Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Heavenly Energy

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Heavenly Energy

Article excerpt

In the wake of last year's Fukushima disaster, German chancellor Angela Merkel announced the country would phase out nuclear power. Churches are at the forefront of Germany's new solar revolution.

IMAGINE A CHURCH that not only views taking care of the earth as a fundamental Christian value, but whose green consciousness is at the heart of its gospel; a church that not only talks about responsible stewardship, but has photovoltaic systems mounted on its rooftops; a church that not only feeds solar power into the local grid, but inspires and supports other congregations to follow suit.

A Lutheran congregation and its intrepid pastor in the small Black Forest town of Schönau (population 2,382) are at the forefront of the solar revolution in Germany. With 431 solar modules on its rooftops, Schönaus Bergkirche (Mountain Church) generates more than 40,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year, enough for eight churches of its size. Dubbed "Creation Windows," the installation feeds what Pastor Peter Hasenbrink calls "heavenly energy" into the local grid that's run by one of Germany's largest cooperative clean energy companies.

The Creation Windows didn't happen overnight. The seed was first sown when a handful of concerned parents, alarmed by the dangers of nuclear power after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, turned to their church for support. Ursula Sladek, a mother of five and 201 1 Goldman Environmental Prize recipient, recalls telling her husband, Michael, a doctor who was a member of Bergkirches council at the time, "This is also the church's concern, because we're dealing with God's creation here. We can't just destroy it like that!"

As the Sladeks and their friends went on to educate themselves about safer alternatives to nuclear power, they found a natural ally in Rev. Hasenbrink. "God has put a lot of love into this creation," Hasenbrink says, explaining what he considers the natural affinity between faith and environmental stewardship. "When you look around, you can only be in awe of how well -conceived everything is, and we humans are called upon to not only be beneficiaries but to intelligently and responsibly sustain this creation."

While they couldn't yet afford a photovoltaic installation in the early 1990s, Bergkirche made another important contribution to the cause: a space to assemble. As more and more of the group's meetings took place at the church's community center, the relationship between the concerned residents and the congregation naturally deepened. Casual gatherings turned into electricity seminars that were then adopted into Hasenbrink's services.

In his sermons, Hasenbrink would point to the importance of combining inner and outer work, citing St. Pauls letters in Romans 8- "For the creation is eagerly awaiting the revelation of God's children" - as a call to action for us caretakers to relieve the strain on the earth, to signal our participation, and to move toward salvation. "Not that we humans can or should salvage the world - Christ himself must do this- but we are God's collaborators in sustaining this work of creation." Hasenbrink says. "For me, and for the Christian community, this is the task of our time."

At first, these communal efforts at conserving and bringing more renewable energy to Schönau faced stiff opposition. Most notably, KWR, the power company that was operating the local power grid at the time, would have none of it. The response the Sladeks got when they first asked company officials if they'd be willing to add a few energy-saving measures was, "Conserve energy? Have you lost your mind? We want to sell energy, not save it!"

As shocking as KWR's attitude was to the concerned community, it forced all the stakeholders to take a stand. The Sladeks and their friends decided that if the power company wasn't going to be accountable to their customers and there was no alternative choice, the customers would have to start their own power company. …

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