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A beacon of energy conservation

The Baltimore Sun

The Rev. Bob Wickizer climbed the stairs and wooden ladders yesterday inside the steeple of historic St. Anne's Episcopal Church to reach Annapolis' town clock.

Eighty feet above the center of downtown, he and Kirsten Chapman, head of the church's environmental ministry, gingerly stepped over loose wooden planks coated with dust and ducked under the four metal arms of the clock mechanism to get to the 16 incandescent bulbs that illuminate the clock. Chapman slipped in front of one of the four faces and carefully replaced the bulbs with compact fluorescent ones.

This is what it took, on Earth Day, to turn a 150-year-old landmark into a beacon for thinking green.

The new lights promise to keep an estimated 2.5 tons of carbon out of the atmosphere every year by using 75 percent less energy, and save energy and money by lasting 10 times longer. Wickizer hopes that the change will encourage the community to reduce its carbon footprint. Church officials say they believe this is part of God's will.

"Having dominion over [the Earth] doesn't mean trashing it," Wickizer said. "It may have taken the church a while to wake up to that."

The clock mechanism is owned and maintained by the city, while the lighting is the church's responsibility. Although the bulbs likely won't save much on the church's electric bill - which runs between $15,000 and $20,000 a year - the church wanted to make a statement.

"It's more symbolic than anything else," Wickizer said.

The congregation is taking baby steps to reduce energy use and waste. From January through March, members replaced 100 bulbs in its office and parish hall two blocks away, a project made time-consuming by the hall's high ceilings and chandeliers. Wickizer said it has the potential to reduce up to 7,000 watts of electricity a year, but he is waiting for the BGE bill to see how much power really was saved.

The ministry held an environmental fair Sunday and invited speakers from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to offer their perspective about pollution in the bay. The ministry put out tables with information about different environmental groups, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), rain barrels and composting.

In addition to paper and plastic recycling, the 15-member ministry has provided environmental tips in the church's monthly newsletter to congregants. Last year during Earth Day, the group planted flowers in the church yard.

Churches encouraging parishioners to go green is not new. Evangelicals were the first to blaze the trail and were followed by other Christian denominations, said Sheree Ruhl, assistant education coordinator for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

"The evangelicals are really at the forefront and have embraced creation care as the call of the Christian," she said.

Ruhl, a Presbyterian, has been preaching to churches for a couple of years about forming customized covenants for their congregations to follow to reduce their carbon footprints. In 2006, she started working for the interfaith Chesapeake Covenant Congregations, which is trying to get churches in the 64,000-square-mile Chesapeake Bay watershed to reduce pollution. Now she speaks to churches on her own and will speak at St. Anne's on Sunday about the church forming its own covenant.

The Episcopal Church formed its environmental network in the early 1990s to encourage an environmental ministry among its parishes and other faiths. Churches have banded together regionally to work on projects. Some have replaced bulbs with CFLs while others have installed solar panels.

The solar panel idea took hold of Wickizer, a former physicist, when he arrived at the church about a year and a half ago and encouraged congregants to form an environmental ministry. He said historians might have a problem with putting them on the roof of the church - founded as the first church in the Colonial capital more than 300 years ago - so he is considering putting panels on the parish house two blocks away.

The $100,000 solar panel project will have to take its place behind a more pressing problem: Seven of the eight halogen lights on the exterior of the steeple are out. To fix it, the church has to hire a steeplejack to rappel down the side of the church to replace them.

To save energy and provide a safer way to fix future problems, the church wants to install light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, on the inside of the steeple. The light would be funneled through fiber optic cables that would be fed through openings in the room. Not only would the lights save energy - more than CFLs - but they could be replaced from the inside, Wickizer said. He estimates the project could cost $20,000.

The church also wants to replace the interior lights with LEDs. The only problem is that the lights tend to emit a bluish hue, which some parishioners don't like, Wickizer said. A few of the 1,200 parishioners objected when he placed blue paper recycling bins inside the church. The bins stayed, but Wickizer anticipates a harder sell with the lighting.

"It's part of the slow change," Wickizer said.

Chapman said replacing the light bulbs in the church steeple is a simple way to show people that even small changes can make a big difference over time.

"It makes people more aware of what they can do as individuals," she said. "We're making an impact locally and globally."

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