Higher call: Local faiths pledge to cut energy use through solar panels

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Even though it's Earth Day, about a half-dozen faith groups in South Bend are trying to take care of Mother Nature year-round. They are installing solar panels to slash energy output up to 40-percent and are asking one-third of households to reduce energy use by a seventh. Leading the way is Kern Road Mennonite Church, which already has surpassed these goals.

"Whenever we have done an addition or anything like that, you know, trying to be aware of energy conservation and what we can do to support that," said David Sutter, the lead pastor of Kern Road Mennonite.

Environmental consciousness rose to a new level last Fall when the Southside church completed the installation of nearly 99 solar panels. The savings are solid, said Sutter, but a higher payoff has been interacting with different denominations through the Hoosier Interfaith Power & Light organization -- an effort to unite clergy statewide in cutting energy expenditure.

"There's a common belief that God is creator and we are recipients of His gift of Creation. In that regard, we have a duty to take care of God's creation," said Father David Ruppert, pastor at St. Anthony de Padua.
St. Anthony de Padua Catholic Church joins Kern Road Mennonite; First United Methodist; First Unitarian; the Islamic Society of Michiana; and Olivet African Methodist Episcopal Church in the solar panel initiative.

"By conserving energy, we are better spending the money and resources that we have from our parishioners," Ruppert said, adding the solar panels installed on the gym roof generate $100 of electricity per month.

Hoosier Interfaith Power & Light organization encompasses 18 different faiths and funnels grant money to congregations that vow to install solar panels.