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Sacred Spaces Clean Energy Grant: A program for low-income congregations

A friend of mine visited a low-income congregation in New Jersey several years ago. The pastor told him the congregation had huge energy bills every month equal to the pastor’s salary.  The building was old and not very energy-efficient. The building lost heat all the time.

The congregation could afford to pay its expensive energy bills, but could not afford to fix the building by making it more energy efficient. Consequently, the church’s money was literally going out the window. If the building would stop losing heat, their energy bills could drop dramatically. But the congregation did not have enough money to achieve energy efficiency.This story inspired the Climate Witness Project to develop a pilot project that is mostly funded by the Department Environment, Great Lakes and Energy of the state government of Michigan. It is called the Sacred Spaces Clean Energy Grant.

This pilot project addresses the interconnection between two challenges: the harm caused by the climate crisis and the fact that low-income congregations, mostly because of existing inequities, are unable to pay for the achievement of energy efficiency for their buildings. The world needs to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. That reduction requires the cessation of any burning of fossil fuels (like oil and gas) for any purpose including providing buildings, like houses of worship, with electricity, heating and cooling.

Low-income people in the U.S. and in other countries confront the climate crisis first and foremost.

Keep in mind that low-income people in the U.S. and in other countries confront the climate crisis first and foremost. They do so at the same time they inequitably experience environmental degradation which is often a part of their everyday reality.

The project will be established with one full-time director and a consultant for 30 months. And will provide grants to 10 low-income congregations in Michigan for $100,000 each to make their buildings more energy efficient and provide access to solar energy.  People interested in the director  position can find more details on the website.  

It is expected that the director of this project, which might be a firm or a non-profit organization, will be hired within the first five months of this project which started on June 14. He/she will continue to support the 10 congregations during the duration of the project as they make their buildings more energy efficient.

The requirements for congregations to qualify for this project include:

  • Congregations must be in Michigan, including the Upper Peninsula.
  • Congregations can be affiliated with any denomination or faith group or be independent.
  • Their annual operating budgets must be less than $250,000, though that does not include the mission budget.
  • The congregation must have at least 50 members.
  • The congregation must have been operational for 10 years.
  • The congregation must be in a public building. It may not be a residential property.
  • All 10 congregations must operate active programs responding to human needs, like food pantries, health clinics, ministries with returning citizens, etc. All 10 congregations must also have been active in responding to the needs of people in their community resulting from COVID-19.
  • There must not be any recent instability.
  • The project will choose 10 congregations scattered throughout the state.

It is expected that the energy efficiency efforts as well as access to solar energy will save at least 15 percent or $13,000 in costs for each congregation within one year. The congregations will then increase their community work by the amount of money saved during the year.

Once the projects are completed, other congregations of various budget levels throughout Michigan will be urged to become energy efficient and use solar energy informed by the work of the 10 congregations which will be evaluated by a team of contractors.

You can learn more about the project at or write to me at

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