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Wesley United’s Green House of God

Wesley United Methodist Church has gone solar. Eight solar panels have been installed on the church roof and will be dedicated Sunday. “They’re an investment and a symbol of renewal resources,” the Rev. Ron Hines said.

Wesley United’s Green House of God

Photo by Sara Cate

They take spreading the light of the world seriously.

As well as sharing it.

Wesley United Methodist Church has gone solar. Eight solar panels have been installed on the church roof and will be dedicated Sunday.

“They’re an investment and a symbol of renewal resources,” the Rev. Ron Hines said.

In fact, those panels are being dedicated to Hines and his wife, Lois Hines, not only for shepherding the project but also for their service in Yakima for the past 12 years. The Hineses are retiring this month and will be moving to Seattle.

A stone engraved “in honor of their lifelong service to Christ, Community and Creation” will be placed on the church grounds near the wing with the installation.

The panels reflect the calling of the church’s Creation Care Ministry, said Sara Cate, who heads the Green Team at Wesley, a committee that sponsors environmental stewardship at the church and in the community.

“We’re trying very hard to act out our mission as Christians, and one of the ways to do it is to take care of the Earth, part of God’s creation, and reduce energy use,” she said.

Cate credits Hines with demonstrating the theological basis for environmental stewardship: “Ron thinks churches can be a force for changing the path of climate change.”

With the installation of the panels, Wesley becomes only the second church in the state to employ an array of solar panels, according to Cate. The other is the Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane.

One obvious benefit of solar panels is saving money over the long term. Although the eight panels cost about $15,000, the church’s power bill will start to fall, and the panels will eventually pay for themselves.

“The price of electricity is bound to go up,” Hines said, “and since we’re producing electricity that goes back to the grid, our use is reduced. On a bright, sunny day with no lights on, you can see we’re producing electricity.”

Cate estimated the church will have its investment back in six to 12 years.

But it isn’t just the money. It’s saving fossil fuels, Hines underscored. And setting an example that others can do it, Cate noted.

“Eventually, we hope the whole roof will be solar panels,” Hines said.

The goal is another 30 or so panels; congregants are looking into loans for qualifying solar installations.

The solar plans originated about three years ago. A survey showed that nearly 90 percent of the congregation supported the idea. Hines was the visionary and catalyst for raising money, Cate said. “He was our inspiration. He worked so hard. He’s a wonderful man.”

But Hines attributed the success of the project to the congregation’s showing “a spirit of collegiality and honoring one another. We have a strong set of folks who have a passion for creation care.”

Cate added, “The church committees all support each other even if we don’t always understand what each other is doing.”

The Green Team has about 25 members, including eight very active ones. Two were Ron and Lois Hines, who attended every monthly meeting.

The solar panels are just the latest project in an environmental push that began at Wesley 35 years ago.

That’s when members built a recycling station on church property, which has become the largest noncommercial, community recycling center in the county and has kept more than 6 million pounds of waste — cardboard, paper, newspaper, plastic, tin, aluminum — out of the landfill.

Then came projects such as car-free Sunday, where people were encouraged to walk, bike or share rides to church.

A new efficient heating system was installed, cutting energy bills by nearly half, said Cate. Insulating windows and replacing lighting also helped.

The Green Team created 500 reusable cloth grocery bags several years ago, which they sold for $5 each.

Volunteers also tend a chemical-free garden on the church grounds, providing berries and vegetables for congregants who, as payment, contribute to funds for orphanages and latrine projects overseas. A locovore group buying other local produce was also established, and Styrofoam was eliminated from the coffee hour, which features fair trade, organic coffee.

The solar panels are “the cherry on the top,” said Cate.

For their ecological efforts, three years ago the church was named a Greening Congregation by Earth Ministry, a Seattle-based nonprofit that promotes environmental stewardship to Christian churches around the Northwest. Wesley was the first church east of the mountains to merit the designation.

“There’s pride in being part of a church that’s the first green-designated ministry in the eastern part of the state,” Hines noted.

But no one is resting on their laurels; congregants are committed to reducing their carbon footprint further, and the Hines’ legacy will be continued.

“With what’s happening in the destruction of the Earth’s resources, which benefits just a very few people, it’s important for us to remember to take care of each other and the underserved,” Cate said.

“The Earth is sacred and its resources are finite,” she pointed out. “We need to take care of God’s beautiful creation.”

For more information, call 509-577-7690 or read the original story from The Yakima Herald Republic here.

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