them — repairing and adding permanent weather stripping — is partially complete. Another — improving drainage to reduce humidity levels inside — is just under way. And the final project — further insulating the ceiling of the administrative building — is slated to begin in late November.
Hoyt has spent most of his time coordinating the installation of the custom-made, $6,000 thermopane window at the back of the church. While church volunteers have been able to tackle many tasks, the wall and window repairs required professional help. The window is now in place, and Hoyt said the wall should be finished sometime before Christmas.
Chandler said she is excited by how much light pours through the newly installed window into the worship space. From the pulpit, the rector said she now can see the sky through the window.
"It's almost metaphorical in a way since we talk about the light of Christ," she said.
Chandler is also spreading the word of environmental stewardship to others. She brought up the topic at a recent meeting of the Merrimack Valley Deanery of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts.
The Season of Creation, which runs until the first Sunday in November, also lent itself to sermons about the environment, she said.
"It's definitely something many churches are very interested in pursuing," she said. "I think we're all more aware of the scarcity of certain resources and the blessing of certain resources and how we all need to be conscientious stewards of all the gifts that we've received."