The glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle - Exodus 40:34

The 2021 Synod of the Diocese of Ontario passed a motion that the parishes should “reduce their carbon emissions by 50% by 2030 over 2018 levels and to report annually to Synod Council on progress being made”. The period is short and the challenge large; how can the parishes respond?

The challenge

The greatest challenge climate heating presents is the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. With Canadians being the seventh largest producer of carbon dioxide on per capita basis (2020), the task is large and difficult. Nevertheless, one thing is clear: ‘business as usual’ is no longer an option if our children and the following generations are to avoid suffering that otherwise is inevitable—and that we may now even have trouble imagining. Our responsibility is also greater because the dangerous increases occurred during our lifetimes and our use of fossil fuels. Significant changes in practices over the next ~10 years are therefore inevitable if the world is to remain livable (and comfortable) for people. Acceptance of the challenge by congregations will have a spillover effect on actions by households and individuals, thus better aligning Anglicans with the Baptismal Promise and the 5th Mark of Mission.

In our churches, the largest contributors to carbon emissions are the 1. heating of buildings and 2. transportation. Since most church buildings are heated with fossil fuels and the winter can be harsh, there is a large potential for eliminating or greatly reducing carbon emissions. The existing approaches include (see also examples below):

  • Improved insulation and ventilation control, especially for the most heated spaces.
  • Electricity is the major energy alternative to fossil fuels, especially because in Ontario its production does not rely on fossil fuels. Using electrical heaters is already a major step forward. Importantly, in recent years cold air heat pumps experienced significant advance in their ability to extract heat from cold air (now as low as -35 C). In any case, heating elements should be used with programmable thermostats (preferably in individual spaces) so that the minimal amount of heat is used. The additional materials listed below provide examples and guidance in this area.
  • Various approaches have been used for reduced transportation emissions, including carpooling and the use of bicycles. The new tools are increased use of online events to reduce the amount of travel, and low emissions vehicles (hybrid or fully electric) where physical presence is necessary.

It is important to note that actions on improving the energy performance should be preceded by a building energy audit. These can be carried out at various levels corresponding costs, from a simple walk-round to a detailed audit; some sources listed below provide further guidance in this respect.  

Heating our churches

The following file contains more detailed discussion about the issues and options for heating our churches:

Some churches in the Diocese have successfully used GHG-free electricity for heating, for example:

More information

Progress in the above areas can and has been made, as shown in the following sources:

Improvements to existing church heating systems:

Why a heat pump for a church? Improvements to existing church heating systems:

Why a heat pump for a church?

Many good ideas for rural and other churches (heat pumps, energy efficiency):

Energy Star Action Workbook for Congregations:

Climate change and sacred spaces (Green Group webinar):

Creation Care in places of worship (Green Group webinar):

Electric cars: Dispelling myths, is one right for you (Green Group webinar):