Wind advocates see breath of Holy Spirit in turbines’ clean energy

By Kat McCullough | Medill News Service

Religious leaders are excited about the use of wind turbines as a source of power that’s less harmful than alternatives such as fossil fuel. Environmental stewardship as an article of faith is a growing movement among religious groups in the U.S., even as the number of groups seeking to harness the power of wind remains relatively small.

Get the Flash Player to see this player.

The story behind the Rev. Charles Morris and his church’s wind turbine.

WYANDOTTE, Mich. — On top of a nondescript brick building in this blue-collar Detroit suburb, a small windmill spins in the breeze, looking somewhat out of place amid the 1970s-style homes.

The windmill and two solar panels, slanted to catch the sun’s rays, sit on the roof of the rectory across the street from St. Elizabeth Catholic Church – a testament to the Rev. Charles Morris’ belief that his duty as a believer includes preserving the environment.

“I always thought about the value it would be to have a wind turbine because … it points to a different way
in which we husband the gifts of God,” said Morris, St. Elizabeth’s pastor. “These are sacred gifts, and they’re God’s – not ours to use as profligate.”

Morris is excited about the possibilities of wind power as an energy alternative that’s less harmful to the environment than, for example, fossil fuels. There is a plan to put a number of turbines in the Detroit River, which divides the U.S. and Canada and flows near St. Elizabeth Church.
He remembers well the day in June 2001 when his wind turbine was dedicated.

“We had dignitaries in the parking lot by the rectory, and I climbed up on the ladder with my holy water and went to do the blessing prayer,” he said. “Beautiful day, bright blue sky, but nary a cloud. And it was very still. But wouldn’t you know … the holy water hit the wind turbine, and out of nowhere a gust of wind came up and I heard all these gasps and oohs and ahhs. And I looked up and said, ‘Thank you.'”

The modifications to St. Elizabeth started in 2001, when Morris attended an energy workshop and learned that installing wind turbines was relatively easy – and could also qualify for state tax rebates. He said he was inspired by the Rev. Sally Bingham, a well-respected leader in the sustainability field who is the environmental minister at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.

Morris “really understands the connection between religion and saving creation,” said Bingham, an Episcopal priest and founder of the group Interfaith Power and Light. “I think all of us as religious leaders who are working in this movement understand that how we treat creation is a reflection of our relationship with God. If we are destroying God’s creation, it doesn’t demonstrate a very sincere love of God.”

AIR: Inspiring mindfulness

Everybody uses air, of course. Not only is it essentially for respiration, it also carries sound: the peal of church bells, the bellow of a pipe organ, the whisper of a Muslim father calling his newborn to holiness. But Buddhists use air, or more accurately, breath, in a unique way: as a vehicle to mindfulness and liberation.

Thousands of years ago, the Buddha instructed followers to sit in the lotus position beneath a shady tree, keep their bodies still and straight and simply pay attention to their breath. Just as rain settles swirling dirt on a dusty road, focusing on the steady back-and-forth of our breath can calm an agitated mind, the Buddha said.

The meditation master actually devoted an entire sutra, or discourse, to the “full awareness of breathing,” in which he explained that breath meditation “if developed and practiced continuously, will give rise to understanding and liberation of the mind.”

Nearly every contemporary Buddhist sect now uses some form of breathing meditation, said Susan Piver, an author and meditation instructor. “In any kind of meditation, you are substituting your mind-stream for another object of attention,” she said. “In some traditions that is an image or a sound; in Buddhism the object is breath.”

Mentally following the breath forces the meditator to focus on the present moment and sharpens their powers of concentration and awareness, according to Piver, whose most recent book is called “Quiet Mind: A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation.” “Your breath can’t be anywhere but the present.”

While the practice seems simple, it’s not easy, especially for modern minds accustomed to hyper-speed multi-tasking. But even non-Buddhists have begun to pick up forms of mindfulness meditation, using it to reduce stress, depression, and even chronic lower-back pain.

~ Daniel Burke, Religion News Service

Environmental stewardship as an article of faith is a growing movement among religious groups in the U.S., even as the number of groups seeking to harness the power of wind remains relatively small.

St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Springdale, Ark., uses three wind turbines as part of its year-old Trinity Wind Project. Stephan Pollard, an energy expert who oversaw the project, says energy savings was not the motivation for the turbines.

“The point is to send a message that … it’s time to step up to the plate and take responsibility for the stewardship of the planet,” he said. “Cost is important, but the church felt as a whole we need to be paying more for the things we’ve been taking for granted.”

Pollard added that the project was a tangible way that St. Thomas could preach a practical lesson: Do as we do, not just as we say. “It needs to be done so we can see what happens,” he said.

Bingham came to the idea of environmentalism as a religious duty while in the seminary, where she founded the Regeneration Project to promote the connection between ecology and faith.

“I’ve always had a very strong sense of God in nature, and in the early ’80s I was getting worried that humans were destroying the planet,” Bingham said. “I never heard anyone at a pulpit talk about it and they weren’t teaching it in seminary. So I teamed up with another seminarian and we founded the Regeneration Project.”

Interfaith Power and Light began as an offshoot of the Regeneration Project in 1998 to help religious communities purchase renewable energy. It now has chapters in 29 states and the District of Columbia. Morris, from St. Elizabeth’s, helped found the Michigan chapter.

Get the Flash Player to see this player.

The Rev. Sally Bingham sees a link between ecology and faith.

Morris likes to proudly show off the energy system he installed at his church and rectory. He has just installed a LED chandelier in his dining room, and all his lights are on motion-activated sensors. In the rectory basement, a complex system turns the energy collected on the roof into power for the buildings.

Morris has four renewable energy systems operating in the rectory.

“We have a solar attic fan which is an off-the-shelf technology. Regardless of if you have (tax) incentives or not, this is something that can pay for itself within a couple years. We replaced the boiler here with one that’s rated about 94 percent efficiency. That reduced our gas load by a third.”

Morris also installed solar-powered hot water, the solar panels and a wind turbine. “The reason we have both those systems is due to Michigan’s climate,” Morris explains. “In the summertime we have more solar gain than Florida. In the wintertime, forget it – but you have wind.”

Bingham sees a bright future for wind power in the future of the American energy system.

“It may be the fastest growing industry right now,” Bingham said. “We have a serious problem in the U.S. with getting the wind energy into the (electrical) grid because we need to redo our grid. But wind, to me, is always blowing.”

One thing that would help, she said, is for Americans to change their view of the large wind turbines springing up around the country.

“Wouldn’t you rather have a wind turbine in your backyard than a coal plant or a nuclear power plant?” she said. “I think wind turbines are beautiful. I know there are some people who haven’t gotten used to them yet, but if we have young children around us and they see a wind turbine we can say, ‘Isn’t that beautiful?’ and those children will grow up thinking turbines are beautiful rather than an eyesore.”