Principles and Strategies for Creation Care

  1. Lutherans Restoring Creation

    Strategies and Principles for Creation Care

    There are many strategies that can be pursued in the course of greening a congregation. What follows are some suggestions to consider as you chart the course most relevant for your congregation and most appropriate to your assets and opportunities.

    Keep the larger purpose in mind. Any effort to green the congregation is related to the degradations of the eco-systems of Earth and the human efforts to restore rather than to destroy our Earth habitat. As Christians, we are called to be servants and keepers of God’s whole creation. In your LRC Team meetings, include a brief educational/ devotional component that centers everyone to their larger purposes in meeting.

    You are not alone. Efforts by Lutherans are part of a larger ecclesial movement to incorporate care for creation into the life and mission of the church, including other mainline denominations. There are many religious faiths working for the environment, such as the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, The National Council of Churches Eco-justice Working Group, the National Catholic Conference, the Evangelical Environmental Network, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, and a host of independent religious organizations.

    Double your commitment to human justice. Every ecological problem affects the human community, usually having the greatest impact on the most vulnerable—impoverished people, people of color, two-thirds world countries, the elderly, the disabled, and so on. Every human justice problem is either caused or exacerbated by the degradation of creation. It is sometimes thought that social justice and care for creation undercut each other. The truth is that we desperately need commitment to both causes as one commitment, because the concerns are inextricably intertwined. Therefore, as you articulate your care for creation, double your commitment to human justice as an integral part of caring for creation, because the recognition of the role played by the environment will give you an awareness of the full extent of the human injustice. Engage the voices of the most vulnerable as part of your planning. As you plan eco-justice activities, ask: How does this further the care for all of creation?

    Keep the immediate goal in mind. The primary goal is to transform the life and mission of the congregation so that care for creation is incorporated into every aspect of the congregation. The key here is that the “environment” is not one more issue among others. Rather, as we define it, the care for creation is fundamental to what it means to be human. It is as fundamental as “Love God, love your neighbor, and love creation.” Hence, the approach is to make the care for all creation an integral part of every aspect of the life and mission of the congregation. 

    Seek to act out of gratitude and grace. In response to the ecological state of the world, it is natural for people to be motivated by fear or grief or guilt or outrage. While these emotions are indeed appropriate responses, they are not a solid basis from which to make wise decisions, and they will not sustain one’s efforts in the long run. This is true both for your own sources of life-giving support and for the motivation you seek to engender in others. Be straightforward without being alarmist. Do not become the environmental police. Avoid raging against the powers that be. At the same time, we should not minimize ecological problems, our human part in them, or the urgency of the situation. We should seek to work positively and constructively out of the deep reservoir of God’s grace present in nature itself.

    You are not starting from scratch. There are many different ways to get a started on the process of transforming your congregation into a community that cares for creation. It is likely that there are already a number of people who recycle and reuse. There are probably people who read about environmental issues but have never connected them to their faith or parish community. Some may have a commitment to simple living. There are likely folks deeply passionate about issues of racism, poverty, labor rights, and social justice, folks who probably already see the connection of these issues to ecology. Some may write letters to their governmental representatives about environmental issues. There may or may not be a lot of people willing to jump in and take a leadership role in getting the congregation involved. However, that does not matter, because it only takes a few people to make a lot happen for everyone. Make use of commitments already there.

    Different Levels of Commitment. The key to understanding how this works is that you want to think about different levels of commitment. Do not assume everyone will be involved at the same level. Some people may take leadership roles in initiating programs and ideas. Others may be part of the church governing board to authorize or approve plans and related budget items. Others may be members of committees (such as the property committee) that would carry out a project. Still others may teach children, youth, or adults in one class or another. Virtually everyone may be involved simply by participating in the bulletin recycling program after worship or by turning out lights in the bathroom when they leave. Celebrate the level at which everyone does their part, without expecting everyone to be involved at the same level of commitment.

     

    It Only Takes a Few. So you may need a few people to get the ball rolling. This can be done whether you are a pastor or a lay leader or an interested parishioner. If you are a pastor, you may be in a position to give some impetus or direction to the process of becoming a creation-caring community. If you are a lay person, you may want to ask permission or inform the church council that you are planning to initiate some of these efforts in the parish, or you may wish first to seek out others in the congregation who would be interested in offering some leadership on these issues with you. If you are in a position to get a formal committee or subcommittee established, that is all to the better. You may talk personally with others who may be interested or you may want to put a notice in the bulletin or newsletter inviting anyone interested to a meeting. There may already be a standing committee of social concerns where it is appropriate to initiate eco-justice concerns. It is best to keep the process as open as possible and to let the leadership and the congregation know what is happening and what is being planned. There may be people who object to the presence of this issue in the church; however, it is not necessary to achieve consensus in order for those who wish to go forward to do so.

     

    Small Group. A small group or committee may form in the congregation in an ad hoc way and begin to serve as leaven for the rest of the congregation. The group may carry out projects on their own, propose projects for the church council to approve, and promote ecological concerns through education and other means. The task before you requires only a small group of dedicated and committed people who are willing to grasp a vision for the congregation and to stay at it for the long term. A few individuals or a small group of people can do the planning together and recommend the projects to other groups from year to year. Seek to diversify involvement in terms of gender, ethnicity, age, and occupation. Always have open meetings promoted so that all who wish to participate may do so.

     

    Get Authorized. It is so important to locate the committee in the congregational structure. It may stand on its own, for example, under the aegis of the church council. Or it may serve as a subcommittee of another committee, with a member of the oversight committee serving as a liaison member. It may simply be necessary for the small group of people working to green the congregation to let the pastors and governing board know of their work and to seek their blessing or authorization to proceed. Report regularly to those to whom you are accountable and let your activities be known to the whole community. Share your activities with the whole congregation through announcements, newsletter articles, and bulletin boards.

     

    The strategy of the LRC Team is to green the whole congregation. It is crucial to recognize that the purpose of a committee is not to do all or even most of the “care for creation” activities but to serve as leaven to green the congregation as a whole. The committee functions as a catalyst to lead other committees and employees of the church to incorporate eco-justice concerns into their arena of responsibility. In this way, everyone participates and takes ownership at different levels and in different ways. The committee serves the whole congregation, such that care for creation becomes part of the ethos of entire life and mission of the congregation.

     

    Develop an Action Plan: It is important to have a plan for greening your congregation. Otherwise, the process will be scattered-shot and haphazard. It is also important for the plan to be cast as a wide vision. Otherwise the actions will be quite limited. We recommend the following model to use when making an action plan. It has five areas: Worship, Education, Building and Grounds, Discipleship, and Public Ministry. We encourage you to keep coming back to this action plan regularly so that you keep the larger picture before you and that you keep the process of brainstorming and planning as an ongoing part of your work.

     

    Make it policy: Institutionalize and regularize the actions as quickly as possible. This way, it will not depend on the committee to suggest them anew each year. For example, if you celebrate Earth Week one year, seek to make it a regular part of the worship schedule for every year. If you purchase green cleaning products, make that a standard procedure. Do not reinvent the wheel each year!

     

    Do not try to do it all at once: Do not be overwhelmed by all that there is to do or all that could be done. The idea is to choose projects that are manageable and that have a good chance of coming to fruition. You cannot do all of them at once. So pick and choose. You will find that there are good starter projects. Then, as you reach a threshold of interest and support, other more ambitious projects will be possible. Celebrate what you get done without worrying about what does not get done. You can only do what you can do!

     

    Work cooperatively and realistically. One goal of a green team is to foster eco-justice decisions and events among all activities and offices of the congregation. You may want to promote creation-care worship with the Worship Committee. Or you may want to promote Earth-friendly lawn care with the custodian. Or you may want to develop a relationship with the Education Committee to suggest a creation theme in the next Vacation Church School. Look around to see assets and opportunities. The role of the committee is to suggest, encourage, support, and offer resources—rather than to take over any decision-making or job belonging to another. Again, do not try to do too much at once. Work realistically and cooperatively with people. In a small, close-knit community like a congregation, there is little place for pressure or protest. Invitation, cooperation, influence, and support will go a long way.

     

    Make an Assessment of Opportunities. Find ways to identify the people who are already committed to eco-justice and seek to determine the nature of that commitment. The congregation is a busy place. People are already committed to tasks in the congregation. So, as much as possible, work with the committees already present and active. Encourage people not to add on new tasks but to incorporate care for creation into the tasks they already have. Build a green congregation around the opportunities at hand.

     

    Get everyone involved at some level. Strategize how to get everyone involved in some aspect of the greening of the congregation. Only a few people need to join the committee. Engage people at the level of their involvement, in relation to the things they already care about—some in worship, some in teaching, some in community activism, everyone in recycling and conserving energy, and so on. Try to identify the nature of everyone’s potential involvement and then challenge them in that commitment.

     

    Keep care for creation before the attention of the community. Through worship, educational programs, bible studies, green notes in the bulletins and newsletters, with displays, and so on, let people know the importance of the work of becoming Earth-keepers who care about ecological justice. As the congregation grows, make care for creation part of the training for new members. A brochure may help in this endeavor. If the goal is to shape the ethos of the congregation, then care for creation needs to be part of the atmosphere!

     

    Provide practices and events that are repeated each year. Devise a strategy that keeps the commitment going and keeps the concern before the community. For example, the committee may seek to schedule some key events to be repeated each year, such as:

           An informational presentation in worship at the beginning of each fall

          Worship service in which members make a “covenant with creation.”

          Celebrate the Season of Creation.

          Blessing of the Animals on St. Francis Day (October 2)

          Open committee meetings with an educational component

          Adult forums for the community with guest speakers familiar with your approach

          An event with the youth, with the men’s or the women’s group, or with older members.

          Earth Week worship

          Summer worship service outside.

    Such a structure will give a familiar pattern to the program from year to year and engage committee members in keeping care for creation before the community. Delegate the responsibility for each of these events to the appropriate groups/committees. Plan only those activities that you have resources and energy to carry out.

     

    Seek to be in close relationship with nature. The feelings of closeness to nature are crucial for the commitment to care for creation. Nurture this relationship for the community—whether through greening the santuary with plants or getting a naturalist to show you the area of your congregation or providing retreat opportunities for the council or the congregation. We seek to restore nature by being in solidarity with all creation rather than manipulating it from above. We are called to love creation as God does. We will not save what we do not love.

     

    Develop a description of the tasks of the LRC Team. It might include items such as:

                Work to green every aspect of the life of the congregation

                Prepare an action plan and carry out the plan

                Network and cooperate with the offices and programs of the congregation

                Organize and sponsor meetings, lectures, workshops when feasible

                Promote care for creation among the members in their homes and work

                Identify with the priorities of the most vulnerable in your community

    Update the description each year.

     

    Publicize, publicize, publicize. Community organizers say that in order to promote effectively a movement or an event, you must do so in seven different media. Try e-mail, bulletin blurbs, newsletter articles, posters, personal contact, phone trees, announcements, bulletin boards, and a brochure. Even if fewer people are involved than you hope, the whole community knows what is happening.

     

    Education
    You may wish to have a series of classes in the evening or a series of forums on Sunday morning (perhaps coupled with sermons on our responsibility to creation). There are many resources available for such classes. Here are some ideas:

    • Explore Biblical passages dealing with our human relationship with creation

    • Study the ELCA social statement Caring for Creation

    • Look at the local church resource center or church press catalogues for curriculum

    on caring for creation.
    • Watch an ELCA video available for an educational series: Earthbound.

    • Get speakers from local high schools or colleges who have expertise in

    environmental issues.
    • Get known speakers from local community agencies that deal with eco-justice

    issues.  
    • Do a series of case studies on the environment.

    • Identify other churches in the area that have done environmental ministry and ask

    them to share their experiences.

    The educational process may enable you to find out who has a commitment to do further work with environmental ministry in the congregation. The group may plan a project or suggest further steps. One congregation that held a six-week study on Sunday mornings decided at the last session to do a project retrofitting all the lights in the building!


    Retreat. It may be that you want to invite interested persons for a day or two to a camp or retreat center. The retreat might include:

    • discussion of people's concerns and experiences;

    • time for prayer on what God calls you to do

    • time out of doors for meditation or a nature walk

    • input from an informed person about the environmental state of the world;

    • opportunities to discuss particular local environmental problems;

    • the relationship between environmental and justice issues;

    • study of an eco-justice manual for congregational life;

    • formulation of a plan to continue the process.


    It may be possible for the members of the retreat to commit themselves to a project, then meet again for another retreat in six months to report on the success of the project, and to plan another project; or you might formulate a plan for the next steps to engage the whole congregation.


    Church Council. Plan a retreat for the church council or plan a presentation that would inform the congregation about environmental ministry as an important part of parish life and mission. From there, you may want to form a green team to develop environmental ministry.


    Survey. Do a survey of the congregation or a process of “listening” in order to determine who is interested, who has a commitment, what concerns people have, how they view the environmental state of the nation and the world, what experiences they have had, what expertise they may have, and what projects they would like the congregation to embrace. From the responses, plan an event to share the results of the survey and to set a direction for the group and the congregation.


    Keep a Log. It would be helpful if one person kept a record of what was considered and how it was done and what the outcome was. This record will serve in drawing others into the process who were not there from the beginning. It will also track all that you do so the congregation can begin to build an identity as a community that cares for creation.


    What’s in a name? It is important to name your endeavor or identity. People will respond to a name and remember what your congregation is doing in embracing care for creation. Find a way to announce it and claim it. This is a “Lutherans Restoring Creation (LRC) Congregation.” You may prefer Green Congregation, Eco-Justice Center, Care for Creation Congregation, Healing Center, and so on. Draw on the symbols and ideas from your own congregational and Lutheran tradition. Use the logo on the LRC website (contact the site manager). It might help to call it a “team” (such as LRC Team or a Green Team) or The Eco-justice Working Group or The Creation-Care Initiative) rather than a “committee”—as a means to emphasize the idea that it is not one committee among many but a catalyst for all the committees and programs.


    You will need financial resources. Of course, there are many activities and events that do not cost anything for the committee or the congregation. However, it may be possible to get a line item in the budget. Or the committee could apply for a grant from a local funding agency that offers grants to churches. Your committee may be able to cooperate with other groups or organizations that have funds. Fund raisers are very helpful. Make sure the kind of fund raiser you embrace furthers the environmental efforts, such as selling compact fluorescent light bulbs or fair trade products.


    Submit a report to the LRC Program at www.lutheransrestoringcreation.org. Making a report and keeping it updated will give focus to your efforts. Your achievements will also give publicity and a boost to the efforts. And there will be incentive to develop ongoing plans as means to maintain the identity and success of your efforts.


    Be Evangelical. Prospective members who learn about your environmental activities and the greening of your congregation will often consider this an important factor, perhaps even the decisive factor, in their choice of a church home.


    Be visionary. Instead of thinking about change as incremental in relation to what now exists, imagine the congregation as it might be fifty years from now in an ecological age when every aspect of the life and activities of the culture will be ecologically restorative—a place where the love for all creation and the care for all human and non-human creatures is obvious. Such a vision may lead you to make a leap forward in some areas and to act in prophetic ways to live out our call to be servants and keepers of the Earth.


    Conclusion. These are some ideas and suggestions for your consideration when setting up your program. You will find what works best for you and what the pitfalls are as you go. The helpful thing is that when you have done a certain number of activities, you will attain a threshold of support that will enable you to do things you could not have done before. Make the best use of these moments. Then when you have done further activities, you will attain another level that thrusts you forward even further. Before long, there is a climate in the congregation, a sense of identity, an ethos that empowers you to generate personal and institutional commitments that were not otherwise possible. In all of this, continue to lift up the need for ongoing prayer and an openness to the Spirit’s call to help inform, inspire, and sustain your vision and efforts.


     


     

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