- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 28, 2002

NEW HAVEN, Conn. Between bites of kugel and sips of matzo ball soup, the conversation at Rabbi Jon-Jay Tilsen's Sabbath dinner each week inevitably goes in one direction: light bulbs.

Rabbi Tilsen points out his home's energy-saving, fluorescent lighting to each guest as he tackles a subject more religious leaders are broaching: environmentalism.

Religious groups around the country are finding ecological issues hard to ignore. Clergy are speaking from the pulpit on global warming and Arctic drilling, and practicing what they preach in their own churches, synagogues, temples and mosques.

At Mr. Tilsen's Congregation Beth El-Kesser, incandescent lighting has been replaced and more efficient heating and air-conditioning systems have been installed. The sanctuary's ceiling will be lowered and its walls moved inward to reduce the area that must be heated and cooled.

Even the ner tamid, the tiny red light that indicates the location of the Ark of the Covenant, which holds the Torah, will be replaced to make use of natural light.

"We're still not the most energy-efficient synagogue or religious institution, but we have put a lot of effort and money into it," Rabbi Tilsen said. "We're just playing catch-up."

Across faiths, the environmental movement has been evolving slowly over the last decade or more. Denominations have started looking into their traditions, examining how their beliefs could be applied to ecological issues and releasing statements outlining their positions.

Many Christian and Jewish groups have set up offices or assigned directors to deal exclusively with being green. Muslim, Buddhist and some other faiths also have taken up the issue.

Paul Gorman, head of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, said 21 states now have interfaith global-warming and energy campaigns. But Mr. Gorman estimates that for every house of worship where the environment is an active issue, there are 100 where it is not.

"We're only just beginning to learn to practice what we preach," he said.

In Los Angeles, the newly opened Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels is powered partially by solar panels mounted atop the Roman Catholic church's conference center.

In Palatine, Ill., the Sikh religious temple has added water-saving taps and cut its energy use by $720 a month.

In Wynnewood, Pa., the Evangelical Environmental Network is gearing up for "What Would Jesus Drive?" a national campaign urging people to think about their transportation choices.

"We basically just want to get the question out there," said the Rev. Jim Ball, executive director of the network. "Is transportation a moral decision? We definitely think it is."

The Rev. Tom Carr, pastor of First Baptist Church in West Hartford and a member of Connecticut's Interreligious Eco-Justice Network, has cut energy use and costs at his church. He has spoken out on environmental issues and lent his support to campaigns against the "Sooty Six," the name environmentalists give the state's oldest and most-polluting power plants.

Hartford Seminary has made changes on its campus, from ending use of chemical weed killers and pesticides on its lawns to supplying mugs for coffee instead of paper and plastic foam cups. In July, the seminary switched to Green Mountain Energy Co., which provides energy from sources including wind, water and natural gas.

Green Mountain supplies power to hundreds of houses of worship in eight states. With its power typically costing up to 1-1/2 cents more per kilowatt-hour, it's not an easy choice for some congregations.

"They're literally putting their money where their beliefs are," said John Holtz, a spokesman for the company.

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