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Baptists do their part during energy crisis

MILL VALLEY, Calif. (BP)–The professors at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary are turning off the lights when they leave the room these days.

On sunny days, they even leave lights turned off during classes.

The water fountains are silent now at the California Southern Baptist Convention office. And Santa Rosa Community Church is giving away more food at their community food bank.

The connection? California’s energy crisis, of which Californians have been painfully aware for a year now, and which is significant enough now to attract national action, not just attention.

California Southern Baptists are not immune to the crisis. Churches, ministry centers and institutions alike are affected by the power crisis, especially its financial drain.

Like most churches, Santa Rosa Community Church had not budgeted for the increase in utility costs.

“It’s really hurt us the past couple of months especially,” said Pastor James Coffee. “Our monthly bill has jumped from about $1,300 a month to $2,300 or $2,400. We’ve just bit the bullet so far but we’re going to have to start making some adjustments.”

Fortunately, the Santa Rosa church’s facilities were built in three stages with as many separate heating and cooling systems. That allows the church to operate only those units needed at any time.

At Golden Gate Seminary in Mill Valley, natural gas costs have risen from 57 cents to $1.29. Electricity has nearly doubled from 7 cents per-kilowatt-hour to 13 cents.

“We anticipate that gas costs will get as high as $1.50 per therm in the coming fiscal year,” said Gary Groat, vice president of business affairs at the graduate school. “We’re spending three times the budgeted amount on utilities. It will impact our ability to hire people and to meet the needs of our students. And we conserve energy in significant ways already.”

While the seminary has no official conservation plan, many staff and faculty are being proactive; lights are off in hallways, classrooms and some offices.

At the CSBC Ministry Resource Center in Fresno, employees are taking proactive steps to conserve energy. An official checklist of energy conservation measures includes lowering the temperature on the water heaters, unplugging refrigerated drinking fountains, turning off copiers when they are not in use, reducing lighting in hallways and after hours, and more.

Three hundred miles to the south, California Baptist University is working with the city of Riverside to develop a conservation plan and a strategy for coping with anticipated blackouts this summer. The school is fortunate to be located where it is, according to spokesperson Brenda Flowers. That’s because the city of Riverside owns its own electrical utility, which has kept costs down significantly.

“Still, we’re looking at ways to consolidate some classroom space — move classes around so we don’t have to use all of our buildings at once,” she added.

California Southern Baptist churches, meanwhile, are affected differently by the power crunch. Mt. Shasta Community Church is actually on the Oregon power grid, and has felt little of the electricity squeeze, according to Pastor Stan Terry. However, Terry noted the church uses propane for heating and the cost of that fuel has more than doubled.

In El Dorado Hills, Pastor Daryl Webster said El Dorado Hills Baptist Church has seen little increase in its utility bills so far. Still, the energy crisis is causing church leaders to think more carefully about the new facilities they plan to build soon.

“We’re looking at energy efficient elements to incorporate into our new building program,” Webster said.

Unlike for-profit businesses, churches cannot simply raise the prices of their “goods” to compensate for the rising utility costs. Grocery stores raise the price of milk; manufacturers raise the price of their products, raw or finished; gas stations raise the price of gas.

Churches, on the other hand, cannot raise the tithes and offerings contributed by their members.

With blackouts looming darkly on the summer horizon, local, state and federal governments are struggling with the growing energy crisis. Meanwhile, California Baptist churches and institutions increasingly are finding themselves called upon not only to cope with the impact on their own facilities, but also to minister to fellow Californians adversely affected by the crisis.

“Our parishioners are getting hit from every angle and we’re seeing the effect of this in the community food bank that our church is part of,” Coffee explained. “People who wouldn’t normally come to receive free food are coming now because they’ve made a choice this month to pay the heating bill rather than buy enough food. Their money is going to pay PG&E now, so they come to us for free groceries.”

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  • Amanda Phifer