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We turn ourselves inside out for the benefit of the community

A guest post by Doug Daley, Greening Initiatives Lead & Don Atkinson, Past Chair (St. Paul’s United Church, Orillia).

When Rev. Ted Reeve joined St. Paul’s United Church in 2014 as our new minister, the congregation was looking for opportunities to increase the use of the 150-year-old building. 

With input from Rev. Bill Phipps, a very close collaborator of Rev. Reeve’s on numerous initiatives, a vision to “turn ourselves inside out for the benefit of the community” as the friends described it, was adopted.

A series of focus groups were held looking at ways to reach out to the community. This led to a decision to update the sanctuary and create a “Great Hall” that would be suitable for a variety of performing arts groups, speaker events and enhance worship services. The result was a $1.25 million capital campaign that started by replacing the pews with comfortable mobile chairs, creating a large flat, accessible stage and installing advanced audio-visual equipment.

As part of our vision of "turning ourselves inside out" for the benefit of the community a Sharing Garden was built. This urban farming effort created a source of healthy food, providing fresh vegetables for anyone needing them. The Gardens assisted in the formation of the Orillia Community Kitchen which used the produce, plus food from the local Sharing Place Food Bank, to support and teach community members experiencing food insecurity how to prepare healthy food from these sources. These efforts inspired neighbouring St. James' Anglican church to create a community garden and led the Sharing Place to develop their own kitchen.

Church Garden for community use

As the renovations to the Sanctuary were completed over the years, 2017 to 2019, it was recognized that we also needed to reduce our carbon footprint and focus on supporting a sustainable environment. In April 2018, 31 solar panels were installed on the south facing roof. This was funded by donations from congregation members over and above their support of the capital campaign. We are now receiving a regular monthly cheque for the electrical power that is produced.

Major overhaul of Sanctuary

Encouraged by this accomplishment, the congregation then raised in excess of $13,000 in our Annual Giving Campaign to further our greening efforts. Subsequently, the waste management system was upgraded to be uniform throughout the building, improving its collection of recyclables and adding the collection of organics. Further, the caulking of the inside of all of the church windows was accomplished. 

Volunteer caulking windows

FCG’s Green Audit for St. Paul’s

In addition, an environmental audit through Faith & the Common Good (FCG) was purchased. Some of its many recommendations were large in nature, therefore our church applied and qualified for the maximum grant money available ($30,000) through the United Church of Canada's Faithful Footprints Program, managed by FCG. Also, our greening efforts were recognized to be at the highest level of the National Church's How Green is Your Church Program. Hence, we received a $1000 award. These monies were supplemented by a UCW monetary gift toward the various audit recommendations. 

Guest post writer, Doug Daley (left) and members of the Greening Team, receiving certificate

Together these monies went toward the additional greening efforts including:

  • Replacement of 3 exterior doors 
  • Repairing 1 door and weather stripping 2 doors 
  • Installation of 17 new storm windows and replacement of 3 windows 
  • Upgrading 4 furnace valves and replacing one thermostat
  • 12 inches of insulation was blown into the attic above the Sanctuary 
  • LED bulbs were installed in major hallways, some bathrooms, and all "exit" lights      
  • Two refrigerators and one freezer were upgraded
  • Seven dual flush toilets replaced older high water volume ones 
  • Installation of a Hot Water-on-Demand system 


New windows

Increased insulation

Dual flush toilets

On-demand hot water unit

Many of these projects were accomplished through countless volunteer hours!

To help maintain the above improvements and create policies to preserve these gains, we struck up an Environmental Stewardship ad-hoc committee. To date, a Waste Management Policy has been written and others are being considered.

In addition, the audit suggested some educational programing improvements. As a result, the Eco-Justice Social Action Committee was reimagined with an expanded mandate. It increased its membership, broadened its activities and undertook a few greening projects such as creating a Sunday bulletin Greening Activity Tip, assisting in choosing only compostable cups and plates where necessary, and hosting a recycling lunch and learn event. Expanded greening initiatives remain one of the important focuses of this committee. 

Part of the new waste management system

Choosing to use compostable cups, plates etc.

Furthering community engagement

The church then linked with the broader community. Through efforts such as sharing the lunch- and-learn event format with neighbouring St. James, we presented our overall greening plan as a model of what church communities can do to contribute to the city’s Sustainable Orillia Program goals. In association with Sustainable Orillia, St. Paul’s made overtures to connect with other local churches through the Association of Orillia and District Churches for the purposes of sharing conservation ideas. 

Pleased with our endeavors to date, St. Paul’s remains committed to furthering our efforts towards the care for creation.

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