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Caring for creation: Nisswa church installs solar panels

NISSWA - Just after 10 a.m. Monday morning, a nearly cloudless sky allowed the sun to bathe the clearing north of Lutheran Church of the Cross in Nisswa.

Members of the "creation care team" at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Nisswa pose near the site of a ground-mounted solar array, to be installed this week. The array will cover about 10 percent of the church's power consumption.Pictured, left to right: Laura Raedeke, Deb Roberts, Dick Peterson, Pastor Andy Smith, Jan Halligan, Ron Halligan, Ray Arveson, Betty Arveson, Barb Peterson and Emelie Augustine. Chelsey Perkins/Brainerd Dispatch
Members of the "creation care team" at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Nisswa pose near the site of a ground-mounted solar array, to be installed this week. The array will cover about 10 percent of the church's power consumption. Pictured, left to right: Laura Raedeke, Deb Roberts, Dick Peterson, Pastor Andy Smith, Jan Halligan, Ron Halligan, Ray Arveson, Betty Arveson, Barb Peterson and Emelie Augustine. Chelsey Perkins/Brainerd Dispatch

NISSWA - Just after 10 a.m. Monday morning, a nearly cloudless sky allowed the sun to bathe the clearing north of Lutheran Church of the Cross in Nisswa.

At the clearing's northern end, the sunshine warmed the soil within more than 50 community garden plots, nudging it ever closer to suitability for summer's bounty. To the garden's south, installation of another project using the sun's energy begins today-a solar panel array set to supply 10 percent of the church's power needs.

Five years in the making, the solar power project represents many things to the "creation care committee," a group of congregants who advocated for solar power as part of the church's capital plan. The panels will reduce the church's reliance on nonrenewable energy and cut utility bills, the group agreed. But more importantly to them, solar power's positive environmental impact is a symbol of an important tenet of their Christian faith.

"This is something that as Christians, we believe that a loving God created everything we have that supports life, and we feel it's a mission to take good care of it," said Laura Raedeke.

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"This is something that as Christians, we believe that a loving God created everything we have that supports life, and we feel it's a mission to take good care of it." - Laura Raedeke.

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It's appropriate this year in particular that the church is making a move toward sustainability, given the theme of Pastor Andy Smith's 2016 sermons is based on the Bible verse Psalm 24:1-"The earth is the Lord's and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it."

"When you ask people where they sense God most powerfully, immediately a huge majority of people will say, 'I experience God out in creation, on the lake or in the woods,'" Smith said. "That squares with what the Bible says. We want to say we want to leave the place better than we found it."

The Backus nonprofit Rural Renewable Energy Alliance is installing the array, which costs about $38,000. To fund the project, the church acquired grants and turned to its congregation for donations. Raedeke said the church also received donations from at least four people outside the congregation who believed in the goals of the project. Altogether, grants and donations covered 75 percent of the project costs.

Some of the funding came through Minnesota Power's SolarSense program, which provides rebates to defray upfront costs of solar panel installation. The church was also selected as the recipient for the largest seed grant award in 2016 through Clean Energy Resource Teams, a statutorily defined partnership to provide resources for community-based clean energy projects.

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Showing off solar power

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Want to learn more about the church's solar panels?

The Lutheran Church of the Cross will host an open house tour at 5 p.m. Wednesday at 5064 County Highway 13, Nisswa. The project engineers will be on site to demonstrate how the panels work and answer questions.

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The initial expense of installation was daunting, those involved with the project said, although the length of time it took to bring the solar panels to fruition ended up serving as a boon. The costs of the technology have decreased compared to when it was first explored.

"The major part of the cost is the infrastructure," said Dick Peterson, meaning the cables run through the ground powering the church. "If we want to double the size of it, it will probably come at half the cost."

For Peterson and the others, the solar panel project means connecting with younger people, demonstrating the church cares about issues important to them.

"There is this phenomenon of young people not showing interest in the church," Peterson said. "This is an effort to make it clear that the church is interested in the care of the Earth. We only have one, you know."

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"This is an effort to make it clear that the church is interested in the care of the Earth. We only have one, you know." - Dick Peterson

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The Lutheran Church of the Cross is the second church in Crow Wing County in recent years to undertake a solar panel project. In 2014, Crosslake Presbyterian Church installed solar panels on its roof, an effort that acted as inspiration to the Nisswa project, Raedeke said.

"We want this to be a witness to everyone who sees it," Raedeke said. "This church is used extensively by the people, especially in the summer we get a lot of visitors."

Jason Edens, director of the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance, said one of the most interesting aspects of the church's solar project to him is its proximity to the community garden space.

"You get to see their environmental stewardship through the deployment of solar energy as well as their commitment to local foods, community building and community development," Edens said. "So it's kind of got that nexus of energy security and food security all at one site."

Raedeke said the solar panels might be the most visible example of the church's focus on environmental stewardship, but many other efforts are underway. In addition to the community garden, children within the congregation helped to plant a butterfly garden and a reflection garden was recently installed behind the building. Tips in the church's newsletter offer ways for individuals and families to become better stewards at home, whether that be through water conservation, recycling or other green habits.

The church hosts a sharing market each week in the summer, allowing congregants the opportunity to make available surplus produce from the community garden and their home gardens, along with homemade breads, jams and other products. Everything is available for a donation, and the proceeds go to support the local food shelf.

Not only is the church working to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels, it is also offsetting its carbon use through tree planting, said Ron Halligan. Last year, a youth-led effort resulted in the planting of 1,000 trees, and this year, the church will plant 1,500.

 

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .

An empty lot to the north of the Lutheran Church of the Cross will soon be home to a ground-mounted solar array. The array will cover about 10 percent of the church's power consumption and will be situated to the south of the community garden. Chelsey Perkins/Brainerd Dispatch
An empty lot to the north of the Lutheran Church of the Cross will soon be home to a ground-mounted solar array. The array will cover about 10 percent of the church's power consumption and will be situated to the south of the community garden. Chelsey Perkins/Brainerd Dispatch

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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