Congratulations to Haygood Memorial United Methodist Church in Atlanta, GA, our newest Cool Congregation! Haygood was nominated by Alexis Myers, the Communications and Outreach Director of Georgia IPL, and is being recognized for its comprehensive efforts to conserve energy and raise awareness about environmental concerns. With the support of Senior Pastor Mary Lou Gilbert and the church’s Green Team, Haygood has implemented a wide variety of changes that have earned the church the title of a Cool Congregation.
Haygood’s transformation began in 2008 with efforts to start a recycling program at the church. Willa Paton-Smith, a member of the congregation who presented this idea to the Church Council, says she grew concerned about environmental issues when Georgia experienced a Level 4 drought: “As I mother, I questioned what kind of world we were leaving for our children and my role in that.” However, during the formation of Haygood’s Green Team, Paton-Smith became increasingly aware of the negative associations connected with environmentalism and was not sure that the church was an appropriate place to address such a politically divisive issue. Paton-Smith’s participation in a Disciple One course designed to create better disciples of the Bible convinced her otherwise. In this course, Paton-Smith was struck by the biblical call to care for creation. She explains this conviction: “It just clicked-it’s not a political issue. If we are going to be good Christians, we cannot ignore that we were put in charge by God to care for the earth.”
Fortunately, there were others at Haygood who felt the same call, and the church’s new recycling program was just the start of many changes. Haygood has since taken several steps to conserve energy and educate their congregants about their own energy usage. The church’s actions also serve as a witness to the wider community. For example, Haygood’s recycling bins are used by other Atlanta residents, and the church’s two rain barrels, which provide water for a children’s garden and a memorial garden, are visible reminders of the church’s commitment to earth stewardship.
With the help of Eric Fessler, the church’s Associate and Youth Pastor, Haygood’s young people are also getting involved in the church’s creation care initiatives. The Youth sponsor quarterly “Green on the Screen” movie viewings that raise awareness about environmental issues. Trips to a nearby recycling facility and landfill as well as recycling drives to collect everything from batteries to old athletic shoes have encouraged youth to think critically about their own consumption habits. Paton-Smith explains that young people at Haygood have been “very instrumental in getting adults to change their behaviors.”
Less than two years after the formation of Haygood’s Green Team, environmental concerns have taken on a theological significance that overshadows the “political side of things.” Paton-Smith credits the changes at Haygood to the support of ministers and congregants who recognize the Christian call to care for creation and the importance of this issue for future generations. Change, she explains, begins with small steps. At Haygood, these small steps have added up to a transformation that earns Haygood Memorial United Methodist Church the title of a Cool Congregation!
Cool Congregations are faith communities recognized by the national Interfaith Power & Light campaign for their outstanding work toward reducing their carbon footprint and promoting creation care.