Churches, Temples Learn the Power of Self-Sacrifice


Light versus darkness. Sacrifice and self-denial.

These classic themes have new meaning as houses of worship in Ventura County face rising electric bills while California struggles through the current energy crisis.

With power costs up, preachers can no longer rely on a cold chapel and bright lights to help keep the congregation awake. Lights have been dimmed and temperatures allowed to rise.

Dave Wilkinson, an associate pastor at Simi Valley's Sonrise Christian Fellowship, said church officials are alerting members to conserve energy as a matter of civic duty.

"It is like with all environmental kinds of issues--all should be responsible," Wilkinson said.

Sonrise leases a 35,000-square-foot building in an industrial area in western Simi Valley. Their facility is lighted up and has its air-conditioning on mostly during weekends, he said. Only a small office area is kept open for staff members during the week.

At Ascension Evangelical Lutheran Church in Thousand Oaks, which has a large chapel and school facilities, the early birds get the "warm," according to Becky King-Cerling, church administrator.

"We now turn on our air-conditioning closer to the time our services start instead of cooling everything down early on Sunday morning," she said. "That makes the sanctuary warmer for those who come in early."

Officials also asked children at the school to write essays on ways the 2,500-member church could cut back on energy use. One idea, which was given an award, was to install skylights in dark rooms to cut electricity use, recalled third-grade teacher Elaine Morgan.

Students also suggested turning off appliances when not in use and opening windows instead of using air-conditioning.

To cut waste, timers have been installed to replace on/off switches and lower-wattage light bulbs are being used.

Cutting Energy Use to Save Programs

Changes at St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Oxnard are being made to lower its energy bills enough to avoid having to eliminate important programs, said Bev Foster, administrative assistant.

"Our light bill went up and has made a definite ding and has done a number on our budget," Foster said.

The church's electricity costs have increased more than 15% since May 2000 when it paid $447 compared with this May's bill of $515, Foster noted.

The church has no air-conditioning, but individual thermostats in classrooms could still prevent more rooms from being heated than necessary, she said.

The 700 families served by Temple Etz Chaim in Thousand Oaks have always been aware of the need to conserve energy, said office assistant Amy Donahue.

But, with threats of rolling blackouts this summer, members have become even more alert to turning off lights in rooms not being used, she said. Reminders to turn off computers and copying machines when not needed have also gone out to temple staff. The air-conditioning or heat, which had been turned on well in advance of a gathering, are now turned on closer to the starting time.

"We used to run our air conditioner from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Now, we run it for an hour or two or not at all, " Donahue said.

Less Lighting Keeps Church Within Budget

The logic is not unlike that of a typical household, said Jo Ann Zullo, business administrator at St. Paschal-Baylon in Thousand Oaks.

"We're like families and we have a certain budget to follow--when something in the budget goes up unexpectedly, something else in the budget has to go," she said.

To cut costs, Zullo said she has unscrewed half of the outside lights. And, if Masses seem more elegant or subdued it is because half of the lighting inside the sanctuary also has been turned off. Timers have been added to thermostats and light switches to protect against forgetfulness, she said.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' 45,000-square-foot Thousand Oaks Stake Center, which serves 3,000 members, was built in 1994 with energy efficiency in mind, explained Peter Van der Horst, the stake's physical facility representative.

There are double-glazed windows, automatic air conditioner shut-off timers, individual thermostats to control only the areas being used and timers on lights, he said.

These days, the air conditioner is set so it doesn't turn on weekdays between noon and 6 p.m. to encourage use either before or after this peak energy time, Van der Horst said.

First Christian Church in Ventura worships in a large facility built in the 1960s before energy efficiency was a concern. The church runs on a tight budget established before the energy crisis, office manager Cynthia Garvin said.

"We are not buying anything we don't desperately need and we are making good use of what we have," Garvin said.

Sponsoring nonprofit organizations for children and allowing them free use of the building during the week are an extra expense church officials hope to continue, Garvin said.

"We do not want to have to cut back on services to pay energy bills, so we're doing a lot of praying," she said.

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