When parishioners at Pilgrim Congregational Church stand gazing at the light from above, they’re not necessarily communing with the divine. They’re wondering how energy-efficient the lightbulbs are.

Actually, perhaps they’re doing both.

Pilgrim is one of three faith communities that helped pilot a new congregational initiative with Ecolibrium3. Their involvement began when one church member, Bret, scheduled an energy audit for his house through Ecolibrium3’s Duluth Energy Efficiency Program (DEEP). He wanted to make sure it was as green, comfortable, and cost-effective as possible. The improvements he and his family were making to their home prompted them to look around at the church building. He asked if there was a version of DEEP available for organizations, not just households. It was meant to be: the pilot program was in its early stages, and Pilgrim got on board.

By scheduling energy audits for their own houses, members at Pilgrim Church could work with Ecolibrium3, Minnesota Power, and Comfort Systems to get an audit done for their congregational building. The more parishioners had their houses inspected—and the more improvements they all made—the more excitement mounted.

At a certain point, the system created its own momentum—“raising awareness of how the church building uses energy,” as Bret says. This awareness alone was enough to make changes in the way things work at Pilgrim; the congregation saved around 6,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2012, in large part because parishioners were making simple behavioral changes. They were so enthusiastic about turning off lights, for instance, that Bret came in more than once to find groups sitting in dim light “to save energy.” They were astonished and delighted to find out that they could turn on the new LED lights and still use less energy than they did with the old incandescents.

The congregation had some repairs to do, and thanks to the audit, they became aware of energy-efficient options that were good for the earth and for the budget. For one thing, the church’s magnificent organ got a new humidifier. Organs require very particular moisture levels to function, and Pilgrim’s water bills had been enormous. The new humidifier system is able to focus on only the area needed to keep the organ happy without having to cover the entire building…and the water bills are down by a whopping $1,000 a year.

That was a job for the professionals. Pilgrim also had a band of enthusiastic volunteers from the congregation who switched out 320 lights around the church for energy-efficient LED bulbs, installed faucet aerators to save water in kitchens and bathrooms, and even held weatherization parties to make sure windows were caulked and ready for what turned out to be the changing climate’s latest surprise: the brutal winter of 2013-14. “It’s not a one-step deal,” says Bret. “It’s a process.” Pilgrim’s members are still going around the building looking for improvements they can make that will help them become even more energy efficient.

Why are they doing all this? There are two reasons, in the end. While they’d prefer to concentrate on higher things, the church had to deal with their budget. Saving energy turned out to be a great investment—one that the council eventually realized would be even more effective than their endowment fund. It wasn’t merely about the bottom line, though;  Pilgrim’s members saw participating in DEEP as a way to put their faith into action. “We believe that we are stewards of the earth,” Bret says simply.

As the people of Pilgrim Church have found out, water and light are more than powerful symbols of their faith: they are precious resources. Being good stewards and using them efficiently means building a better future for their congregation and the planet. “We hope we can give back as well,” says Bret. “We feel really blessed to have been part of this project.”