St. Paul’s United Church in Orillia, Ont. turn their church “inside out” for the benefit of the community and the environment.

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A picture of the renovated sanctuary at St. Paul's United Church Orillia.
St. Paul's United Church's renovated sanctuary is now a premier venue allowing for variation in Sunday services and community events.
Credit: St. Paul's United Church Orillia, ON
Published On: February 23, 2021

In 2014, the congregation of St. Paul’s United Church in Orillia, Ont. was looking for a new vision and an opportunity to increase the use of our 150-year-old building. Rev. Ted Reeve joined St. Paul’s United Church that year and, with input from the Rev. Bill Phipps, a vision to “turn ourselves inside out for the benefit of the community” was adopted.

A series of community focus groups were held looking at ways to reach out to the community and increase the use of the building for the community’s benefit. This led to a decision to update the sanctuary and create a “Great Hall” that would be suitable for a variety of performing arts groups, speaker events, and enhanced worship services. The result was a $1.25 million capital campaign that started with replacing the pews with comfortable mobile chairs, creating a large flat, accessible stage, and installing advanced audio-visual equipment.


A man on a step ladder caulks a colourful stained glass window at the church.
Plugging the holes for cost-saving as well as to help save the environment.
Credit: St. Paul's United Church Orillia, ON


As part of our vision of "turning ourselves inside out" for the benefit of the community, we created a “sharing garden.” This urban farming effort created a source of healthy food, providing fresh vegetables for anyone who needed them. The gardens assisted in the formation of the Orillia Community Kitchen which used the product (along with food from the local Sharing Place Food Bank), to support and teach community members experiencing food insecurity on how to prepare healthy food from these sources.

These efforts inspired another church to create a community garden and led the Sharing Place to develop their own kitchen.

A picture of a planter box outside the church, teeming with vibrant greenry.
The sharing garden is a fruitful effort to feed the church and larger community.
Credit: St. Paul's United Church Orillia, ON


As the renovations to the sanctuary were completed from 2017 to 2019, we recognized that we also needed to reduce our carbon footprint and focus on supporting a sustainable environment. In April 2018, 31 solar panels were placed on the south-facing roof. This was funded by donations from congregation members over and above their support of the capital campaign. We are now receiving a regular monthly cheque for the electrical power that is produced.

A group of four men and one women stand on the temporary stairs outside their church building to observe "greening" construction progress. They are wearing pandemic masks.
A group working up high to bring the sanctuary heating costs down low.
Credit: St. Paul's United Church Orillia, ON


Encouraged by this accomplishment, the congregation then raised more than $13,000 in their annual giving campaign to further their "greening" efforts. Subsequently, the waste management system was upgraded throughout the building, improving its collection of recyclables and adding the collection of organics. The caulking of the inside of all of the church windows was also accomplished.

In addition, we had an environmental audit done. Some of its many recommendations were large in nature, therefore St. Paul’s applied and qualified for the maximum grant money available ($30,000) through The United Church of Canada's Faithful Footprints program, managed by Faith & the Common Good. Our greening efforts were recognized to be at the highest level of the How Green is Your Church Program, and we received a $1000 award! These monies were supplemented by a gift from the United Church Women toward the various audit recommendations.

Together these funds went toward the additional greening efforts including:

  • Replacement of three exterior doors
  • Repairing a door and the weather stripping of two doors
  • Installation of 17 new storm windows and replacement of three windows
  • Upgrading four furnace valves and replacing a thermostat
  • Twelve inches of insulation were blown into the attic above the sanctuary
  • LED bulbs were installed in major hallways, some bathrooms, and all “exit” lights     
  • Two refrigerators and one freezer were upgraded
  • Seven dual flush toilets replaced older, high water volume toilets
  • Installation of a hot-water-on-demand system

Many of these projects were accomplished through countless volunteer hours!

To help maintain the above improvements, a Environmental Stewardship ad-hoc committee was created to create policies to preserve these gains. To date, a waste management policy has been written and other policies are being considered.


Three men hold a plaque and cheque their church was awarded for reaching the top green church level.
Credit: St. Paul's United Church Orillia, ON


In addition, the audit suggested some educational programming improvements. As a result, the Eco-Justice Social Action committee was reimagined with an expanded mandate. It increased its membership, broadened its activities, and undertook a few “greening” projects such as creating a “Greening Activity Tip” for the Sunday bulletin, assisting in choosing only compostable cups and plates when necessary, and hosting a recycling lunch-and-learn event. Expanding greening initiatives remains one of the important items focuses on by this committee. 


A group of three people meet to discuss the church's recyclable food wares. The recyclable dishes and cups are on the table before them.
Choosing compostable flatware, when necessary, for placement in the correct waste bin for composting.
Credit: St. Paul's United Church Orillia, ON


The church then linked with the broader community through efforts such as sharing the lunch-and-learn event format with another church, and presenting the overall greening plan as a model of what church communities can do to contribute to the city’s “Sustainable Orillia” program goals. In association with Sustainable Orillia, St. Paul’s made overtures to connect with other local churches through the Association of Orillia and District Churches for the purposes of sharing conservation ideas. 

Pleased with our endeavors to date, St. Paul’s remains committed to still furthering their efforts towards their care for creation.

— Submitted by Doug Daley, Greening Initiatives Lead, and Don Atkinson, Past Chair; St. Paul’s United Church, Orillia, Ont.

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