The cynics among us may say that people worship money more than anything. But as these eco-conscious churches prove, worshipers in the new millennium are willing to put their money where their hearts are — right here on Earth. The designers, builders and members of these churches have created a new paradigm for congregations worldwide, modeling respect for the planet's natural resources and placing the goal of environmentalism up there with the virtues of purity and piety. And as many of them have found, investing time and resources on eco-conscious initiatives yields significant savings surprisingly quickly.


Keystone Community Church

Keystone Community Church of Grand Rapids, Mich., the first LEED-certified church in the country, was completed in August 2004. Designed by Integrated Architecture, the building sits on a 35-acre site with rolling hills, heavy woods and wetlands, providing a beautiful backdrop to a glass curtain wall and a barrier against harsh winter winds. The natural materials, clear windows and a noticeable lack of Christian symbols redefine the traditional church atmosphere. Likewise, the building sets a new standard for luxury in the form of natural light, fresh air and wide-open spaces.


Green Castle Baptist Church

Green Castle Baptist Church has always been green in name, but not in paradigm. When the congregation outgrew its old building several years ago, the group made a commitment to build a new eco-friendly church. The newly built church in Louisville, Ky., has high-efficiency utilities, zone-controlled spaces and a special film on windows to reduce cooling needs in summer. Green Castle Baptist is the first Energy Star church in Kentucky — impressive for an area of the U.S. that encompasses thousands of churches.


Delaney Hall, Emerson's Unitarian Universalist Church

Delaney HallDelaney Hall at Emerson's Unitarian Universalist Church in Houston, Texas, was designed by Ray Bailey Architects with a goal of being lean and green. The result is a building that is more than 30 percent more efficient than standard buildings, earning Emerson an estimated savings of more than $12,000 annually.


During the construction process, stringent indoor air quality standards were met and a significant amount of construction and demolition waste was recycled. The landscape design uses native plants to conserve water, attract wildlife and provide opportunities for environmental learning. Emerson also purchased a 50 percent carbon offset, totaling 185,975 kWh (kilowatt hours) for two years, from Green e-Certified American Wind Energy.


Dominican Sisters' House of Formation

In San Rafael, Calif., the Dominican Sisters' House of Formation is an idyllic campus designed for green and sustainable living that incorporates private and communal spaces for worship. The building was certified Gold by the LEED rating system for a dearth of sustainable concepts.


Surrounding a meditative garden full of drought-tolerant and native species, the building is situated to maximize sun exposure for rooftop solar panels. The garden incorporates a dry creek bed to collect and retain roof stormwater. A solar hot water heating system uses a 90 percent efficient central boiler, and photovoltaic solar panels provide up to 95 percent of electric power needs. Bedrooms and bathrooms are stacked for efficient use of materials. Much of the cabinets, carpet, insulation, floors, paints and other building supplies are recycled or reclaimed.


Bridge of Allan Church

Bridge of Allan Church is one of more than 180 eco-congregations in Scotland making the commitment to tackle climate change. It sits halfway between Edinburgh and Glasgow at the heart of a little village, and many celebratory life-cycle events take place in this sustainably built church. Among other energy saving innovations, a Swedish heating system utilizes radiators connected to a ground source heat pump that work in conjunction with under floor heating and deep boreholes.


PromiseLand West Church Amphitheater

Austin's PromiseLand West will soon have new educational and worship facilities incorporating sustainable design practices that meet or exceed city of Austin requirements. In keeping with environmental awareness, native landscaping is integrated into the design to form a "friendly yet secure" perimeter boundary that controls public access into the amphitheater. LEED certification is being pursued for the new facilities, and the covered, outdoor amphitheater will keep visitors protected from the elements but in touch with nature.


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Click for photo credits

Keystone Community Church courtesy Keystone Community Church

Green Castle Baptist: CMesker/Flickr

Delaney Hall courtesy Emerson's Unitarian Universalist Church

Dominican Sisters' House of Formation: Barbara Ries

Bridge of Allan Church courtesy Bridge of Allan Church

PromiseLand West courtesy Good Fulton & Farrell


Sarah F. Berkowitz Sarah F. Berkowitz was born in Jerusalem, raised in Detroit, and currently lives in Atlanta with her Manhattan born and bred husband. Her dream of becoming a psychologist was traded in for a laptop and chef’s hat when she decided to pursue her passion for writing and food. Sarah enjoys cooking, trying to get food to stay still for a good photo, and convincing her kids that they're lucky to have a chef as a mom. (They're still waiting for dinner.)

6 churches that say 'amen' to going green
Designers, builders and members of these churches value not only purity and piety — but the planet, as well.