Congregation goes even greener by adding geothermal wells

A construction crew looks at the geothermal wells being installed at the Unitarian Universalist Society:East/Tracy Simmons- Creedible.comMANCHESTER – Unitarian Universalist Society East is the epitome of what it means to be green.

Fair trade coffee and energy efficient lights are only a fraction of what this congregation is doing to save the planet.

Earlier this month UUSE had 10 geothermal wells drilled on its property as part of its $2.1 million renovation.

“It’s a part of the church’s vision,” Rev. Josh Pawelek said as he looked at the construction site, “so much of Unitarian Universalist spirituality is about protecting the earth.”

By installing the wells, he said, the meeting house can tap into the natural geothermal energy found beneath the Earth’s crust, reducing its dependence on fossil fuels. Though expensive initially (about $300,000), the wells will save the congregation about $7,000 annually in oil costs.

The congregation, made of about 300 members, raised $1.5 million to renovate the 30-year old campus, at 153 Vernon Street West in Manchester.

Janet Heller, a member of UUSE and renovation volunteer, explained that the seventh Unitarian Universalist principle is “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”

She said the congregation drew encouragement for the project from that principle.

The church was deemed the first Green Sanctuary in Connecticut and before the overhaul was using a compost pile, maintained an organic vegetable garden and practiced other earth-friendly initiatives.

The Green Sanctuary Program has strict guidelines and was created by the Unitarian Universalist Society, and is a way for congregations to embark on an exploration of what it means to live within a religious community on an imperiled Earth, according to the Web site.

A Green Sanctuary must:

  • Have received official recognition for completing the Green Sanctuary Program.
  • Must live out its commitment to the Earth by creating sustainable lifestyles for its members as individuals and as a faith community.
  • Must be committed to creating a religious community that has a fundamental, bottom-line, commitment to living in harmony with the Earth.

“A Green Sanctuary is not just a building, it’s not just a room. It’s a concept of thinking about everything, not wasting things, limiting our waste the best we can, and thinking about worship and how it’s related to the connection to earth,” Heller said.

Though proud of its Green Sanctuary title, the UUSE congregation felt it could do more to be good stewards of the planet.

Dave Sherman, a member of the church who has volunteered his time to help with the reconstruction, said the congregation is devoted to stewardship and worked hard to make an eco-friendly campus possible.

“The people here have dedicated a lot to this,” he said. “We just want to do what’s right.”

Volunteers from the congregation began planning the site’s eco-friendly facelift about five years ago.

“We’re trying to be a role model (to other places of worship),” said Heller. “Anyone who seems to care about the health of the planet and cares about learning to a more sustainable way can certainly find some inspiration.”

They may be able so see the fruits of their labor as early as March. Currently the congregation is meeting in Center Congregational Church for worship.

The reconstructed meeting house will include a recycling room, a shower for those who bicycle to services, marmoleum tiles, low-vac paints, efficient insulation and eco-friendly siding and lots of natural lights. The renovation also ads 4,000 square feet to the facility, allowing for numerous multi-space areas.

Pawelek said the congregation plans to move back to its Vernon Street West location in the spring and will hold a building dedication in September.

On Friday, at 4:30 p.m., members of UUSE will gather outside of Center Congregation, which is near Town Hall, to have a candlelight vigil to encourage people to reduce their carbon dioxide use as part of the 350 Campaign. The 350 Campaign, which is trying to educate people around the world that 350 is the number that leading scientists say is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide—measured in “Parts Per Million” in the atmosphere.

According to the 350 Web site, “350 PPM—it’s the number humanity needs to get back to as soon as possible to avoid runaway climate change.


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