‘If you love your neighbor, you’re not polluting their air’

Organization helps local churches reduce carbon footprint

By: Kayla Dimick | Southfield Sun | Published July 5, 2017

 Northwest Universalist Unitarian Church member Peg Collins stands next to a swale June 27 outside the church that is filled with plants that mitigate stormwater runoff. Northwest UU is one of a handful of churches in Southfield that belong to Michigan Interfaith Power and Light, an organization dedicated to educating congregations of all faiths on how to implement green practices.

Northwest Universalist Unitarian Church member Peg Collins stands next to a swale June 27 outside the church that is filled with plants that mitigate stormwater runoff. Northwest UU is one of a handful of churches in Southfield that belong to Michigan Interfaith Power and Light, an organization dedicated to educating congregations of all faiths on how to implement green practices.

Photo by Donna Agusti

SOUTHFIELD — A local organization is crossing religious barriers in the name of saving the planet.

Michigan Interfaith Power and Light is a nonprofit organization founded in 2002 to inspire and equip people of faith to take care of the planet, according to its website.

MIIPL is part of a nationwide organization comprising 40 state affiliates and 18,000 faith communities across the country. The organization helps places of worship implement green practices and connects them with resources on how to make their buildings more eco-friendly.

The organization, which is based in Southfield, is not bound by a certain type of religion or faith — it includes Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Sikh members, among others.

“We were founded by a Catholic priest. Basically, he kind of randomly met the founder of the National Interfaith Power and Light organization and just got excited to work on a response to climate change in Michigan, and set up a national organization affiliate in order to get churches involved,” said Leah Wiste, MIIPL director of outreach and advocacy. “We’re largely oriented around taking practical actions to reduce our carbon footprint, working directly with houses of worship on energy efficiency.”

Wiste said that despite differences, it’s easy to unite places of worship with the goal of making the planet a better place.

She said that faith backgrounds teach that people are meant to take care of the world and to love their neighbor.

“If you love your neighbor, you’re not polluting their air,” Wiste said. “Energy efficiency doesn’t necessarily seem like a spiritually gratifying thing to do, at face. Curbing pollution really is a spiritual practice to get closer and to right the relationship with creation.”

Peg Collins, a Southfield resident and a member of Northwest Unitarian Universalist Church, said the church is one of a handful in Southfield affiliated with MIIPL.

Other churches in Southfield involved in MIIPL are First Baptist Church of Detroit, Hope United Methodist Church and Peace Lutheran Church.

Collins said that since joining MIIPL, in addition to implementing recycling, the church has installed LED light bulbs and has replaced windows with energy-efficient ones. The roof of the church is solar ready, she said, and an addition to the building was built at an angle to absorb the most sunlight possible to save on heating costs.

MIIPL performed a free energy audit at the church, 23925 Northwestern Highway.

“Unitarian churches have principles, and one of them is about taking care of our Earth and our planet,” Collins said. “It’s about respect for the interdependent web for all of existence, for which we are a part.”

Not only do MIIPL’s efforts help the environment, Wiste said, but they also help churches’ bank accounts.

“I want to reinforce congregations when thinking about investing in energy efficiency to think of it as an investment to their mission. There’s thousands of dollars to be saved on energy, and that’s thousands of dollars to be put toward their mission,” Wiste said.

Collins referenced a story called “The Drowning Man,” in which a religious man seeks refuge on his roof during a flood. While the man was on the roof, he refused help from someone in a canoe, someone in a boat and someone in a helicopter because he said he was waiting for God to save him. The man eventually drowned, and when he got to heaven, he asked God why he didn’t save him. God told the man he’d sent him a canoe, a boat and a helicopter, but he refused them all.

“(Some people) think God is going to take care of the Earth no matter what we do to it. In the story, he sent people to help, but the man was waiting for God to show up. I thought that was a really good way to address that we need to take responsibilities as human beings. The Lord helps those who help themselves,” Collins said.

For more information on MIIPL, go to miipl.org.