A report from the University of Cambridge (2022) caught my eye as I went through recent sustainability related research. The report found that a third of church buildings in a particular diocese in the UK cost more money to maintain than they are able to raise in a year. The reason this caught my attention is I know of a local project that involved exactly what this article was discussing.
The challenge isn’t just that the buildings cost a lot to maintain but that they need to be creative in how they engage with their local communities. The researchers for this report focused on innovative ways to increase the financial sustainability of the churches. This is important as many people in a community rely on the services provided by their local church. So keeping the churches open is key. But, based on the local product improving the environmental sustainability of the church can also improve their financial sustainability.
In the local project the church partnered with a non-profit to upgrade the church and build housing for immigrant families who often had larger family sizes than what fit within traditional low income housing in the area. The results were a complete refurbishment of the church that cut their heating by more than half but maintained some of their original architecture. Homes for multiple large families that were near net zero. And a revitalization of the local elementary school which had been struggling with a small student population that could have closed the school.
So, how can we start thinking outside the box? How can we create partnerships, hopefully inclusive partnerships that integrate all types of religious facilities into the community in ways that build community and improve the environmental impacts of the whole community?