Stories of Change

Climate + Faith

Carla Kilgore is committed to being even a small part of the solution for society’s most challenging problems. It’s a dedication that began at home and was nurtured in her church.

At Beacon Heights Church of the Brethren, Kilgore absorbed the denomination’s doctrine of simple living. “Two hundred years ago, that meant living something like the Amish — dressing differently and growing your own food,” she explains. “Over the years, the meaning has changed to being intentional about trying not to use more than your fair share of things, not taking more than you need.

“We all interpret what simple living looks like.”

For some people, Kilgore says, it means staying a few years behind in technology. For others, it means growing more of their food in their own backyards. “Everyone can ask, ‘Are there things I can pass up that actually give me a richer life?’” she says.

For Kilgore and her husband, Craig Smith, simple living started with raising their three children in a home no bigger than what they needed and choosing thrift-store finds over new furnishings and clothing. It evolved into doing what they could to reduce their own contribution to climate change.

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Looking out for our neighbors

Kilgore grew up in Fort Wayne, the elder of two daughters whose parents were active in local social justice issues. She recalls, for example, her father’s participation in efforts to integrate Fort Wayne’s public schools in the 1980s. “We grew up with an emphasis on trying to promote positive outcomes in the community,” she says.

She graduated from Juniata College in Pennsylvania and lived and worked outside of Indiana for about 10 years. When she returned to Fort Wayne, she renewed her involvement in her home congregation and began putting its tenets into action.

The church of her youth encouraged its members to view other people as neighbors, she says. “When you think of everyone as a neighbor, you ask if they need something to eat, if they have a safe and healthy environment to grow up in with safe water and a healthy climate to live in,” she explains. “It’s nice to pray — that’s good — but you have to do something to care for your neighbors, to be about the work of the church.”

A social worker by training, Kilgore works directly with people to effect change. As director of residential and crisis services at YWCA Northeast Indiana, she leads staff and operations at a domestic violence shelter that is often filled beyond its 66-bed capacity.

For Kilgore, that, too, is the work of the church.

Carla's Brethren Volunteer Service orientation in 1996.
Carla's Brethren Volunteer Service orientation in 1996.

Change begins at home

When Beacon Heights partnered with New Community Project, a national nonprofit with a variety of environmental programs, Kilgore and Smith agreed to pilot a full-house energy audit.

They put several of the resulting suggestions into action, including planting a row of fruit trees along their back fence to lower air-conditioning costs in the summer. Unless outdoor temperatures top 90°F, Kilgore keeps the windows open at night and mostly closed during the day, and runs the air conditioner sparingly.

The family harvests tomatoes and other produce from a backyard garden. Kilgore has eaten a vegetarian diet for many years, and her husband and children eat “less meat than most,” she says. She also uses a service that delivers local fruits and vegetables.

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Two years after the audit, the church joined forces with Indiana Power and Light to promote wider interest in energy efficiency. “IPL helped us think through what we could do as a church to make better use of natural resources,” Kilgore explains.

After seeing how replacing fluorescent light bulbs with LEDs and adding grant-funded solar panels reduced the church’s energy consumption and cost, “Craig and I were thinking about our own future,” she says. “Solar panels had a double benefit, reducing coal use and helping us save for retirement.”

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Peer into the garage, and you’ll see her all-electric Nissan Leaf and her husband’s hybrid Chevrolet Volt.

Choices that reflect environmental stewardship come naturally to Kilgore “since I work in a field with a lot of people who are trying to put their concerns into action,” she says. Her husband, however, has taken some good-natured ribbing about his vehicle from his fellow firefighters. “There’s been teasing,” she says. “But when he takes his car to work, they’re intrigued by the mechanical side and also interested in the money-saving side.”

new car

Holistic approach

Kilgore says the combination of her background, faith and profession drives her concern about environmental issues. “I do see it as one and the same. I see it all as having a positive role in the community.”

Smith shared Kilgore’s pride when their son, Josh, a first-year student at Purdue, recently won an essay contest on the biggest problem facing America. “He wrote about climate change — about the progress that has been made but what still needs to be done,” she says.

Kilgore thinks her children’s generation will collectively have greater impact on climate change in the future. “No one person can fix everything,” she acknowledges. “Thousands of people are trying to do their part. We need millions doing their part. It is overwhelming, but you do see signs of hope with more young people having a passion about making changes.

“Sometimes we get dragged kicking and screaming into something that’s good for us,” she adds. “But there are changes to be embraced, and lives can be enriched by living a bit more simply.”