Huntington Mennonite Church in Newport News, Va., is home to four electric car-charging stations, thanks to a member with a passion for creation care who wants to see other congregations take on similar projects.
Russell DeYoung is a senior research scientist at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, where he studies the effects of climate change on the Virginia coast.
“I’m kind of startled by all the evidence coming in from different disciplines that deal with climate change, and I see the imminent impacts of climate change on this area,” DeYoung said.
Some of the trends he has seen include rising sea levels, more severe storms, increased levels of precipitation and the migration of tree species.
One way to reduce that impact is to reduce the amount of energy consumed. DeYoung’s goal for his congregation, and all churches, is to reach “net-zero energy” — generating as much energy as is consumed.
DeYoung’s congregation approved his net-zero energy plan, and the electric car-charging stations were installed in the church parking lot to be used by anyone in the community, starting in July. The cost for a full charge is $1.50. Currently, three vehicles among the congregation run on electricity.
“It’s a statement to the community that it’s important to reach out in terms of caring for what God has given us and reducing the carbon footprint,” DeYoung said.
Fund for energy
Wanting to see other congregations adopt the goal of net-zero energy, DeYoung turned to Mennonite Creation Care Network to offer support for similar projects. The Pam DeYoung Net Zero Energy Fund was named after DeYoung’s wife, who died last September.
“She was very interested in creation care. On a daily basis she would do many things that indicated her care for creation,” DeYoung said. “She loved creation. She loved watching birds and walking in the forest and would note creation in terms of trees, leaves and animals. I thought it was fitting to name the fund after her in her memory.”
Congregations can request up to $10,000 for hardware purchases related to renewable-energy projects, such as electric car-charging stations or solar panels.
“It is humbling and awing to me that he chose us,” said Mennonite Creation Care Network leader Jennifer Halteman Schrock. “As a NASA scientist, there might be grander ways of securing money. But he wants to support the Mennonite church. He believes in our peace theology, and that’s the way he wanted to go. To me that’s especially encouraging in light of the difficulties the Mennonite church has had in the past couple years.”
The window for submitting grant applications is Aug. 1 through Oct. 31 each year. At least five congregations have expressed interest, Schrock said.
Mennonite Church USA congregations with a goal to move toward net-zero energy are eligible for the grant. Applicants must show their request is part of “a larger creation care plan that includes exceptional energy conservation, engages many members and is a public witness to the community,” according to the Mennonite Creation Care Network website.
Peace, justice witness
DeYoung’s donation isn’t the first time he has backed up his words with action. In 2001-02, he spent six months in federal prison for protesting at the U.S. Army School of the Americas at Fort Benning near Columbus, Ga.
Calling himself “a transplanted Mennonite,” DeYoung said he joined the Mennonite church because of its beliefs about peace and justice.
“The church I was going to didn’t want to take a stance against violence and war,” he said. “I thought that was inconsistent with the teaching of Jesus.”
His next goal is for Huntington to generate all the electricity it needs and sell its surplus to the power company. The use of solar panels would save the church almost $16,000 a year in electricity costs, he said.
“I became involved in the Mennonite church because of its strong peace and justice stance,” he said. “An aspect of that is peace and justice toward God’s creation. . . . It’s important that we demonstrate that to our community and to the broader Christian church.”