Publication:Johnson City Press; Date:Mar 13, 2006; Section:Front Page; Page Number:1A


Area church sees trend toward hybrid vehicles

By JOHN THOMPSON Elizabethton Bureau Chief

    ELIZABETHTON — You can tell a lot about a congregation by seeing what kind of cars are parked in the church parking lot on Sunday morning.

    There are usually Cadillacs and Mercedes parked at the big downtown churches. Mini vans and SUVs are common at suburban churches.

    The parking lot of 250-member First Presbyterian Church in Elizabethton usually has as many as nine Toyota Priuses every Sunday.

    Gary and Nancy Barriger were the first to purchase a Prius. They liked it so well they bought another when it came time to trade it in. Richard Brosmore and Rebecca Nunley bought the Barriger’s used Prius. “We kept it in the congregation,” Nunley said.

    Other members of the congregation who are Prius owners include Dwight Cope, Jeanne Kuerschner, Sylvia Lagergren and the latest to buy one of the cars, Romona
and Harrison Taylor.

    “I bought the car for environmental reason, but I am very proud of it now that the gas prices have gone up,” Lagergren said.

    The gasoline and electric motor hybrid car is a popular choice for a congregation whose mission statement says the church will “embody our faith through local ministries and actions that promote environmental sustainability, peace and justice for all people and earth.”

    That portion of the mission statement is at the heart of Pastor John Shuck’s series of sermons for the Lenten season. Shuck has challenged his congregation to examine the industrialized lifestyle, which he said is based on “steadily increasing consumption and economic growth.”

    Shuck said Thomas Berry described the industrialized lifestyle best in his book “The Great Work: Our Way into the Future,” Berry said. “The idea is to take the greatest possible amount of natural resources, process these resources, put them through the consumer economy as quickly as possible, then on to the waste heap.”

    Shuck said that way of life is not sustainable. He believes that endless consumption will break down and a new lifestyle will begin. He predicted that people will walk and bike to work in the future. Public transportation will be the way people move from place to place. He said most of the food will be grown locally. “That is where we are headed. Before we get there, there will be birth pangs. We will resist giving up the old way of life, which is familiar, the only way we have known,” Shuck said.

    He said that resistance is similar to Peter rebuking Jesus after he said he would be killed and rise again after three days. “We must die to the old way in order to be resurrected into the new,” Shuck said.

    The Barrigers said the congregation’’s emphasis on a sustainable environment is not just practiced during Lent. They are the co-moderators of the Peacemaking Committee of the church. The committee is active in local and world wide programs.

    The committee sponsored the church’s adoption of a section of Laurel Fork Creek as part of the annual Carter County Clean Streams program. The committee is also planning a church audit to discover ways in which the church and congregation can become more environmentally efficient.

    On a worldwide effort the church contributed more than $6,000 last year to the Heifer International to provide livestock and sustainable practices to poor people around the world. Other programs include the Ten Thousand Village Crafts Sale to benefit craft people in developing countries all over the world and the Michoacan Reforestation Fund to protect the winter home of the Monarch butterflies in Mexico.

    Nancy Barriger said the environmental beliefs are even apparent when there are no cars in the parking lot. Pointing to the many old trees on the church property, she said, “We don’t even cut down a tree without a committee’s approval, and then we plant a new one.”

First Presbyterian Church, Elizabethton, members with their hybrids