Instruments for the healing of the earth: Blessing solar panels at St. James, San Francisco

A crowd of around 35 people gathered in the garden area of St. James, San Francisco, on Sunday, January 18 for the Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus, bishop of California, to bless St. James’ new solar panels at the start of the weekly Eucharist. An electronic tablet was on display in the narthex noting and tracking how much solar energy was being generated by the new system.

American Solar — through a partnership between the Diocese of California and American Solar that was announced in the early fall — installed the panels. Congregations are able to request a free estimate of the savings in energy costs to be realized by each congregation under this program, and the diocese hopes that 100% of congregations will transition to using solar energy. Bishop Andrus said that currently about 20% of congregations in the Diocese of California have incorporated solar into their energy portfolios. 

The benefits to each church are twofold: (1) answering the call to be good stewards of God’s creation by switching the church’s use of electricity away from fossil fuel generated power, and (2) reducing the cost of the church’s monthly energy bills. There may be no initial cost to the church under this program, which is based on the use of a “power purchase agreement,” whereby a third party owns the solar panels, and the church simply purchases the energy produced by the panels from the third party at a price lower than that charged by their local utility company. The American Solar PPA program uses SunPower solar panels which are likely to be in service for 40 or more years. Members and friends of the congregation are entitled to a $500 rebate and American Solar will make an additional $500 contribution to the church for each referral from its congregation. 

In conversation before the service, Bishop Marc noted the growing progression of social justice concerns from race and gender, to LGBTQ inclusion, and continued work for environmental justice — including the use of solar power.

After the panels were blessed, the assembly (which grew steadily) moved into the church for the usually celebrated Eucharist. The theme of light — for Epiphany season and blessing of solar panels — shone through the music with such hymns as “I want to walk as a child of the light” and “This little light of mine.” The Rev. John Kirkley, rector, delivered the sermon. Special music for the day included a setting of words from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Mountaintop” speech in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. St. James parishioner Elizabeth Nelson composed the music.

Please contact Charlie Gregg at American Solar, or 415.868.1111 ext.133, for more details.

Additional photos are available on Facebook (no login required). Solar panel photo courtest Charlie Gregg / American Solar / St. James, San Francisco.