High efficiency worship

What if the cracks around our church windows are letting the holy spirit out as they let the wintry cold in? What if the energy-sucking light bulbs in our sanctuaries are casting an unholy glow on our otherwise holy scriptures?

The sacredness of our sanctuaries has something to do with the pipes, wires and ducts that connect them to the warming world outside. The figurative energy in the room – the good vibes, feelin’-the-spirit sort of energy – has something to do with the literal energy in the room; the energy that heats, cools, lights and amplifies. So maybe the text for next Sunday’s sermon should be the church’s monthly energy bill. That bill is a spiritual matter.

Since many church buildings are old and brutally inefficient, assessing enviro-spiritual impacts can quickly become overwhelming and paralyzing. But what if we just skipped the hand-wringing stage – just suspended guilt and went right on to the actual task of bringing our worship in line with the ecological and spiritual realities of our time? The warming earth doesn’t really have time for our guilt (or our SUV-maligning, Exxon-bashing self-righteousness either). This world needs all the sacredness it can get, so it’s time to make our sanctuaries as holy as they can be.

Christianity is, to some extent, an architectural reality. In large part, Christendom is known by its buildings. The very term “church” identifies Christians directly with buildings, as it is used interchangeably and ambiguously to refer to both. With some spiritual and practical imagination, these buildings could be an incisive sign of God’s love in the world.

According to the US government-backed Energy Star program, if all religious worship buildings in the US cut energy use and costs by 25 percent, they would save $500 million and prevent five million tons of carbon dioxide from going into the atmosphere. Let the revival begin.

Let’s put the caretakers, handy-people and electricians in charge of worship. Let’s retrofit our sanctuaries and souls in a single redemptive act. Imagine, instead of the usual Sunday service, let’s have a fun funeral for the church air conditioner, or a blessing service for the new high-efficiency furnace, or an anointing of the caulking to be used around those old windows.

It’s the liturgy of weather-stripping, compact florescent lights and spiritual efficiency. By ritualizing and liturgizing change, new ways of being take deep root in us; we move from the obligation of “doing the right thing” into the beauty and rhythm of sacred quest.

Issue 3

This article first appeared in Geez magazine Issue 3, Summer 2006, Playing House.

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Issue 3, Summer 2006

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