All Creation Waits
Greening the Congregation at Advent
Why We Do This
Advent calls us to prepare for Christ’s return as we remember and celebrate his entrance into the world. This season in particular gives us the space to reflect upon Christ’s redemption and restoration of ALL life, and what our role can be in helping to create a world restored by hope in Christ.
The weeks leading up to Christmas in our culture focus relentlessly on consumption. According to the book “Green Christmas” (see further resources), the United States produces 25% more he waste during the Advent and Christmas season than the rest of the year. While this is a season of joy, we live in a time where we must prayerfully consider how our celebrations impact the rest of our earthly home. We recall that Christ was welcomed in with nothing more than exuberant song and simple cloth.
All Creation Waits is a resource designed for faith communities and congregations to tailor their Advent season and Christmas preparation towards considering the environmental impact of these holidays. Within, you will find ideas for “greening” congregational practices during the Advent and Christmas season, as well as ideas for events, activities, and study that will help foster the participation of the entire community.
This guide has been created through Lutherans Restoring Creation, a grassroots movement promoting care for creation in the full life and mission of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). We heartily welcome any suggestions and ideas that you can further contribute to this movement. We invite you to share your story with us! Contact information is provided under Further Resources.
Blessings on your Advent journey!
Adorning With Less
Preparations for Christmas provide an opportunity to ask what is essential. Do adornments highlight or obscure?
• If candles are used at Christmas Eve services, save candles that have only been slightly burnt.
• Consider asking congregants to bring their own from home, and provide enough candles for visitors.
• Try to use candles made from soy wax or beeswax, as opposed to petroleum-derived paraffin.
• Determine if light strands are necessary
• Make sure lights are on a timer or that someone has been designated to turn them off.
• If new lights are needed, purchase LED bulbs.
• Plant a poinsettia bush in gardening zones 10-12 to avoid buying new plants each year.
• In northern climates, try to buy poinsettias, pine trees, and fresh garlands from environmentally friendly sources, or local growers.
• Evaluate congregational decorations and the practices surrounding them.
• Questions to consider:
• Are new objects bought every year, what can we retain from years past?
• Where can we pare down our spending?
• Do secular symbols dominate the spiritual, in the worship space?
• What must we retain, what can we let go?
• Evaluate if anything needs to be disposed of, and dispose of properly.
• Turn live trees into mulch for church gardens.
• If the congregation has a glut of decorations, donate to a charitable organization, or consider hosting a decoration swap (see below).
• Dial down the thermostat (a blessing if albs are worn at Christmas).
Rethinking how we use the gifts given to us
• Provide opportunities for congregants to participate in “alternative giving”.
• Display information pertaining to organizations such as the ELCA's Good Gifts, or the ecumenical Heifer international. Both of these send materials to people in developing nations, and provide catalogs free online.
• Encourage families to give to others in need on in honor or loved ones as opposed to buying gifts.
• See “Further Resources”
• If your congregation experiences an influx of offerings around the holidays, determine if those can this be allotted for:
• Intentional greening of the congregation; whether this be installing low-flow •Provide funding for other initiatives to be taken up during the year.
• Donating to a local or international organization that promotes environmental stewardship or justice
Activities and Events
Provide opportunities for the congregation to come together to promote environmentally sound holiday practices
If any of your congregants are blessed with crafting skills, inquire if they would be willing to teach their trade to others. Making your own gifts such as natural soaps, candles, jams, blankets, or rugs can be a more environmentally responsible choice by cutting down on transportation of goods and packaging, and by not relying on companies that may not employ sound environmental practices.
Farmer’s market excursion
If there is a year-round market in your area, arrange a group outing just before Christmas to give people an opportunity to incorporate locally grown groceries into their holiday feasts.
While some homes may retain sentimental holiday decorations year after year, many are pressured to buy new decorations every year. To halt this wasteful cycle, plan a fellowship event where people may bring gently used decorative objects to can exchange with others. Invite people to bring a favorite holiday dish to pass and an opportunity to economically and environmentally jazz up their holiday decorating!
Fair Trade Fair
Lutheran World Relief partners with SEERV to provide congregations the opportunity to host vendors from impoverished communities. This can be anything from handcrafted ornaments and gifts to fair trade coffee and chocolate. Their website (under Further Resources) provides a simple, step-by-step registration process.
As a Sunday school activity, have kids bring brown paper bags and decorate them to use as wrapping paper (try carving stamps from potatoes, or using naturally derived dyes and inks).
Sample Bulletin Announcements
Use bulletin space to encourage congregants to adopt environmentally sound practices in their individual Christmas season
As we begin the journey into Advent, we prayerfully await Christ’s entrance into our world. As we wait, so does all creation. This season, we will be considering how Advent is a call to environmental stewardship, and how we as a congregation can work to lessen the environmental impact of our holiday season. Join us for Bible Study (this week we will discuss Isaiah 40 and how we prepare the way of the Lord), and watch for suggestions to “green” your home this Advent Season.
This week, have a conversation with your family about your gift-giving practices this year. Consider drawing names, making your own gifts, giving the gift of time spent together, or giving to a charitable organization in each other’s name. In Bible Study this week, we will explore Luke 12 and the metaphor of the Lilies of the Field as applied to the Advent and Christmas season.
This week, as we adorn our worship space in anticipation of Christmas, take stock of your own decorations. Pare down light displays, and make sure to put any lights on a timer or use LEDs when possible. Re-use what you have from years past, and if you’re looking for an update, come to the Decoration Swap this weekend! In Bible Study this week, we read again from Isaiah and consider how the earth also benefits from God’s covenant with humankind.
This week, as we come to the final days before Christmas, we reflect on how to green our celebrations. Arrange a carpool to Christmas Eve worship (remember to bring your candles that we will light while singing “Silent Night”!). In Bible Study, we reflect on Luke 2:1-14 and the simplicity of the very first Christmas.
Reflect upon the relationship between the Advent season and care for creation with your congregants, using lectionary texts.
Advent One: Prepare the Way of the Lord
• Read verse aloud at least twice, from different voices
• Throughout Isaiah is woven the theme of God’s presence in all historical action. • This chapter was written during a period of exile, of longing to return to Jerusalem.
• Much of the language is echoed in the preaching of John the Baptist.
• How is God contrasted to elements of creation; what is implied by this, or, how does God relate to the created world? (Reading further into chapter 40 may provide some insight)?
• What is your reaction to the proclamation that people wither like the grass?
• What is the response to the lament that people are like grass (v9-10, especially)?
• What do you make of the metaphors describing how to prepare the way of the Lord? Is this anything humans can reasonably accomplish?
• How do we prepare for major events (not just holidays)? Does this chapter seem to approach preparedness?
• Pray together for calm in preparation, for the comfort of God as a shepherd cradles his lambs.
Advent Two: As the Lilies of the Field
• Read verse aloud at least twice, from different voices.
• Often, environmental practices are closely related to simplifying and paring down certain aspects of life. Luke’s Gospel uses metaphors drawn from nature to describe God’s desire that we not worry about material things.
• What are your initial reactions to the passage?
• Does being told not to worry feel liberating, or anxiety inducing?
• Read again verse 30, how will God provide?
• What are some of your main material concerns during the holiday season? How could they cause less anxiety?
• Are there positive environmental benefits to trimming Christmas celebrations?
• Or, will simplifying celebrations in turn be good environmental practices.
• Pray together for rest for anxious souls, for God to provide for those who lack shelter or clothing.
Advent Three: All Creation Praises
• Read verse aloud at least twice, from different voices. Or, sing the psalm once through and then read it again.
• The psalm praises the Lord as king; some connect psalms of this nature to be for New Year festivals, when God was symbolically re-enthroned.
• How are natural elements personified? How do they give praise to God?
• Share any experiences you have of feeling as if creation was in praise. What would be lost if we could not identify with creation’s praise?
• The psalm seems to imply that God rules all creation, not just humanity; do we treat creation as such?
• What are ways that we can give praise to God that also honors God’s good creation?
• Together offer prayers for God’s creation, and for God’s continued blessing upon creation.
Advent Four: From Humblest Beginnings
• Read verse aloud at least twice, from different voices.
• This is the all too familiar story we will read on Christmas Eve from Luke’s Gospel. It shows how Jesus’ entry into the world was marked.
• What is most striking in this passage, or what is an image you haven’t noticed before?
• Which of these actions (from the angels or shepherds) remain in our Christmas celebrations?
• Do the shepherds do anything prior to visiting the child? Should we follow this example?
• What are ways that we can retain the simple and powerful joy of the angels visit in our own time, both in our Christmas worship and at home?
• Together offer prayers of thanksgiving for Christ’s coming into the world
Further reading and websites to help you get started in planning your Advent journey!
www.lutheransrestoringcreation.org. Share your Advent stories with us!
Provides resources and catalogs to help you incorporate alternative gift giving into the life of your congregation.
An ecumenical program similar to Good Gifts that provides livestock and training to communities in need.
Lutheran World Relief; under the “get involved” subheading you will find step by step instructions for hosting a fair trade fair, as well as ways to directly buy from fair trade producers.
Bath products made by members of the Magdalene project, a residential program for women coming from lives of violence, prostitution, or addiction.
For those in Oregon, live potted Christmas trees.
Find recycling centers and programs in your area.
• I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas: Gifts, Decorations, and Recipes that Use Less and Mean More by Anna Getty
• A Greener Christmas by Sheherazade Goldsmith
• Green Christmas: How to Have a Joyous, Eco-Friendly Holiday Season by Jennifer Sander
• A Simple Christmas: A Faith-filled Guide to A Meaningful and Stress-free Christmas by Sharon Hanby Roby
• Hundred Dollar Holiday: A Case for a More Joyful Christmas by Bill McKibben
• A Greener Christmas by Sherherazade Goldsmith