Introduction to Transportation Month

Care for Creation:

Transportation Month

Each Sunday, Christian communities all over the world gather together to receive and celebrate the gift of God’s grace through word and sacrament. Renewed in spirit, we return to the wider world to live out God’s love for all of creation. Over the centuries, this weekly assembly has remained the foundation of Christian worship.

Recently, Christians have begun to recognize a growing need to care for creation. Human activities in the last several centuries have increasingly degraded the earth’s ecosystems through excessive waste, pollution, depletion of natural resources, loss of species, and climate change. Although these problems may seem overwhelming, Christian theology affirms that humankind shares its created-ness with all of God’s good creation, and we must exist in solidarity with the natural world. We exercise dominion not to exploit, but to “till and keep,” or “cultivate and care for” creation.[1] We are tenants here, not owners. After all, according to the Psalmist, “The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it.”[2]

Our attentiveness to the global ecological crisis as well as our understanding of humankind’s special responsibility to care for creation call us to action. The following is a proposal for Christian congregations to rethink how our Sunday worship might emphasize care for creation through alternative means of coming and going. “Transportation Month” serves as an opportunity for Christians in community to explore strategies for reducing our negative impact on the earth as well as developing our relationships with each other and creation. It is an invitation to treat care for creation as a spiritual practice; a central component of our worship lives together.

Transportation and the Earth

The combustion of fossil fuels such as oil releases greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide into the earth’s atmosphere. Passenger vehicles in the United States contribute 1.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere each year, or approximately 6-9 tons of carbon dioxide per vehicle.[3] Furthermore, greenhouse gas emissions from passenger vehicles increased by 19% between 1990 and 2003.[4] The consensus in the scientific community is that dramatic increases in the concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have caused significant change in the earth’s climate in recent human history. This climate change is predicted to have an enormously destructive impact on the survival of species, global supply of water and food, sea levels, weather patterns, social well-being, and political stability. There is a growing concern that we must dramatically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions in a very short period of time in order to preserve the earth’s capacity to sustain its multitude of inhabitants, human and nonhuman.

Rethinking our transportation habits can contribute to this decrease in emissions. Passenger vehicles are responsible for 51% of a typical American household’s carbon dioxide emissions, whereas heating and cooling, for example, are responsible for 18%.[5] Thus, reducing our driving will greatly reduce our emissions.

During Transportation Month, congregation members are urged to take public transportation, bicycle, walk, or carpool to and from church. Also, members are invited to contact their elected representatives to promote renewable energies and sustainable transportation policies. Finally, members are encouraged to consider making permanent changes to their transportation habits, prioritizing care for creation beyond Transportation Month.

Transportation and Christian Community

Traditionally, the Christian gathering rite begins after the congregation has arrived at church on Sunday. According to Evangelical Lutheran Worship, “Gathering acknowledges our oneness in Jesus Christ, who calls us together.”[6] In the sending at the conclusion of worship, “the assembly follows the cross into the world, leading each worshiper to encounter Christ in all the places life leads.”[7] Thus, sending is a call to love God in others throughout the week with the confidence that we will come together again the following Sunday. Sending leads to gathering, creating a cycle of faith renewal based on meaningful relationships both within our congregations and outside of them.

But do our transportation habits provide us with opportunities to encounter Christ? “Car culture” has a way of isolating us in our vehicles, shutting us off from other travelers and the world around us. Roads often become competitive spaces, means of getting motorists from here to there as quickly as possible.

What difference would it make for congregations to reconsider when Sunday worship begins and ends? How would our understanding of worship change if we imagined that the gathering rite begins on our way to church, and the sending concludes after we arrive home? If we walk, bicycle, take public transportation, or carpool, how do these forms of transportation offer opportunities to “encounter Christ in all the places life leads?” Can we, in fact, encounter Christ in strangers on the bus or the sidewalk, birds in the air, or trees by the road?

During Transportation Month, congregation members are encouraged to consider how alternative forms of transportation change our understanding of Sunday worship and community. What does it mean to be faithful “on the way?”