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Grants will boost energy efficiency in low-income communities

Eleven congregations poised to reduce fossil fuel use, lower expenses

Eleven houses of worship in low-income Michigan neighborhoods from Detroit to the Upper Peninsula will become more energy efficient with support from a $1.24 million grant of federal funds through the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE).

Based on criteria including financial need and service to low-income communities, the 11 congregations of various faiths and denominations will each receive $100,000 Sacred Spaces Clean Energy Grants to make improvements that reduce their consumption of fossil fuels for electricity, heating, and cooling.

The program required applicants to have annual budgets under $250,000, 50 or more members, at least 10 years of operation, buildings open to the public, and active programs responding to human needs, such as food pantries or health clinics. Applicants within environmental justice communities received preference. Awardees are:

  • Greensky Hill Indian United Methodist Church, Charlevoix.
  • Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Chassell Township.
  • Muslim Center Mosque and Community Center, Detroit.
  • Pilgrim Baptist Church, Detroit.
  • New Mt. Hermon Missionary Baptist Church, Detroit.
  • Peter’s Episcopal Church, Detroit.
  • Suzanne/Our Lady Gate of Heaven Catholic Parish, Detroit.
  • Asbury United Methodist Church, Flint.
  • Trinity Reformed Church, Grand Rapids.
  • Allen Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Kalamazoo.
  • Luke Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Saginaw.

“The Sacred Spaces Clean Energy grants will lower costs for houses of worship across Michigan, from our city centers to our rural areas,” said Governor Gretchen Whitmer. “Making energy efficiency upgrades to heating, cooling, and electrical systems for these 11 congregations will reduce their utility bills, while helping them dedicate more of their resources toward serving their communities. Let’s keep working together to lower costs and support communities across our state.”

Open to applicants of any faith or denomination, the grant program is a pilot project of the Climate Witness Project (CWP), a partnership between the nonprofit World Renew and the Christian Reformed Church of North America, both of Grand Rapids, Michigan. A World Renew committee selected the honorees and chose the nonprofit Michigan Interfaith Power & Light (Michigan IPL) to lead the grant.

"Congregations are on the front lines of meeting the spiritual and material needs of their communities,” said Michigan IPL Executive Director Leah Wiste. “By investing in energy improvements in these 11 under-resourced congregations, we are shoring up the economic and environmental sustainability of vital community hubs and funneling resources to those with the greatest need.”

Michigan IPL engaged the Detroit-based sustainable development nonprofit EcoWorks for technical assistance.

“We wholeheartedly support the Sacred Spaces grant eliminating disproportionate energy burdens for low-income congregations, inclusive of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities statewide,” said EcoWorks Director of Strategic Initiatives Briana DuBose. “We see this as an opportunity to make a true investment in faith-based organizations, which allows for true systematic change in the community.”

Kris Van Engen, justice mobilizer with World Renew, praised the awardees willing to step up.

“Making renovations to a busy, community service-oriented building isn't easy, so we plan to provide support to make it a smooth process,” Van Engen said. “We expect that this grant will be a resource for and bring deserved positive attention to leaders who are already making a difference on environmental justice issues in their communities.”

In awardees’ words:

“It’s something that congregations such as ours, which are in a low-income area, are thankful for. The savings will allow us to do more for our community and seniors and expand our programming to meet the needs of the community.”

Pastor Millard Southern, Allen Chapel AME Church, Kalamazoo

“This grant enables us to be as innovative as we can. We see education and programming for both youth and adults as a key component of the project. This is an opportunity to educate our community on green practices and what that could mean in their communities.”

Steve Wasko, St. Suzanne/Our Lady Gate of Heaven Catholic Parish, Detroit

Learn more:

Support for the grant comes from the U.S. Department of Energy and EGLE under Award Number EE0008653. For more information about Energy Services work, please visit EGLE’s Energy webpage.

Congregations can learn more on the Climate Witness Project website. Michigan contractors interested in receiving notification once requests for proposals are released are encouraged to fill out the online “Contractor Interest” form.

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