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Tending to his flock, and his churches

Aging buildings, energy costs raise concern for ministries

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Proper building maintenance is critical at old churches like the historic St. James Anglican Church, Western Canada's oldest wooden church.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

Proper building maintenance is critical at old churches like the historic St. James Anglican Church, Western Canada's oldest wooden church. Photo Store

With mould in the basement and cracks in the foundation at his St. James church, Rev. Murray Still knows he has a challenge on his hands.

Actually, multiply that times three, since the Anglican priest manages two other church buildings, including the oldest wooden church in Western Canada.

"Over at the heritage church, we're always on the watch for vandals," he says about the Old St. James Anglican Church, located across from Polo Park.

"Mostly it's maintaining the structure there."

Still also oversees the maintenance of the "new" St. James, the Assiniboine Anglican Church, at 195 Collegiate St., a 1922 brick-and-stucco building a few kilometres west of the 150-year-old log church, and last January, he took on pastoral duties at Stephen and St. Bede, a joint Anglican and Lutheran congregation which worships in a 60-year-old building at 99 Turner St.

Sounds like Still's congregations could benefit from a green audit (http://bit.ly/UJbXfo), a website that includes understanding the heating/cooling systems in Anglican church buildings and other low-cost fixes, says a self-described building geek.

"The average age (of church buildings) in Canada is 80 years old and most of them are maintained by volunteers," says Stephen Collette, who works with the Anglican Church of Canada to deliver these building audits.

"None of (the buildings) come with a manual."

During a green audit, Collette walks through the building with a group of church volunteers, reviews air quality, energy consumption, recycling, maintenance, landscaping and how the congregation uses the building.

Then he draws up a 40-page report with photographs and recommendations, setting out a timetable for suggested repairs and improvements.

"My job is to reduce operational costs," says Collette, based in Lakefield, Ont. "If you understand how the energy works, you can save money on energy."

The Anglican Church of Canada is underwriting up to $1,000 of the cost of the audit as part of its commitment to environmental issues, says the director of Witness for Social and Ecological Justice. An audit can cost up to $1,250, depending on square footage.

"If every year we support the green audits of nine to 12 parishes that successfully apply, we will make a difference," says Henriette Thompson.

"The green audits are a modest and achievable initiative."

She says one of the grant's conditions is to share the congregation's story with others in order to inspire and motivate other religious groups to take similar actions.

"We capture your stories, we capture your photos and we share them," she says.

"It's a little bit of movement building."

Collette's goal in doing the audit is to show congregations how simple things like keeping a ceiling fan running or switching out energy-hogging appliances to more efficient ones can cut energy costs. He also wants to help churches keep their older buildings in great shape, because ignoring little issues can lead to big problems later.

"Maintenance is always cheaper than minor repairs or major repairs over the years," says Collette.

So far, no Anglican congregations in Manitoba have undertaken a green audit, but there's still time. Religious groups from any tradition can request an audit through Greening Sacred Spaces (www.greeningsacredspaces.net), an organization that promotes sustainability and energy efficiency for faith communities.

With a kitchen overhaul to accommodate community meal programs planned for the St. James church hall, Still, the Anglican minister, is considering the benefits of a green audit.

"It's probably a good thing to do it you're looking at a renovation project," he says.

brenda@suderman.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 21, 2014 D15

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