By Jennifer Colosimo
One person’s trash is another’s treasure… or, so they say.
For Pastor Jorge Zayasbazan and the congregation at San Antonio’s Baptist Temple, their trash has turned out to be the secret to their own greater treasure. In 2010, the church had decided to open up its building for a local charter school. It would help them use their facilities in a better way for their community. But what happens when hundreds of children and adults inhabit the building every day? Trash. A lot of it. And it starts to add up.
The solution was simple: They would start recycling. It could help ease their bottom line, and make them better stewards of the earth. It would be a win-win.
That got Zayasbazan’s wheels turning. He had come to Baptist Temple because of his experience and knowledge with inner city ministry; but he also had a passion for creation care. Together, those gifts made it seem as though God was at work in a bigger way behind his move to Baptist Temple.
“I’m not a fanatic by any means,” Zayasbazan said, crediting the church’s bookkeeper for the idea to start recycling. “My wife and my two youngest children are vegetarians, and so they would say I was not doing enough; but I am a very normal person who just loves the Earth. I love nature and I love the beauty of nature. I believe we’re put here as stewards of the Earth that God created and we’re charged with the task of taking care of it.”
And so, since that time in 2010, the congregation has worked to keep doing their part. The next decade would see various changes in the way the church was leaving its footprint. They partnered with the weekday school, receiving a beautification grant from the city to replace the windows throughout the church which helped save energy (and lives, according to Zayasbazan’s description of the heat in San Antonio), and reduce their energy bill.
“After our third energy audit revealed the same thing about our lights, we decided to take out a loan, cash in on credits and rely on the fact that the savings in our electricity costs would pay for new lights within 3 years,” he said, on the decision to replace old fluorescent bulbs with energy-efficient ones. “We’ve ended up receiving donations to accelerate that. Our congregation doesn’t like debt. So, while the things we’ve done have been financial decisions, we’ve got those decision-makers doing a lot of different things that actually help the environment. I think people secretly like helping the environment and, if enough people can start admitting that, we’ll turn a corner.”
Zayasbazan will be the first to admit that none of this started out as a way to take care of the environment. It was all about how the church could save money and be better stewards of their resources.
“We had this huge building, about 80,000 square feet, that sat empty all week,” he said. “Now, we run the day school; as many as seven churches meet here on Sundays; nonprofit and service organizations use our campus throughout the week. All of that was the beginning of our stewardship, making sure we’re making the best use of our facilities that we possibly can.
“We don’t have money, so we’re driven by the idea that whenever we do something, it has to pay for itself,” Zayasbazan continued. “The environmental friendliness of it is a bonus. We can be an example to the greater community by not spending extra money to be wasteful. It’s also a no-brainer. And any church of any size can do these same things.”
On the list of those things is a push for solar energy. In 2017, they were contacted by a venture capitalist firm who wanted to lease the church’s roof space to install solar panels. Baptist Temple complied, receiving a credit on their own electric bill and, according to Zayasbazan, were able to demonstrate to the world that the church cared about the environment and was helping tip the scale toward solar energy in San Antonio.
“It’s working,” he said. “Churches have called me about it and other businesses have started leasing their roofs. For us, it was a risk-free venture, and we also save about $300-$600 a month.”
Outside the building, is a community garden where members teach people to plant and harvest their own food, with locals hosting cooking classes, putting on demos and sharing recipes to help educate families on how to use the plants they grow in the meals they prepare. Kid-friendly plots teach children about where their food comes from and the value of being able to grow it themselves.
Inside the church, while Zayasbazan often preaches on creation care, it’s the hands-on ministries like these that drive his points home. Included are the client-choice food pantry and thrift store, both operated with the mindset that when clients have the choice and it’s not just a free option, it eliminates what ends up in the landfill. They get what they really need, or know how to use, often including fresh produce from the community garden.
“What we do is a bunch of little tiny things that are possible for any group, big or small,” said Zayasbazan. “It’s the equivalent of not littering. We’re taking the obvious, low hanging fruit. There are some extra things that I want to do that are crazy—like digging up some concrete to plant street trees, and creating a water-saving system for the garden. But that’s not where we started and we’ve already made a difference.
“It comes down to this: If we can do it, you can do it, and if it can be done, you should do it,” he said. “It honors God. We honor God by taking care of God’screation. I’m not doing it because I love the Earth so much; I’m doing this because I love God so much.”