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Anglican church wins top environmental award

By Stuart Mann

St. Cuthbert, Leaside is an attractive red brick church, but in environmental circles it’s known by another colour – dark green.

The church has won the Greening Sacred Spaces Award for 2018, given to the most environmentally friendly place of worship in Toronto. It is only the second Anglican church in the city to receive the award since it was established in 2000.

Donna Lang (right) presents award to members of St. Cuthbert, Leaside. Front row, from left: Heather Conolly, Nancy Wahlroth, Lorna Krawchuk and Chris Vyse. Back row, from left: Beth Preston, Bob Davies, Kathi Davies, Lorraine Green-LaFleur and the Rev. Ian LaFleur, incumbent. Photo by Michael Hudson

“We’re delighted and pleased that our efforts are making a difference,” says Heather Conolly, a member of the church and its property coordinator. “We’re keepers of the world and we want to pass on to the next generation what was handed down to us.”

The award is given by Faith & the Common Good, a national, interfaith network that assists congregations and spiritual groups to create more sustainable communities.

St. Cuthbert’s has made many upgrades to its building over the past decade, including installing two high efficiency boilers, LED lights inside and outside, and a protective layer for its stained glass windows. It has reconfigured its downspouts, put bike racks in the parking lot for several years, introduced rain barrels and Green Bins, and started a community garden.

The church holds an environment fair and film festival each year, and in 2017 a Great White Oak tree on the property that is more than 200 years old was designated as an Ontario Heritage Tree. The church’s vestry passed a motion in 2015 that supported the diocese’s advocacy for effective public policy on climate change.

“St. Cuthbert’s has a sense of responsibility to be stewards of creation,” explains the Rev. Ian LaFleur, incumbent. “That sensitivity is an important part of the DNA of this community.” He adds: “While it may be a lot of work, we’re doing it because we can do no other. To be disciples of Jesus Christ is to be engaged in the care of God’s creation.”

The church’s efforts to weave environmental thinking and action into all aspects of its life, including its worship, administration and building, was the reason why it was chosen to receive the award, says Donna Lang, Faith & the Common Good’s Toronto animator.

“I’ve been working with the parish for the past three years and have been impressed with the dedication of their Environmental Study Group and their ability to get things done,” says Ms. Lang. “We carefully select the winner every year and this year St. Cuthbert’s has definitely warranted it.”

She was impressed not only with the church’s dedication but its innovation as well. “It was things like the bike racks and LED lights in the parking lot and the community garden,” she says. “It’s really cutting edge to have a faith building producing produce for the neighbourhood.”

Ms. Conolly says there is a practical side to the church’s green initiatives. While there is an up-front cost to upgrades, there are savings as well, she says. Since the church installed the new boilers in 2011, for example, they have not needed repairs. The LED lights could last for decades before they need to be replaced.

“When we look at any project, large or small, we always look at the green angle,” she says. “Is there a way to do this that has a recycling component or how can we try to save energy and costs? That’s how we always try to make decisions.”

Ms. Lang says St. Cuthbert’s is part of a trend among faith groups to invest time and money in going green. “Faith buildings nowadays are spending a lot of money on energy audits and retrofits. I’ve been doing this job for eight years and I’ve noticed that faith buildings are getting a lot more serious about this.”

She says the shift is due to climate change being a regular and visible part of daily life. “We’re seeing that we’re part of it – it’s not just something way out there anymore.”

In addition to its ongoing green initiatives, St. Cuthbert’s is one of four Anglican churches participating in Faith & the Common Good’s three-year Energy Benchmark Program, which tracks gas and electricity consumption, green house gases costs and energy usage intensity. The other Anglican churches taking part are Church of the Redeemer, Bloor Street, Christ Church, Deer Park, and Holy Trinity, Thornhill. For more information on the program, contact Ms. Lang at