Parishioners at Church of the Redeemer were greeted Sunday by a banner that said, "Going geothermal, for our earth, for our future, for our children."
Wearing a ceremonial construction hard hat, the Rev. Paul Tunkle stood at the altar — surrounded by Earth Day props such as a globe balloon and a tree wrapped in yellow crime scene tape — and announced that the installation of a new, 'green,' geothermal heating and air-conditioning system would start this week.
He called the $2.5 million, high-efficiency system "a bold theological step to protect this fragile earth."
The HVAC system -— five years in the planning — is part of a $4.6 million "Generations" capital campaign that also calls for replacement of windows with energy-efficient windows, and the renovation of the church organ.
Installation of the geothermal HVAC system is expected to take until September and will require the staff to move to temporary trailers at the end of the month. Starting this weekend, all services will be held in the main church and the chapel will be closed until the project is finished.
Parked on the lawn of the church in Homeland was a machine that will dig a well 300 to 400 feet deep, so geothermal tubing can be dropped into it, said Vince Greene, the church's junior warden and an architect, whose office is in the Roland Park Shopping Center.
Greene, of Mount Washington, will oversee a retrofit of several buildings on the Redeemer campus at 5603 North Charles St., to accommodate the new HVAC system.
Greene served on a committee that helped plan the project. Tunkle gave several committe members honorary hard hats after the church service.
Greene received a standing ovation from the audience of about 200 parishioners, as did retired architect and longtime church volunteer McNeill "Mac" Baker, 90, formerly of Stoneleigh, who now lives in Blakehurst, a retirement community in Baltimore County.
The geothermal system will be for the administrative office building and the day school. The remainder of the campus, including the main church, a parish hall and the small chapel, will be upgraded from fuel oil to natural gas, Greene said.
He said the geothermal system "uses the earth's own ability to heat and cool." It's not unlike solar energy, "only underground," he said.
The church has raised $3.3 million on its own, and is borrowing from its endowment for the rest, while the church continues to raise money, said Ellen Chatard, program director for Redeemer.
Geothermal projects are not unheard of in the area; Friend School's middle school building was built in 2005 with a geothermal HVAC system.
But few area churches have done it, Greene said. The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland is trying to foster the project in more of its churches, he said.
Planning at Redeemer had an inauspicious start when test drilling in 2008 to determine the feasibility of the geothermal project turned the Stony Run whitish gray and the city issued a temporary stop-work order.
But Sunday, Tunkle hailed the ambitious project, not only as a boost to the Baltimore ecology but as a way of honoring God and "celebrating creation."
He said the church is showing "how much we do care and how much we're concerned about the generations that come after us."
Hymns and an offertory were earth-themed. Teens in the church's ninth grade confirmation class brought a few Earth Day props of their own to the altar.
Gilman School freshman Thomas Ebert, of Towson, dressed in a blue hospital uniform and surgical mask and called himself "Hazmat Man."
Pushing a red wheelbarrow with a potted plant up to the altar was Greene's son, Nathan, a ninth grader at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. It's being planted in a new garden at Redeemer.
Tunkle recalled when the environmentally conscious were considered "too fascinated with crunchy granola and Birkenstocks."
"We've come a long way," he said.
There is one casualty of the project — a mother duck, who, for two consecutive years, flew into an enclosed cloister garden at the church, with a fountain, and laid her eggs there.
This year, the fountain, a water source for the mother duck and her family, is covered, and she will have to find a new home, Tunkle said.
"We evicted her," he said ruefully. "With everything going on, this is not a nice neighborhood to be in."