Dozens of churches in the Diocese of Massachusetts have taken steps to make their buildings more energy efficient. Many changes are affordable or even free, but some require a major investment. Now, when a parish is considering energy-efficient windows, a new boiler, or a new water heater, they may be able to turn to the diocese for a loan at an attractive interest rate specifically for green building updates.
The newly launched green loan program is part of the Creation Care Initiative, and is funded by the Together Now campaign. The loan program launched shortly after its approval by Diocesan Council in late March, and is now accepting applications on a rolling basis. It is a major step forward for the Creation Care Initiative, which also awards green grants and the Simple Acts grants. The diocesan green grants program, which awarded its first grants in 2011, provides smaller amounts of money in the form of grants, which have been used for LED bulbs, community gardens, and many other green projects.
“Bishop Bud Cederholm, a champion for Creation Care has reminded us that there is a biblical mandate as well spiritual, moral and ethical urgency to care for creation,” Montagno said, “And in response the diocese has dedicated itself to the reduction of its carbon footprint.”
In partnership with the diocesan loan committee, the green loans program will offer parishes the option to borrow funds for larger and more costly improvements. According to Alice Krapf, chair of the diocesan loan committee, the loans can fund projects up to $100,000. The green loans have a lower interest rate than other diocesan loans: 2.75 percent, or 2.5 percent if paid via an automatic payment method. Congregations may borrow loans up to a 10 year term and combine them with other diocesan loans, up to a combined total of $150,000. Krapf noted the exception that parishes may not borrow more than their annual budget.
According to Krapf, the interest rates for these loans have been set with the intention that many loans will actually be expense neutral, meaning that congregations will save more in utility costs than they spend on their loan repayments. This may free up funds for other projects, such as community outreach or even other green improvements.
The green loans follow a template that will be familiar to a congregation that has applied for a diocesan loan in the past. The Rev. Karen Montagno, director of congregational resources and training, said that she expects many congregations will combine green grants with green grants and diocesan loans in order to finance their projects.
Montagno has seen the success of the green grants program, and anticipates that the loans program will only continue the momentum of the Creation Care Initiative. “Grants and loans are a way of giving a shot in the arm to congregations,” she said. “We hope that these will give them opportunities to strengthen communities and build capacity.”
In turn, congregations are sharing their zeal for going green with other congregations and the wider community. “It’s contagious,” Montagno said. “The congregations themselves become a resource for the community.”
Montagno said that the new green loans have the ability to take this energy to a new level, giving congregations even larger opportunities to reduce their carbon footprint and save on their utility bills.
At a practical level, making buildings more energy efficient makes them easier to keep cool in summer and warm in the winter, which allows buildings to be used to their full potential. Churches can more easily and affordably open their doors to community organizations, promoting outreach and making new connections with the wider community. These green projects also become something that engages the entire congregation.
“It’s not just a project that the building committee is off doing on their own, it’s something the whole congregation can be a part of,” Montagno said.
Congregations preparing to apply for a green loan should start by completing an energy audit. These audits are often available through power companies, including National Grid and NStar, as well as through Massachusetts Interfaith Power and Light. All congregations wishing to apply for a green loan are also required to attend a Sustainable House of Worship Workshop. These are offered several times each year, typically in the fall and spring. All applicants should contact Dana Courtney at firstname.lastname@example.org for application materials and information on upcoming SHOW workshops.
--Ellen Stuart and Mary Ann Lee