Green Your Congregation through Worship
Commitment: We seek to worship throughout the year so that we express our gratitude and praise to God the creator and so that we glorify God intentionally together with all creation. In worship, we will celebrate creation, confess our sins against creation, grieve the losses of creation, and commit ourselves to care for the earth.
People: The pastor, the director of music, the organist, the worship committee, leaders of worship, the choir, and the whole worshiping community. It will be helpful to bring everyone on board, seeking guidance and leadership from them and providing resources and training where appropriate.
Goal: To make “care for creation” worship an integral and ongoing part of the policies and practices of congregational worship.
Actions: Here are some ideas to carry out these commitments:
A. Celebrate key worship services throughout the church year with a focus on creation.
1. A Season of Creation: Celebrate a season of the church year, called a Season of Creation. The church year is based on the life of Jesus (Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Easter) and the life of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost). Of course, we celebrate God in every aspect of the church year; and yet there is no season in which we focus on God the creator and the life of the created order. Now there is an optional “Season of Creation” available for use by congregations. There are alternative lessons and suggested liturgies for four Sundays (recommended for the four Sunday in September leading up to World Communion Sunday and Saint Francis Day), including Bible studies, suggested spiritual practices, and “care for creation” actions celebrating various aspects of God’s creation.
For four weeks out of the Season of Pentecost, observe this four-week Season of Creation. For all the relevant materials, go to www.seasonofcreation.com. If you do not celebrate the full four weeks, choose one or two of the liturgies to use in worship at this time or at other times throughout the year. For guidelines, see the section on Season of Creation at www.webofcreation.org.
2. Greening of the Cross: During the Season of Easter or the Season of Lent, have a Greening of the Cross service in which worshipers put greenery on a wooden cross to show how Jesus’ death renews all creation.
3. Holy days: There are other Sundays and saints’ days that can be occasions to focus on care for creation. See the calendar of Holy Days on the Web of Creation site for such times of commemoration in the church year, such as Thanksgiving Day, Rogation Day, and St. Francis Day.
4. Blessing of the Animals: At some point in the year, perhaps around St. Francis Day (October 2), have a Blessing of the Animals service. Some congregations do it with the pets of members of the congregation. Others bring in animals from nearby zoos or police horses or other animals to which they may have access. The Blessing of the Animals is an opportunity to hold the service in an outdoor location (on church property or another public area) and to invite the local community to participate. Consider blessing the human animals as well!
5.Celebrate Creation in All Seasons of the Church Year: There are lectionary lessons and themes throughout the church year when it would be appropriate to devote the entire service around creation themes. As you plan worship for a season, keep this possibility in mind. There are many resources for general services that celebrate creation.
B. Celebrate key worship services to observe national commemoration days.
1. Earth Day/Week: Observe Earth Day in April, along with special worship services or educational programs throughout the week. Many churches hold adult forums, outdoor worship services, habitat restoration projects, and opportunities for members to commit themselves to earth-keeping disciplines in their homes and work places. There are worship materials for each Earth Day at the National Council of Churches website, with educational resources and ideas for action from the Eco-Justice Working Group. You will also find an archive of worship and educational materials from previous years.
2. Thanksgiving: An opportunity to express gratitude for all creation.
C. Celebrate services special to the congregation.
1. Covenant with Creation: Near the beginning of the school year, perhaps in September, offer a worship service in which community members have an opportunity to sign a “Covenant with Creation” to establish their commitment to do their part in the Greening of the Congregation. Have members make their covenant as an offering. Consider offering the covenant within a brief liturgy to be done during a regular worship service.
2. Planting of trees: Some communities regularly enhance their property, sometimes by commemorating the death of a member of the community with a planting and dedication of a tree in their honor.
3. Blessing of Creation-Care Projects: Bless the land where your church is located! Or consider brief rituals of dedication for your community garden, plants in the sanctuary, and the development of a native prairie on the property.
4. Christmas Tree Ceremony. Some congregations have a service of the burning of Christmas trees on Epiphany. Instead, why not have a service of recycling and rebirth as the trees are prepared for composting?
D. Incorporate earth-keeping confessions, intercessory prayers, hymns, and sermons into worship services throughout the year.
1.Worship resources: Many resources for worship are available through diverse websites—liturgies, prayers, hymns, litanies, confessions, intercessions, and so on. See the “Seven Songs of Creation” at seasonofcreation.org.
2. Lectionary Resources: There are care for creation ideas based on the lectionary readings available for each Sunday of the three-year cycle of the church year.
3. Preaching Green : There are two sites that provide care for creation reflections for preaching on the lessons of the three-year lectionary cycle. The first, the Christian Ecology Link, is a multi-denominational organization from the United Kingdom for people concerned about the environment. They have provided Ecological Notes on the Common Worship Lectionary by Keith Innes. The second, the Environmental Stewardship Commission of the Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota (MEESC), has collected environmental and earth-centered reflections, sermons, and commentaries on the lectionary readings. See also the collection of sermons in The Best Preach on Earth: Sermons to care for Creation, edited by Stan LeQuire (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1994).
4. Include hymns that celebrate creation : Keep a separate list of hymns from denominational and ecumenical hymnals that express themes related to care for creation. Then draw upon this list when planning worship. For Lutheran hymnals, see [www.webofcreation.org/Worship/liturgy/hymns.htm]. Other composers have focused on creation care; look for hymns by Ruth Duck, Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, and Norman Habel. Also, Earth Ministry has a detailed list of hymns:
E. Appoint the chapel with appropriate banners, greenery, and art that keeps before the congregation their earth-keeping identity and mission. All of these adornments make excellent gifts from groups in the congregation, as commemoration gifts, and from other donors.
1. Plants: Green the worship space with living plants/trees and provide them elsewhere in the church as a sign that the whole creation is the worshiping community. Where possible, highlight the relationship between inside and outside the church building as a sign that all of Earth is the sanctuary in which we worship. Some plants also purify the air!
2. Bring other life into the church: Consider placing in the church an aquarium, a cage for hamsters, a bird cage, or other appropriate animals, as a way to show that all of life is the worshiping community.
3. Banners: Place banners at the entrance or inside the sanctuary as a reminder of your commitment to creation, such as “Let all Creation Praise God” or “The Whole Earth is full of God’s Glory.”
4. Art: Place artwork in the chapel that celebrates God the creator and creation. Stained glass pieces, for example, may be commissioned with this in mind.
5. Solar-powered light/font: Consider providing an “eternal light” or running water in the baptismal font that is powered by the natural energy of the sun.
F. Green your worship practices :
Here are some ideas to make your worship practices more earth-friendly:
● Use beeswax candles instead of oil-based candles.