Care for Creation:
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. We are tenants here, not owners. After all, according to the Psalmist, “The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it.”
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. Furthermore, greenhouse gas emissions from passenger vehicles increased by 19% between 1990 and 2003. 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%. 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.” 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.” 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?”
Transportation Month Resources
•introductory PowerPoint presentation
•“On the Way” Bible study
•Form letter to elected representatives
•include members who are homebound in carpools
•set up a rideshare/carpool table at the presentation
•consider a book study*
•set up a bulletin board to post suggestions/facts re: transportation
•publish a public transportation map on the church website
•plan to invest in fuel-efficient church vehicles/machinery (vans, lawnmowers, dishwashers, etc.)
•schedule a celebration at the end of Transportation Month to reflect on the experience and plan future actions (emphasize long-term strategies/practices such as purchasing the most fuel-efficient vehicles, permanently committing to use public transportation, etc., living near where we work and go to church, etc.)
Crawford, J.H. 2000. Carfree Cities. Utrecht, Netherlands: International.
Edwards, Denis. 2006. Ecology at the Heart of Faith. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis.
Gershon, David and Robert Gilman. 1992. Household Ecoteam Workbook: A Six-Month Program to Bring your Household into Environmental Balance. Woodstock, NY: Global Action Plan for the Earth.
Hamilton-Poore, Sam. 2009. Earth Gospel: A Guide to Prayer for God’s Creation. Nashville, TN: Upper Room.
Care for Creation
“On the Way” Bible Study
•Opening Prayer: Gracious God, we have gathered here from many places. Thank you for safe travels. Bless this time together. Amen.
•Introductory discussion: Much of Jesus’ ministry took place on the way from one place to another. Thus, transportation is an important aspect of the Gospel stories.
What might inhibit us from thinking about transportation as an opportunity for living out our faith? (Isolation in cars? Transportation as simply a means of getting from here to there? Competition for road space? Stresses of traffic? “Road rage”? Etc.)
•Reading and discussion: Read Luke 24:13-32 (The Road to Emmaus).
Why do you think the disciples fail to recognize Jesus?
What does it mean to meet Jesus on the way from place to place?
How can we understand the meaning of this story in light of car culture?
•Reading and discussion: Read Luke 10:29-37 (The Good Samaritan). Jesus regularly taught with parables like this one.
Why do you think the priest and the Levite neglected to help the suffering man? (On the way to an important engagement? No time to spare? Social expectations?)
How can we understand the meaning of this story in light of car culture? How might we identify the neighbor given current transportation habits?
•Reflection: What would it take to be faithful on the way from place to place?
How might we reconsider our transportation habits to provide for more opportunities to encounter Christ, to encounter the neighbor?
Do we have nonhuman neighbors? How does our mode of transportation affect how we encounter them?
•Closing Prayer: Gracious God, we thank you for your vast creation, of which we are a part. Hold your creation in mercy and love. Amen.
Care for Creation:
Transportation Month Bulletin Entries
(To be printed/posted at least two weeks prior to the designated month)
(Month) is Transportation Month at (Name of) Church! Our passenger vehicles are responsible for approximately 51% of our household greenhouse gas emissions, contributing a great deal to climate change and ecological degradation. As we strive to care for creation as well as explore new ways to be in community with the human and nonhuman world around us, members are encouraged to walk, bicycle, take public transportation, or carpool to church during Transportation Month. (Name of Spokesperson) will give a presentation on Transportation Month activities at (education hour) next (Sunday), the (date). Please come with questions and ideas!
Welcome to Transportation Month! As we strive to care for creation by making use of alternative forms of transportation this month, hear this good news: Leaving your vehicle at home just two days a week will reduce your greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 1,600 pounds per year!*
This is the second week of Transportation Month. You might be interested to know that one person switching to public transit can reduce daily carbon emissions by 20 pounds, or more than 4,800 pounds in a year. A single commuter switching his or her commute to public transportation can reduce a household’s carbon emissions by 10% and up to 30% if he or she eliminates a second car.* Furthermore, as of January 2010, people who take public transportation can save an average of $9,242 per year by comparison to those who drive.**
This is the third week of Transportation Month. Drivers, keep your cars tuned! Maintaining your car’s engine can improve its gas mileage by 4%, saving you approximately $0.11 per gallon. Also, keeping your tires properly inflated can improve gas mileage by up to 3%, saving you up to approximately $0.08 per gallon.* Riding your bicycle will improve your gas mileage by 100%!
This is the final week of Transportation Month. How have you experienced caring for creation this month? The congregation and friends of the congregation are invited to a celebration of Transportation Month on (Date) at (Place). Please come prepared to share your stories and ideas!
Form Letter to Elected Representatives
The following is intended to be used as a template for letters to be written by members to elected representatives at any level. Ideally, letters should be handwritten and in the words of the writer. Furthermore, letters should address local issues or specific bills, wherever applicable.
Thank you for your service on behalf of the public. This letter is to urge you to promote sustainable transportation policies. According to the EPA, the transportation sector accounts for approximately 1/3 of greenhouse gas emissions and is the fastest-growing major source of greenhouse gases. Furthermore, greenhouse gas emissions from passenger vehicles increased by 19% between 1990 and 2003.
I am deeply concerned that current transportation habits are contributing to climate change and the degradation of the earth. As a member of (Name of) Church, I believe that the earth is God’s creation, and it is the work of humankind to cultivate and care for it.
Thus, I ask that you adequately fund existing public transportation, maintain sidewalks and bicycle paths, and support projects for improved accessibility to public and alternative transportation. Furthermore, I ask that you promote development projects that maximize sustainability and minimize adverse effects on the natural world. Finally, I urge you to endorse policies that promote the production and use of renewable energies.
Thank you again.