by Lisa Vernon Sparks, Daily Press (Source)
For more than a half a century parishioners at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Hampton have tapped into the power of God.
This weekend, the parish will begin harnessing the power of the sun.
The church on Saturday will dedicate a new 147 kilowatt solar panel energy system, officials said.
The energy system is comprised of 440 solar panels. Each panel is mounted with a weight on the 50-year-old flat roof, enabling the panels to withstand 150 mph winds.
Rev. John Grace, the senior pastor, sees the project as doing what’s right to save the environment, while being aligned with the church’s overall mission to help mankind.
“The dedication ceremony is to gather everyone to set up a moral act of caring for God’s creation,” Grace said. “Taking care of God’s creation is an act of gratitude. It’s our commitment to doing our best for creation … and truly serve in a holistic way.”
Immaculate Conception is the first parish in the Diocese of Richmond’s 33,000 square mile region to initiate this conversion and use solar energy, diocesan spokeswoman Deborah Cox said in an email.
In 2015, Pope Francis wrote a papal document addressed to all clergy and lay believers, encouraging everyone to open a dialogue on caring for the earth and all its creatures, she added.
Over the past eight months, the church has embraced the call to action and has partnered with the Catholic Climate Covenant, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit.
The group’s mission is to assist parishes with climate change issues using Catholic social teaching on ecology and the environment, according to its website. In 2006, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops helped form the nonprofit.
The nonprofit connected Immaculate Conception with investors interested in this type of project. The solar panel project roughly cost $350,000, Grace said. The church, which has a sanctuary, a community space and classrooms, is home to 700 parishioner families.
Late May, crews from Convert Solar, based in Virginia Beach, worked to complete panel installation, adding finishing touches.
The solar panels will help lower greenhouse emissions, reduce the carbon footprint and free the church from its reliance on fossil fuels, Grace said.
“We are starting in summertime. We will build up that bank of solar energy,” Grace said.
The Hampton church also is doing other sustainable models to help with “God’s creation,” including serving and selling fair trade coffee and products, using fewer paper goods and more reusable items, says Vy Barto, a church volunteer.
The dedication ceremony begins at 11 a.m. Saturday at 2150 Cunningham Drive. Additional information is available at icchampton.org.