Eco-Justice/ Care for Creation Worship
Suggestions and Practices
By David Rhoads
For the Observance of the 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation
We have traditionally celebrated worship by focusing on our human relationship with God and our human relationships with each other. Now we need to fill our worship also with elements of God's relationship in, with, and under all of creation and with our human relationships with the rest of creation. This integration of our love for neighbor and our love for creation leads us to care for the poor and marginalized who are most vulnerable to the injustices of ecological degradation. We need to hear the cries of the poor and the cries of the Earth in distress if we are to have authentic worship acceptable to God.
Here are some suggestions for how to integrate Eco-Justice into your worship services. The goal is to incorporate care for creation worship into every service. When you do only a few of these simple steps on a regular basis, it will, over time, have a powerful impact in the worshiping community.
And as we prepare to observe the anniversary of the Reformation, it will be powerful to model this kind of eco-justice worship on behalf of the whole church. Care for creation is not an add-on to the Christian faith, not just one more issue. Rather, it is be integral to our identify and our mission as gathered Christians in the central event of worship. Worshippers will be more aware of their relationships with God the creator, with their neighbors, and with all of nature.
Step One: Four key moments that give structure to every service.
These can be either formalized statements that you repeat each service or informal statements that you vary or that you change according to the season of the church year.
Invoke the presence of the God of all creation.
Invitation/ call to worship: Invite all creation to worship or invite humans to join the choir of all creation in praise of God.
Remind participants that the Earth is the real sanctuary for their worship.
Name animals and plants on church property with whom you will to worshipping.
Include at least one statement of confession that addresses our degradation and misuse of creation. Confess the detrimental effect that our treatment of nature has had upon the most vulnerable of Earth. If necessary, add a petition to the standard confession you are using for the season. Be specific.
Always include at least one petition on behalf of the natural world (this may be general or it may relate to a recent disaster or be given on behalf of endangered species, or seek mercy and ministry for people at risk from environment). See the prayers prepared for each Sunday of the Revised Common Lectionary at www.letallcreationpraise.org).
Commission people to "Go in peace. Serve the Lord, Remember the poor. Care for creation." Or “Tend the Earth.”
Step Two: Incorporate creation-care into other elements in worship
Introduction to the season:
If there is an introduction to the focus of the season and the Sunday at the beginning of the service, give a brief description of the significance of the season that connects it to creation.
Keep in mind hymns with references to the natural world. Highlight the images in familiar hymns and adopt new hymns to creation.
In the introduction to the lessons, take the opportunity to note references to God the creator and to the presence of the nature in the biblical world and its role in the meaning of the passage. Note the issues of human justice in the context of care for creation.
Often the psalm is a source of celebration of God the creator and all earth community. As you introduce the psalm, note its relevance to the natural world and to eco-justice.
Proclaim the good news to all God's creation. Give examples and challenges that include our relationship with nature. Visit www.letallcreationpraise.org for care for creation commentary on the lesson for each week in the church year.
Make connections for people to the natural elements of grapes, grain, and water bearing the presence of Christ. Place baskets of fresh grapes and grain for people to see the ordinary elements bearing Christ’s presence. Encourage people to touch the water in the baptismal font and make the sign of the cross.
Step Three: Bring nature in the worship space
Living plants and trees in the worship space to serve as partners in worship. If selected carefully, these may also serve to purify the air.
“Let All Creation Praise God” or “Earth is Full of God’s Glory”
Place photographs around the sanctuary or nature scenes by local artists. Point out scenes of nature present on stained glass windows.
Connect inside and outside:
Be aware of the nature outside your walls. Use clear windows to make the connection with life outside the sanctuary. See your whole property and location as an Earth Community such that you establish your kinship with the flora and fauna on your grounds.
Enjoy the plants and animals on your property with whom you are worshipping.
Step Four: Green the practices related to worship
Living flowers or plants on the altar to be kept or planted outside. Plants or trees in the sanctuary with qualities to purify air.
Purchase fair trade palm fronds for Palm Sunday. Consider the origin of the cloth for paraments and wood for the furniture.
Local wine/ grape juice. Practice intinction or have re-usable glasses. Wash communion vessels/ glasses with eco-safe dish-washing detergent. Provide communion bread of whole grain and that is organic and locally grown.
Move toward paperless worship. Limit or eliminate use of paper for bulletins. Re-use where possible for multiple services. Use the same bulletin for an entire season, varying only an insert with announcements. Use post-consumer waste/ recycled paper for bulletins. Place attractive basket near exit from sanctuary for recycling worship materials.
Use outside light where feasible. Replace all incandescent bulbs with CFL or LED bulbs. Use outside air and fans instead of air conditioner where feasible. Safe disposal of batteries from wireless microphones. Use rechargeable batteries.
Beeswax candles rather than (oil-based) paraffin wax candles. Green decorations for holidays. Use a living tree for Christmas and plant it later in the church yard.
If you are engaged in a building project, now is the opportunity to make construction for the future. Seek an architect who knows the Green Building Council and who is committed to renewable energy. The extra cost will pay off.
Gordon Lathrop, Holy Ground: A Liturgical Cosmology (Fortress Press, 2003) Holy Ground illumines how the central symbols and interactions of Christian liturgy yield a new understanding and experience of the world and contribute to a refreshed sense of ecological ethics - a Christian sense of the holiness of the earth itself. Available from Augsburg Fortress.
Paul Santmire, Ritualizing Nature: Renewing Christian Liturgy in a Time of Crisis (Fortress Press, 2008) Is the Christian faith ecologically bankrupt? Theologian H. Paul Santmire has responded forcefully to that frequently voiced question by maintaining that, notwithstanding ambiguities, a single Christian tradition of long standing has something profoundly promising to say about nature and human life in nature. Available from Augsburg Fortress.
Ben Stewart, A Watered Garden: Christian Worship and Earth's Ecology (Fortress Press, 2011) Watered Garden begins with the classic, ecumenically held patterns of Christian worship and explores them for their deep connections to ecological wisdom, for their sacramental approaches to creation, and for a renewed relationship to the earth now itself in need of God's healing. This book is written especially for North Americans: people who live in a specific ecological region, and who play a particular role in the world's ecology. And of course it is written for Christians, especially those who are part of the Lutheran movement. Excellent for worship committees and small group study. Available from Augsburg Fortress.
Norman Habel, David Rhoads, and Paul Santmire, The Season of Creation: A Preacher's Commentary (Fortress Press, 2011). Many churches have sought to respond to the environmental state of the world by instituting a movement to observe a liturgical season of creation. Scholars who have pioneered the connections between biblical scholarship, ecological theology, liturgy, and homiletics provide here a comprehensive resource for preaching and leading worship in this new season. Included are theological and practical introductions to observance of the season, biblical texts for twelve Sundays in the three-year lectionary cycle, and astute commentary to help preachers and worship leaders guide their congregations into deeper connection with our imperiled. Available from Augsburg Fortress.