Sally Bingham is the director of The Regeneration Project. She is a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of California and the environmental minister at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.
Monday, 25 Mar 2002
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.
When you are an active priest in the Episcopal Diocese of California and the director of a not-for-profit business, there isn’t much time for R & R. Luckily, my work is inspirational and exciting. Let me tell you a little about it.
My weeks begin on Sunday, which I always spend at Grace Cathedral on the top of Nob Hill in San Francisco. Yesterday’s Palm Sunday service was beautiful, with sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows as the choir sang and the congregation waved palm branches. Our liturgies almost always include elements of the natural world. For me, the Holy Eucharist symbolizes not only Christ’s presence, but also our dependence on nature; without bread, water, and land, we could not survive.
It was that belief that led me to pursue my environmental commitments within the context of the Church. I didn’t believe that we should be baptizing with polluted water. It made no sense to me to wash people of their sins with water that itself had been sinned against. To say it differently, I believe that the people in the pews are the ones who should be leading the movement to care for creation. We are the people who profess a love of God and God’s world. As such we must be stewards and caretakers of the Earth — but to date, we have not done a very good job.
To try to remedy that, Benjamin Webb and I founded the Regeneration Project in 1993. One year later, Ben moved to Iowa, where he is the rector of St. Luke’s in Cedar Falls. In 1997, Steve MacAusland and I started Episcopal Power and Light, which became the focus of the Regeneration Project and remains so today.
The project fills my life in extraordinary, unimaginable ways. Preaching and teaching about the faith community’s environmental responsibility is important work, and I’ve found that most congregations respond favorably. I’ve been invited to speak all over the country and gained international recognition as a leader in the promotion of renewable energy. This recognition has humbled me and shown me that people are ready to buckle down and change the way our society has come to view nature and natural resources. Episcopal Power and Light has become an agent of change. We have set up a model for our churches — one that others can use or modify for their own purposes.
There are currently Interfaith Power and Light Programs in eight states, with more on the horizon. The California IP&L takes up most of my time these days. My office is in the Presidio in San Francisco. We have two small rooms (with great views), and I recently hired a project manager, Lee Gilmore, who is making my workload much more manageable.
This week, however, Lee is out of the office, so when I get in today — after walking the mile between home and work — I will spend most of the day on the phone and the Internet. The first thing on my calendar is a conference call with the steering committee of the California Interfaith Power and Light group. We will be brainstorming about the best ways to raise awareness about our program and recruit members. Later, I’ll return phone calls and talk to a Spanish-language radio show from Chicago about the award we just won in Austria.
My typical workday brings many surprises. Sometimes they are requests to travel and preach or run a workshop, but often people just want information on how they can purchase green power in their homes and churches, or how to save electricity — and money. We have become a clearinghouse for connecting potential customers with the companies that install renewable energy systems.
Meanwhile, although it’s Holy Week and I have liturgical obligations at Grace Cathedral, the Regeneration Project must go on, so I’ll be writing sermons late in the evening. You see what I mean about no time for R&R!
Tuesday, 26 Mar 2002
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.
I walked home last night under a beautiful rosy sky, appreciating the calm after a long and tiring day in the office. Mondays can be like that, especially when my assistant is out.
Yesterday was mostly consumed by endless phone calls and emails — nearly all catch-up work from the week and a half I was away. I was in Austria at an energy fair and in Washington, D.C., where I made the opening remarks for a wonderful new organization called Rachel’s Network. Inspired by the work of Rachel Carson, this group of women plans to have a prominent role in healing the planet. I also had the great fortune to attend a meeting with Tim Wirth of the United Nations Foundation.
One of the more important of yesterday’s phone conversations was with the steering committee of California Interfaith Power and Light. The group is a leading force in California, and played a major role in getting Californians to cut their electricity use during the months last year when we were threatened with rolling blackouts. Throughout the state, congregations heard the message that, “If you love your neighbor, you will conserve; whatever you turn off, your neighbor will be able to keep on” — and the neighbor just might need a respirator. We proved that people can and will conserve if they see the need.
Although we believe that conservation is a moral issue as much as a political one, we also support public policies that promote renewable energy. In particular, we are supporting a Renewable Portfolio Standard under discussion right now in the California legislature. Bill AB532 calls for 20 percent of California’s energy to come from renewable resources by 2010. This is the right thing to do, if we care about clean air and the generations that come after us.
During the phone call, we also discussed upcoming events, our invitations to an advisory board, and our compact florescent light bulb program. Right now, my office floor is covered with 500 CFLs, which I’m hoping to get distributed soon. Our program sells these bulbs at cost to youth groups, which then sell them at a profit. Once they have paid back the loan for the bulbs, the groups can keep whatever they make on the sales; they are free to charge whatever they think members of their congregation can afford to pay. We don’t know how successful this program has been yet, because we just got the bulbs and only 600 have been distributed. I suspect that congregation members will like the program and buy the bulbs. It is better than youth groups selling candy and cookies (healthier, that is), and educational besides. Moreover, compact fluorescents save a great deal of money and cut electricity use, thereby helping in our mission of reducing green house gas emissions.
After spending more than a week out of the office, the mail piles up, too. Yesterday I opened a large envelope containing the magazine Science & Spirit. Bill McKibben is on the cover, and an article about our work is inside. The story, which is about the role that religion can play in the environmental movement, features several people and organizations, along with an account of a protest last year in Washington, D.C., where 22 of us were arrested. It is always affirming to see the work of the religious community picked up in the media, and I recommend the magazine for those looking for resources on faith-based environmentalism.
Wednesday, 27 Mar 2002
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.
Life is glorious and I hope you all agree. I feel particularly blessed today as I pack up my computer and papers to head for the office. (I cart my laptop back and forth between work and home in case I have a speech or sermon to prepare in the evenings. I work best at night, when most of the world — and certainly my household — is asleep.) Outside it’s cool and sunny, which clearly influences my mood. I wish I could sing; instead I talk to my Toyota Prius (it’s the hybrid, you know) and tell her what a pleasure she is to drive.
The good news in the office is that Lee is back. A seminar kept her away for two days, and although I managed without her, it was lonely. Happily, I have some good news to share with her: A program officer from a large and well-known foundation is interested in our work, and yesterday we set up a date to talk next week. Alleluia number one. Also yesterday, I found a bank that agreed to open an account with our prize money from Austria — 10,000 Euros that came with the Energy Oscar we won. I have been carrying the check around for two weeks trying to get the best exchange rate so I can put the money away for the proverbial rainy day. I took a picture of the check for reference and ran over to the bank to open an account.
After that, I had a bit of fun in my day: An old friend dropped by for a lunchtime walk out towards the Golden Gate Bridge. As we chatted and strolled, I was keenly aware of the new wildlife that has come to enjoy the renovated Crissy Field area. Egrets and herons have returned to an area once dominated by cement parking lots and old military barracks — a reconciliation with nature in the true sense. Thanks to the walk, I returned to my office inspired.
From there I headed to the cathedral to spend two hours brainstorming with my colleague Rick over how we might take The Regeneration Project to the next level and reach more people. The meeting was useful, but until we raise more money, we won’t know how far we can go with the project. With the Episcopal Power and Light program well-established both here and in the Northeast under Steve MacAusland, we see the possibility of a new program that will encourage more people to wean themselves from traditional energy sources. The time has come to make the switch from oil, coal, and gas to renewables, as a way of showing concern for our neighbors and for the next generation. God’s covenant with Noah was with every living thing and the generations that come later.
Once Lee and I caught up on events while she was gone, we made plans for how this day will be spent. She will help me write a note to all our funders to share the good news about the award and send along a picture of me with Mikhail Gorbachev. I’ll return some phone calls. Together, we’ll discuss revisions to our website. The hope is that sooner rather than later we will have every diocese in the U.S. registered and accounted for on our site. Then, when a person or parish is looking for information on renewable energy in their area, they can find what they need on the web and save a phone call to this office or to Steve MacAusland in Massachusetts.
I will leave at 11:15 for a photo shoot at the cathedral, where they are updating their files for staff clergy. Immediately afterward, I will attend the Holy Eucharist and hear my colleague and friend Rick Johnson preach.
Then I have an hour on the tennis court with my tennis partner to practice for a team match that we have next week. It is very important for me to get out and get some exercise every day. It clears my mind and gives me a rest from the computer and the phone. When I get back I’ll spend the afternoon handling written correspondence — the old-fashioned kind — and beginning a report for a grant that we got a year ago.
Just got news of another sign-on for our California Interfaith Power and Light covenant, and that is alleluia number two for today.
Thursday, 28 Mar 2002
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.
It’s a beautiful day here in San Francisco: The sun is shining, the air is clear and you can see forever. (Almost.) From home, I look out over the trees to the water; from my office I can see the Presidio, which makes going to work a joy.
I worked late last night, which I sometimes do. I have a presentation to prepare for a retreat I’m helping to run next weekend for the Companions of the Holy Cross. I spent an hour trying unsuccessfully to change the numbers on one of my slides; hopefully, Lee can help me out later today. I edited the letter to our funders that we started yesterday and plan to send it out today. I wrote a note to a sick friend and started to outline a sermon I’ll be giving in Nashville in mid-April. I have to read the Gospel lesson several times before starting. Sometimes writing environmentally oriented sermons is pretty challenging, because you never find a phrase in the Bible that says, “Don’t cut the old growth trees” or “Don’t eat all the fish.” It’s just not that simple, ever. Instead we must grasp the larger message — to live the way the Bible suggests we live. How we treat God’s creation — including each other — is a reflection of our relationship to God. Need I say more?
By midway through this morning, we’ve completed several petty but necessary tasks. Lee has designed and produced a new letterhead for us and I have used it to write a thank-you note to Rachel’s Network. We’ve managed to find a very reasonable price (largely due to intense searching on Lee’s part) to create new business cards, letterhead, and a website, all of which are green and white with similar designs and fonts. It has taken several years to have the money or the time for us to start looking like a professional business. Next up: redesigning our brochure.
Yesterday’s Grist diary entry brought forth emails from my friend Ben Webb who founded the Regeneration Project with me and from his wife, Sarah. I haven’t had a chance to answer them yet. I’ve also gotten hysterical comments from my children. Sarah, who lives in Bozeman, Mt., works with the environmental group EcoTrust; Steve is an attorney in Eureka, Calif., working to provide environmental justice; and Lock is studying the double bass at Michigan State. I always have time for my family and stay closely connected to them no matter where I am or what is going on at the office. Sarah and Steve are deeply committed to environmental issues and we all try to support one another.
Soon I will leave the office to head for the Cathedral to reaffirm my vows with Bishop Swing and my clergy colleagues. The fog is coming in now and so I am moving east to stay ahead of it. (Just kidding.) It is a tradition in this diocese for the clergy to reaffirm their vows on Maundy Thursday, which is today. So for me, this day is more focused on Holy Week than on The Regeneration Project, but the office is still plugging along. We have just begun to fill out an application for some funding from a small foundation here in the Bay Area.
Heading out the door now to my hybrid Toyota Prius. I will show my colleagues what kind of cars they ought to drive and offer a ride to anyone who wants it! The car is full of compact-florescent bulbs and posters describing how solar works, so I’m truly a mobile advertisement for The Regeneration Project today.
Friday, 29 Mar 2002
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.
Today is one of the holiest days in the Christian Church, and once again it is a beautiful day in San Francisco. I spent a good part of yesterday at Grace Cathedral. During the noon service for the clergy in the Diocese to reaffirm their vows, Bishop Swing reminded us that these are troubled times, and that we work in the field of the intractable. Nothing could be truer in the case of environmental degradation and the present administration’s inability to see beyond the next election and the old way of doing things.
In reflecting on my own vows and the work I do helping people to connect their faith with their responsibility for the environment, I am humbled by the vastness of the task. We are called not just to believe in something, but to put our faith into action. This, of coarse is not always easy. Things don’t fall easily into place, but we cannot be passive. We have to do something; we have to live our faith. In an article that appeared in Grist, Bill McKibben asks the question, “What would Jesus drive?” We know the answer to that; I for one have a real problem with people who come to church regularly, call themselves good Christians, and take up two parking spaces with their SUVs. They justify this by saying they feel safer, but what about the overall good of the planet — or, heaven forbid, the safety of the person in the compact hybrid Prius if the two vehicles collide? That’s what I mean when I say there are things we are called to do that aren’t easy.
But I bet you are not reading this for a sermon — and anyway, I have to run to the post office with some reprints of pictures to send to a magazine and then stop by the office quickly before heading to the cathedral for our Good Friday service.
My son’s girlfriend has landed in the hospital in Michigan, and we have spent a good deal of time on the phone. She will be all right, but the calls started at nine last night and lasted until five this morning, so I am a bit tired. The incident is a reminder that we never know what is heading our way. Life is an amazing journey and in order to be fully human we must live our lives with our hearts open to risk and pain; if we don’t we will never experience what it means to truly love. If we can deepen our relationship with God and all that God means and gives to us, we will be more compassionate towards one another and in turn more compassionate in the treatment of our natural world; conservation of our precious natural resources, efficiency in the appliances we use, the cars we drive, and products we buy will become a natural extension of our faith. The religious community needs to lead on these issues.