Energy Activities for Faithful Youth

May 1998 (Revised November 2012)
Often, a congregation’s interest in reducing energy costs does not extend to its young members or those in religious schools.  The purpose of this ICE publication is to suggest ways to include the youth in a congregation by providing a variety of ideas for specific activities concerning energy.


Projects                                                               Page

Amish Beliefs                                                          3

What is zoning?                                                       6

Rating electricity used by your congregation           7

Naming and labeling mechanical equipment           8

The view from your roof                                           9

Organizing an energy patrol                                    10

Mapping solar time on the floor                               11

Your custodian as your teacher                               12

Zero energy worship                                                13

Energy use when no one is using the building         14

Polling the adults                                                     16

Ideal design of a future worship center                    17

Where is the air going?                                            18

Keep the ice from melting                                        19

An energy walk                                                         20

Posting the Accounts                                                21

Mime of the turn off                                                  21

Witness the dumpster                                              21

Our best fans                                                           21
Amish Beliefs                                                                 21

Read the following article.  Discussion questions are at the end.

There are more than 16,000 Amish people in Lancaster County.  Their population has doubled its number in 20 years.  The Amish family  includes an average of 6.6 children.  The rules of the church discourage higher education, emphasizing instead on the job training.  They have strong families and communities.  Amish religion prohibits owning automobiles and connecting their buildings to any wires from the local electric company.


The Amish are not against electricity.  One finds electronic typewriters and cash registers in Amish stores.  However, they run on electricity from 12-volt batteries because the Amish refuse to have their homes and businesses connected to an electric utility.  Tanks for propane, compressed air, and fuel oil are evident everywhere, but the electric wires on utility poles bypass each Amish building.

The Amish don’t like what electricity does to their lives.  They don’t want exposure to secular values from the outside.  They prefer a slower, softer, more family-centered lifestyle over the speedy, consumption-oriented lifestyle promoted by the mass media.  Were their buildings connected to the utility grid, modern appliances would be easy to install.  Eliminating the use of off-site electricity eliminates the use of fax machines, compact disks, stereos, VCRs, televisions, radios, hair dryers, electric clothes dryers, toasters, air conditioners and microwave ovens — most modern conveniences.

Amish homes and businesses contain a lot of machinery.  Electric generators, however, may be used to power welding machines and to charge batteries…  nothing else.  Milk is cooled by compressors that are directly powered by fossil fueled engines.  Motors are powered by compressed air or by hydraulics.  Water is pumped by the wind or by the flow of a stream.  The Amish use propane refrigerators and heating systems, along with wood, coal and some passive solar heating.  There are no active solar heating systems for either space heat
or domestic water.  A few photovoltaic panels are used to recharge batteries.

This is not an easy lifestyle.  Using electricity would be more convenient, and less expensive.  Lighting, for example, is frequently supplied by gas mantles glowing with burning propane gas.  A pair of mantles in one lamp produces light roughly equivalent to a 100-watt light bulb.  One tank of gas, costing about $6.50, should light the mantles for about 100 hours at full brightness, giving propane light a value of about $0.65 per kilowatthour — about six times the cost from the utility.


The Amish are not against automobiles, but they refuse to own them.  They will ride on mass transit, rent vans, or ride with outsiders, but they will not own cars.  They feel that car ownership destroys their families and communities. “You would expect the speed and convenience of cars to allow more time for home life,” one Amish man said, “but just the opposite is true.”

It takes about 10 minutes from start to finish to get a horse and carriage ready for the road.  They travel about 10 to 12 miles per hour. Therefore, the Amish are very thoughtful about their travels.  “If we had cars, we would not have to plan ahead as much,” an Amish man said.  “We can’t afford to forget details.  We must combine errands, not travel alone or shop spontaneously.   Our travel is deliberate.”

Some Amish have tried bicycles, but they seemed to lead toward the justification for owning automobiles.  Bicycles are now shunned.  Similarly, tractors may be used around the barn, but not in the fields.  One Amish settlement began using them in the fields, but found, once again, that such use seemed to justify owning cars.

We asked, “What if everyone used a horse and carriage?” An elder Amish replied that horse manure would get too deep too quick.  There would have to be a massive increase in mass transit, which the Amish would like to see.

Electricity, automobiles and values

While modern society is plagued with drugs, divorce, and environmental contamination, Amish society has few of those problems.  Could it be that their limitations on energy use are in part responsible?  The Amish believe that not owning cars and not using off-site electricity limits consumerism and strengthens family and community vitality.  Divorce and drug addiction are symptoms of broken social structures. Electricity and automobiles certainly are major contributors to environmental pollution.

Using energy affects our lives.  It’s difficult for people to explain or quantify the benefits of limiting their consumption of energy.  The Amish cannot easily explain to outsiders the benefits of not having electric meters or cars, and yet they continue, generation after generation, to live happily without them.

Research has been done in at least two universities about the relationship of society to the energy it uses.  Earl Cook was a Professor of Geology and Geography at Texas A&M University.  He was the executive secretary of the National Academy of Sciences from 1963-66.  In Chapter 7 of his book Man, Energy, Society, he discusses the differences among societies based on the amount of energy they use.  Although Professor Cook did not mention the Amish, we see remarkable coincidences in his writing with what we found in Lancaster

    “In a low energy society, family and community are of great
    importance.  Not only are many goods and services produced within
    the family, but also the family is a major instrument of social control.  
    Social efficiency is given strong preference over individual choice….

    “Life in a high energy society is in sharp contrast to life in a low energy
    society.  Family and community are subordinated to the state because
    most goods and services are produced outside the family and because
    the means of social control do not depend upon the family’s and
    community’s allocating status and inculcating behavior.  Services are
    performed by specialists.”

Discussion questions:

How does energy use affect our lives?
How does energy use affect everything around us?

Here are two lists of human activities.  One always requires an expenditure of electricity and/or fuel, and the other list does not.  What do feel about the items in each list?

(end page 5)

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