Whether it is taking on climate change or addressing the lead poisoning of children, environmental justice ministries could not have a higher purpose or calling than they do now. If the followers of Jesus today care about the air we breathe, the water we drink, or the world in which we live, then environmental justice ministry should undoubtedly be an integral strand in any church’s DNA.
Best Practice for Creation Justice Churches
Creation Justice pushes environmentalists like me beyond our aesthetic focus on natural beauty to consider some deeper ethical and moral issues. What basic rights are being affirmed or denied as we live on this planet? Who are the winners and who are the losers in our world? How do we achieve justice and balance not only with our fellow humans, but with all of creation? And underlying it all, how can we make life sustainable on this blue green earth with its limited space and finite resources?
A Creation Justice congregation is a church that is willing to think about these questions and find ways of addressing them.
Become A Creation Justice Church
Read “The Pollinator”, The UCC’s Creation Justice Blog
Starting a Green Team
Often known as green teams or creation justice teams, you can think of such church groups as ripple makers for change. While a team’s efforts may at times seem small, never doubt the ripple effect of what is done. Here are five suggestions for starting your own paddle-wielding team of ripple makers:
Starting a team can be a fun and exciting process of finding kindred spirits. Think of who in your church has a noticeable passion for the environment. Sidle up to them during coffee hour and say, “Hey, I noticed you’re passionate about the environment. Would you want to be a co-conspirator with me in making this church come alive with energy to care for God’s creation? Let’s form a green team.”
Make it about Discernment
When your team of co-conspirators meets for the first time, make your meeting first and foremost about discernment. What is God calling you to do? You may want to use this quote by Frederick Buechner to spur reflection: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Give an opportunity for everyone in the group to share their story of being called to this particular ministry. Why do they have a passion to care for God’s creation?
Make Creation Justice Part of your Church's DNA
A reoccurring problem in many churches is that all of the energy for a particular ministry gets funneled to a small group of people while energy and ownership of the ministry dissipates in the rest of the congregation. Creation justice should be a part of an entire church’s DNA. A green team can instigate change in church practices such as energy conservation, but ultimately the goal is for every committee and ministry to have caught the environmental bug so that they are caring for creation on their own.
Focus on Sending your Ripples Outward
A temptation can be to focus solely on internal church needs such as recycling. While it is wise to begin by tackling “easy wins” close to home, remember that ultimately God calls us to the larger world beyond the walls of the church. Research local and regional environmental injustices. Give attention to socioeconomic factors such as race and class. For example, a number of churches get a good share of their energy from coal plants and often those coal plants disproportionately impact low-income, communities of color. Once you have done your research, discern how you can make a difference.
Every Moses Needs an Aaron, While Every Aaron Needs a Moses
In addressing local and regional issues, discern what organization would be your best partner in making a difference. Consider both faith-based organizations such as Interfaith Power and Light and secular organizations like the Sierra Club or 350.org.
“Green Up” Your Worship and Theology
form a book club
Read the Pope’s encyclical on climate change and inequality. Interfaith Power and Light along with the Catholic Climate Covenant put together a helpful encyclical action kit with lots of good resources.
Prayers and Music
Make regular use of the prayers, hymns, and worship ideas found on websites like Earth Ministry and Let All Creation Praise. If the gifts of creation are so fundamental to each moment of our lives, should not every worship service include some element of focus on creation care?
Add a “Season of Creation” to your church’s liturgical calendar.
Design an annual worship service that relates to your immediate environment. For example, Church of the Savior UCC in Knoxville, TN has a Mountain Sunday to celebrate mountains & address harmful mountaintop removal practices.
Delve into a theological perspective on worship that argues for an overhaul of existing worship practices and brings a biblical challenge to our narrow modern notions of God. Convene a worship team or another appropriate group in your congregation to read and reflect upon an essay by David Rhoads about worship, theology, and creation care.
Tackle Big Subjects
If you are a preacher, bring the ideas of the Pope and scholars like Rhoads into the pulpit. Moreover, don’t be afraid to tackle subjects like environmental racism or climate change. Notably, research tells us that leadership from the pulpit is one of the strongest indicators as to whether people accept climate change and will act for climate solutions.