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Texas church builds on eco-friendly foundation

People worship at The Rock United Methodist Church in Cedar Park, Texas, where the building was constructed in 2007 on eco-friendly principles.
UMNS photos by Guy Hernandez.

By Stephanie Kovac*
April 15, 2008 | CEDAR PARK, Texas (UMNS)

At The Rock United Methodist Church, people are not only interested in saving souls, but nurturing God’s green earth.

"This congregation sees our neighbors not just as the people who live across the street from us, but also the deer that live on this property," says the Rev. Kristina Carter, the church’s pastor.

With a degree in engineering chemistry and a Ph.D. in applied chemistry, Carter is not your typical pastor. She worked 10 years in environmental remediation and even wrote parts of a 1997 mercury report to the U.S. Congress.

"I’m always amazed that people think that scientists have a hard time being people of faith," Carter says. "The scientists that I know who are ordained are thinking people who are in awe of what we learn. And the more we learn about the way God has designed things, the more in awe we are."

The Rev. Kristina Carter, an environmental scientist, talks with a church member following worship.

Carter’s background has put environmentalism in the foreground at her church, and her 100-member congregation has embraced those views.

"The people in the church wanted to grasp the whole idea of being green and recognizing that we shouldn’t waste what God has given us, and that became part of the design of the building," says member Will Davies.

Environmental ethics

The Rock was constructed in May 2007 in Cedar Park, a major suburb of Austin. In keeping with the church’s environmental ethics, many of the materials were recovered from surpluses at commercial work sites.

"They had raw lumber that was unused at the end of their job that they were going to send to the dump because it was cheaper to pay the tipping fee at the dump than it was to pay the restocking fee," Carter says.

Outside, the sanctuary is surrounded by trees and native grasses instead of a sprawling parking lot. Inside, the church boasts carpet-free floors, less toxic paint, fluorescent light bulbs, low-flow toilets, hand towels instead of paper ones, and ceramic coffee mugs instead of Styrofoam cups.

The church also has rain collection pillars and hopes to add storage tanks this year, along with a composting site and a community garden.

Still Carter acknowledges that the congregation is not 100 percent environmentally friendly. She still sees an occasional Styrofoam cup of coffee at church, for instance. "When I ask those folks, ‘Hmmm, Styrofoam, that’s so interesting,’ some of them will say, 'Yeah, but it’s the third time I’ve used the same Styrofoam cup!'"

New life

Crosses in the sanctuary are made
from recycled cypress.  aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

Perhaps more amazing is the altar made from discarded wooden pallets, a church logo that incorporates the recycling symbol, and a cross made from discarded cypress. The idea came from church members who found the wood while on a beach vacation in Corpus Christi.

"Tina came over and looked at it, and said, 'That’s a slam dunk. That’s what we’re going to do with it," says Davies who brought the wood home. "It washed up on the beach, it was meant for something, and now it’s hanging in the church as the cross."

Carter says the cross serves as a reminder that God can redeem anything. And, church members seem to be hearing her message.

"We all wash up somewhere," Davies says, "and I think it’s just another example of God taking what we think may not be worth anything and putting it to use. And, he does that with every one of us."

Carter believes it would be a sin to ignore global environmental problems and expect God to fix it all.

"We might not be able to do everything, but we can do something, and I think that’s the biggest lesson we’ve learned," she says. "It’s not like green is our gospel. Our gospel is Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, and we’re living out that call as best we can."

*Kovak is a freelance producer in McKinney, Texas.

News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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