Photo of former Moderator Mardi Tindal biking in to GC43
Former Moderator Mardi Tindal bikes in to GC43. Photo: The United Church of Canada

New Eco Initiative Aims to Massively Reduce Church’s Carbon Footprint

Former Moderator Mardi Tindal of The United Church of Canada is a champion of a new project, Faithful Footprints, being launched at GC43. Here she speaks about the church’s ongoing call to care for the environment and how faith communities can go green.

Q: Why did you ride your bike from the Oshawa GO train station to GC43?

I am cycling to celebrate the General Council Executive’s recent commitment to reduce our church’s carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050. Cycling is a fun, fossil-free way for me to embody [our] commitment to living with respect in creation.

Q: What is Faithful Footprints?

Faithful Footprints is part of the United Church’s plan to meet an 80 percent emissions reduction goal. It’s a new program, developed with Faith and the Common Good, to help congregations live into our climate commitments, offering inspirational stories from other congregations, and providing grants and tools to get on with what we need to do, first with our buildings. In my experience, this is where property committees and outreach committees find common cause—they get to do the right thing and save money. Faithful Footprints will launch at GC43, and resource people will be on site to explain more and answer questions. People can sign up online.

Q: What is your role with Faithful Footprints?

I’m a voluntary, occasional conversation partner with Christine Boyle and Lucy Cummings, who are leading this initiative. I’m also an enthusiast for the project.

Q: Can any congregation participate in Faithful Footprints?

Any United Church congregation, camp, or outreach ministry is invited to apply.  The first step is to fill out an online expression of interest form. The Faithful Footprints faith-building team will then call [applicants] to learn more about your needs and how they can help.

Q: Why is care of the environment an important issue for the United Church?

We’re called to love our neighbours and care for the whole Earth. I first experienced the United Church’s approach to this as a young adult on the Task Force on the Environment, which reported to the 1977 General Council. That GC adopted the care of our Earth as an organizational goal. Over 40 years later, through this new commitment to reducing our greenhouse gases, we’re renewing our longstanding commitments to faithfulness, to caring for one another, and to caring for the Earth.

Q: Why are you personally passionate about this issue?

I love my children, my grandchildren, and my church. My passion springs largely from prayer about how to embody a fuller love for each of these. I was called by GC40 to attend to climate change as the greatest spiritual and moral challenge of our time. It was a great and humble privilege to sit with so many, listening deeply to one another’s troubled hearts, encouraging and praying for one another, experiencing a quickening of our hearts with Christ in our midst, and proclaiming good news to a hurting world in need of mending. Such encounters have impact, heartening and strengthening us as church.

Q: The church has so many old buildings. What environmental challenges do they pose?

In Canada, almost 40 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions come from leaky buildings, and I’m told that religious organizations are the second-largest property owners in the country, after governments. We (the United Church) have more than our share of leaky buildings. But even if all we did was to “plug” our leaky buildings, we’d make a significant contribution to meeting Canada’s commitment to future generations here and around the world. Of course, there are congregations taking bigger leaps too, using green energies, such as solar panels.

Q: Today, the church and faith communities face many challenges. Why it is important to make this initiative a priority?

I’ve seen the new life that comes to congregations when they intentionally embody the words we recite, such as “to live with respect in Creation.” Making this kind of project a priority deepens our experience of faithfulness, which empowers our other good work. Young people tell me that looking at our buildings is their first clue as to whether we’re credible as a church. When people see us acting with integrity, they’re drawn to joining us for all kinds of faithful work in our communities.

But mostly, I think it’s sort of like cycling is for me personally: It gives us a communal experience of doing something energizing together—something that we know is a faithful, healthy response to Christ’s invitation to abundant life. It can be a lot of fun, too, and feels so good once we’ve done it!

Q: What do you hope to achieve with Faithful Footprints in the next year, five years, and looking further down the road?

The goal is to engage 500 United Church congregations by 2025 in lowering their carbon footprint by 80 percent.  Over the next year, project leaders will host regional information sessions to get the word out, approve grant applications, and examine, through regional pilot projects, what kind of support different congregations will need to achieve this goal. Project leaders will talk and listen with leaders across the church to figure out how best to embed Faithful Footprints into the church’s new governance structure. In early 2020, collective learning will be analyzed to determine the best design for a regionally based climate action program.

Q: What is your advice to churches feeling daunted by the challenge?

Talk about it. Share your concerns and questions. Listen to one another and others in your community, particularly young leaders. There are many ways to travel the road of faithfulness, and we’re all in this together.

Watch the Faithful Footprints video on The United Church of Canada's YouTube channel.