Green Congregations Become Centers of Creation Care and Renewal

As more churches include creation care in congregational life, all ages experience hope and joy. They start to see how God has gifted their church with specific callings and resources to protect the earth so that all may flourish.

Daisy Rhau, kids, pastor, general presbyter

As more churches include creation care in congregational life, all ages experience hope and joy. They start to see how God has gifted their church with specific callings and resources to protect the earth so that all may flourish.

“Thinking about environmental concerns like GMO [genetically modified] foods and carpooling used to cause anxiety noise for me. Now, I don’t feel like I have to do everything, but it’s been exciting to learn that I can do something about the world in which we live,” says Daisy Rhau, a Christian education committee member at Hunter Presbyterian Church in Lexington, Kentucky.

Rhau’s sense of hope surged when kids ages 10 and under led Hunter Pres to become first in its presbytery to be certified as an Earth Care Congregation. “Through vacation Bible school, Sunday school and worship practicums, our Christian education committee realized that the children were deeply invested in earth care. They wanted to find ways to be environmental stewards, so we consulted the PCUSA Environmental Ministries website. The children presented the certification idea to our session, researched the building audit with our sexton and completed the 14-page application. Now they’re planning an environmentally-focused worship service that they’ll lead with the whole congregation,” she says.

Earthkeeping congregations around the world form green teams, embed creation care in many ministries and connect with environmental organizations. Many churches also begin advocating for those most affected by climate change, degraded land and dirty air and water.

Green teams promote creation care

The Catholic Coalition on Climate Change recommends prayer as the first step toward discerning how to include creation care in congregational life. Most churches form what’s variously called a green team, stewardship council, environmental task force, earthkeepers or sustainability group, eco-group or creation care team. In many Catholic churches, this team is a subgroup of the social justice committee.

The green team at Wooden Cross Lutheran Church in Woodinville, Washington, began with a vision to make their church “more eco-friendly and to promote the communication of great conservation ideas and actions amongst our members.” Besides the usual recycling, composting, eliminating disposable dinnerware and switching to organic cleaning and lawn care, the Wooden Cross team created monthly green team challenges and newsletter tips. They organized intergenerational dinners, tree planting and Earth Day activities. They also became the first church in the U.S. to install an electric vehicle charging station.

Flagstaff Federated Church in Flagstaff, Arizona, founded its Christians For the Earth group in 1995. Ever since, the group has studied books, sponsored speakers and hosted workshops so they can find faith-based solutions to “the escalating destruction of God’s good creation.” Solutions have ranged from installing bike racks and solar panels, leading “Nature Walks with God” and buying local produce and humanely-produced beef for church events to writing legislators and helping Arizona forest, game and fish officials improve habitats.

Growing up at Flagstaff Federated helped Ariana Schneider see creation care as an essential part of Christian discipleship. So, to earn a Girl Scout Gold Award, she recruited church members, local scouts and businesses to build rain barrels and an extensive composting system for the Head Start program that meets in the church. She also taught composting at the church ice cream social.

Congregational groups and committees consider stewardship

Creation care teams hope and pray that every part of the congregation will answer God’s invitation to join in renewing all things. Mennonite Creation Care Network advises green teams to host meetings of people from every church committee and department, including the office and janitorial staff. Everyone describes their group’s resource and fossil fuel energy use, waste production and next steps for creation care.

Here’s a sampling of creation care practices in North American churches:

  • Worship committees buy organic bread and local wine for communion.
  • Youth groups partner with local nonprofits and businesses to recycle phone books, batteries and old electronics.
  • Small groups study denominational environmental statements and read novels and nonfiction with earthkeeping themes.
  • Sunday school children paint mugs to reduce disposable cup use at church coffee hours.
  • Prayer groups visit local sites of pollution or earth degradation and meet with groups working to restore those places.
  • Outreach committees host sustainability-themed films and community gardens.
  • Kitchen committees offer community cooking and canning classes.
  • Mission task forces send a representative to an ecological workshop or conference to find ideas the church can try.

Thanks to its youth group, Grahamston United Parish Church in Falkirk, Scotland, was certified as one of nearly 300 Eco-Congregations in Scotland. Grahamston youth organized a Car-Sharing Sunday and party to explain why they wanted the congregation to affirm environmental concerns and creation care as part of its life and mission. They worked with the property committee, church magazine and boys and girls clubs. Youth built bird feeders, formed a church garden committee, began an “eco noticeboard,” made signs for every light switch, sold fair trade coffee, tea and sugar, and hosted a Christian Aid fundraiser.

Churches connect with earth ministry networks

As creation care spreads throughout congregational life, churches realize it’s important to cooperate with other congregations, faith traditions and organizations for environmental protection.

For example, St. James Cathedral in Seattle, Washington, is a Greening Congregations member of Earth Ministry, an ecumenical Christian group in Washington. The cathedral hosts an annual ecumenical Taizé prayer service for climate action. St. James partnered with the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition on an educational and prayer boat tour of Seattle’s toxic river, where poor people fish despite warning signs, because they can’t afford to buy fish or buy gas to fish in cleaner water. The cathedral has hosted 20 local environmental, health and governmental organizations at health fairs that show how human health depends on environmental health.

Sandwatch is an organization that recruits youth volunteers from countries in the Caribbean Sea, Indian and Pacific Oceans to monitor beach erosion, plant sand dunes and protect sea turtles. The most active group in Gambia (West Africa) is from St. Joseph’s Senior Secondary School, a Catholic mission school for girls. The St. Joseph Sandwatch group has 150 students and five teachers.

Featured Links

Learn More

Don’t miss this story’s companion piece, “Green Congregations Advocate for People Affected by Environmental Problems” or the conversation with Daisy Rhau on Children, Creation Care and Worship.

Watch three brief videos of Katherine Hayhoe, an evangelical Christian and climate scientist. Her faith and work combine in a biblical desire to act out of love, not fear, for the sake of people most affected by climate change.

Choose Clean Water for All God’s Children or ReNew: the Green VBS for your next vacation Bible school. Use Eco-Justice’s Eco-Curriculum Review to choose from nearly 100 church education resources.

Gather a group to study and discuss denominational creation care statements and resources. Consider one of these books for your fellowship or prayer group:

Help your congregation learn about green living with excellent resources from Catholic Climate Covenant, Eco-Justicia (Spanish language), Hope for Creation (Australia), Mennonite Creation Care Network (U.S. and Canada) and Web of Creation.

In Making Peace with the Land: God’s Call to Reconcile with Creation, Fred Bahnson and Norman Wirzba ask, “What if we created infrastructures of holiness, where God’s kingdom of shalom could flourish, on earth as in heaven?” Read Bahnson’s book excerpt about how one church is doing that in Curitiba, Brazil. This Christianity Today essay cautions against making a certain way of eating a requirement of faithful living.

Start A Discussion

Feel free to print and distribute these stories at your staff, worship, board or church education meeting. These questions will help people think about why and how to include creation care in congregational life.

  • Have you ever talked with youth in your church (or those who’ve grown up in it but left) about connections between creation care and faithful Christian living?
  • Which congregations in your faith tradition or community already have creation care committees? How can you benefit from their experience and wisdom?

How might your congregation become an “infrastructure of holiness,” known for being a place of production, not consumption?

Comments