With two positive outreach experiences under our belts the Green Team at First Evangelical Free Church decided to branch out and try to intensify our impact on our community. Collaborating with other volunteers at our church, we led an environmental awareness and educational community outreach effort at Chicago’s largest outdoor neighborhood festival and block party, Midsommarfest, over the weekend of June 14-15, 2008. This festival site happened to be conveniently located only one block from our church campus.
We had an overwhelmingly positive reaction from the community and attracted more than 1,500 visitors to our booth as we gave away over 1,200 CFLs (Compact Florescent Lightbulbs) and educated consumers about their energy-saving and carbon dioxide saving benefits. These CFLs were donated from the city of Chicago by four different organizations: Faith in Place, Green Conservation Corps and the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce. We also gave away free bicycle maps and equipment from my friend at Gary’s Bicycle Shop, and educated potential cyclists about wise commuting and the benefits of this environmentally-friendly mode of transportation.
The members of the Green Team gave presentations that showcased their respective talents and professional skills. A biologist and her husband from our Green Team showcased their working worm composting bins. An engineer and city-certified conservation leader from our group constructed a mock-up of a rain barrel installation. Another team members brought along two of his chickens that he was legally raising in his backyard for their egg production and educated people about the benefits of this small scale urban farming. In the evening another team from our church set up a temporary coffee house and served free fair-trade coffee and chatted with their guests about its environmental and social justice benefits.
By giving away 1200 CFLs over this one weekend, if we assume that those bulbs replaced 60 watt incandescent light bulbs and were used for an average of 2 hours a day, then the energy savings are extraordinary: 39,420 kilowatt-hours of electricity production, 26.4 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, and the equivalent of taking 4.8 carbon dioxide polluting cars off the road. Over the average 9 year life cycle of a CFL the energy saved is even more dramatic: 354,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity production, 240 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, and the equivalent of taking 43 cars off of the road.
Green Team member Carl Breving recalls that "a lot of people coming into the booth had no idea we were a church at first. When we told them we were, some were a little surprised and slightly confused. I don’t think they were used to seeing a church or Christians serving in this way. They didn’t think of the church and environmental activities together, but they were very happy and excited about what we’re doing." Carl also got a very positive response when he personally delivered the rain barrel to the person who won our raffle giveaway. After the event, one couple was inspired to raise chickens after visiting the home of a team member who was engaged in urban farming. They initially came by the booth not because they were "church people", but because our booth had a rich variety of environmental resources that interested them.
There was one man who told us upfront that he did not want to know about Jesus. He also said we had the best and most interesting booth in the entire place. I still felt like we reached him on some level and that he could see our passion and interest in environmental issues as common ground. A lot of people coming into the booth had no idea we were a church at first. When we told them we were, some were a little surprised and slightly confused. I don’t think they were used to seeing a church or Christians serving in this way. They didn’t think of the church and environmental activities together, but they were very happy and excited about what we were doing. Quite a few people from our own congregation mentioned that they learned a lot about the environment by serving with us. They had a new understanding of how important our stewardship of the planet is important to God. I think a lot of people saw the hearts of Christians at the booth, selflessly serving, caring for the community, and reaching out to connect with people. They appreciated that we were connecting with them on a shared topic of interest and talking with them and not at them.
Marc, a church member and volunteer at our booth, remarked on the new level of environmental sensitivity that our visitors were expressing. Church members Kelly and Daniel commented that "people were very appreciative to receive the [CFL] light bulb, which opened conversations, and the outreach positioned ourselves as a church that cares for the environment.”
Midsommerfest was sponsored by the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce.