Green the Congregation through Education
Commitment: We seek to learn about the biblical, theological, and ecclesial traditions concerning creation, including the biblical mandate from God for us to care for the earth. We will seek also to learn about the present degradations of creation due to human activity, how these degradations are related to human exploitation and oppression, how we as religious people are implicated in these matters, and what we as Christians can do to heal and restore creation for future generations. We will seek to train people to be leaders in the congregation and the community in our cooperative efforts to care for creation.
People: Pastors, lay professionals, director of Christian education, education committee, teachers, vacation church school staff, children, students, youth leader, youth groups, senior groups, adult participants in educational experiences—everyone.
Goal: To incorporate “care for creation” into the educational opportunities of the congregation.
Actions: Here are some actions that may help to carry out these commitments:
A. Learn about many aspects of ecological justice.
Learn about our biblical traditions : Traditions that show God’s love for creation, that mandate humans to serve and keep the earth, and that show the relationship between human injustice and the degradation of nature. There are books available highlighting the Bible’s view of creation. Or, you may want to study a series of biblical passages that talk about the earth/creation.
Biblical and Theological Quotes
Learn about the environmental state of the world : global warming, ozone depletion, deforestation, desertification, loss of species diversity, proliferation of waste, over-population, and so on. There are many books, videos, and articles available for this purpose, such as general treatments of the environment or the annual State of the World put out by the World Watch Institute.
● Plan B, by Lester Brown (ISBN: 0393328317 )
● An Inconvenient Truth, by Al Gore. (ISBN: 9781594865671 )
● Red Sky in the Morning, by James Gustave Speth (ISBN: 0300102321 )
Learn about the dynamics of ecological justice : the relationship between the exploitation of the earth and the most vulnerable—those who are most affected by ecological devastation. Learn about environmental racism, the disproportionate effect of degradation of the environment on people of color. Learn what the ecological problems are in different countries and continents. Ask how your country may contribute to these problems.
● Earth Habitat: Eco-Justice and the Church’s Response, edited by Larry Rasmussen and Dieter Hessel (Fortress, 2001)
● Christian Environmental Ethics: A Case-Study Approach, James Martin-Schramm (Orbis, 2003)
● Confronting Environmental Racism and other books by Robert Bullard.
Learn how you can make a difference: Find out your ecological footprint on the Earth by your lifestyle and your actions and determine specifically what you can do to make a difference.
Study your denominational social statement on the environment: Every congregation should study their denomination’s environmental social statement. Reflect on the statement of the ecological problem, the theological analysis, and what is proposed to address the situation. Most denominations have study guides available for their statements.
Read Your Denomination's Statement
Study the “Earth Charter”: There are study guides available for use with this statement prepared by representatives of many nations seeking to find a common ethic to address the social, ecological, and international crises and conflicts of our time.
Study the "Wilderness Project" materials created for the Web of Creation by Clayton Daughenbaugh to help orient congregations to the problems wilderness areas are facing, and positive actions and responses that can be implemented.
B. Incorporating eco-justice education in the Christian Education program
Offer adult classes: Class could cover an introduction to all the basics: ecology, theology, ethics, biblical resources, green worship, organizational skills, and greening the parish. Make a list of “what every Christian should know about care for creation” and go about incorporating those things into the educational program.
Forums and speaker programs . There may be experts available in your area: community organizers, local farmer, scientist, corporation representative, science and technology, victims and social organizers, theologians and religious activists, people from local groups committed to ecology and religion, naturalists and biologists. Invite a local representative of an environmental organization, such as the Sierra Club. Discuss an article on the environment from a national magazine. People could be encouraged to surf the internet and share their findings.
Care-for-Creation across the parish curriculum: Encourage all teachers to incorporate care for creation into every class. Establish this as part of the teacher training program. The confirmation program should also have a component of creation-care.
Youth programs : Engage youth in care for creation programs. Draw and build upon what children are learning in school. Engage in an environmental service project at the church or in the community. Encourage youth to attend summer camp.
Older adult groups: Plan for programs in the gatherings of older adults relating to the environment or your role as a creation-care congregation. Develop intergenerational eco-projects.
Vacation Church School: There are now materials available to make nature a focus of summer programs for children. Or develop your own. If you have a community garden at your church, caring for the garden can be an integral part of every vacation church school.
Create a book/poetry discussion group: Look for books and novels about the environment that would be of interest to a green church. Share environmental/nature poetry. Consider works by Gary Snyder, Wendell Berry, among others.
Show films or videos: Congregations can arrange for showings of certain films on the environment. There are also many videos available for viewing and discussion by secular and religious groups.
Workshops and Training Sessions: Provide workshops introducing care for creation or training to green congregations. Consider the educational materials for small groups available from the Northwest Earth Institute. Consider a council retreat with training in the environment, along with opportunities to commune with nature. Use each meeting to do a devotional related to the environment.
C. Educational opportunities for many occasions:
Newsletters and bulletins: Make use of parish printed materials to promote creation-care—with articles, relevant scripture quotes, excerpts from books, environmental tips, announcements of events, and reports of environmental actions by the congregation.
Subscribe to Online Educational Resources: A current example is the ELCA's 2008 Lenten reflections, "Living Earth: A 40-Day Reflection On Our Relationship With God's Creation."
Meetings of the Creation Care Committee: These can be open to anyone and include an educational component.
Explain ecological actions and innovations: If you organize a vegetarian potluck, explain its importance. If you change from paper to ceramic at coffee hour, be sure to give the environmental benefits for such a switch.
Library resources: Keep relevant environmental books, periodicals, curricular materials, and videos in the church library offerings. Then promote the offerings in bulletins and newsletters. For a secular periodical that has news, practical articles, and resources, subscribe to “E” magazine. For religious periodicals, the newsletter from Earth Ministry is inspirational.
D. Hands-on experiences (action/reflection):
Retreats: Where appropriate, hold meetings or retreats in a natural setting and use the opportunity to connect with nature. There may be an opportunity for the governing board or a committee or other group to have a spiritual retreat at a site that enables the natural world to be an integral part of the retreat experience. Invite a naturalist to lead you in a nature-focused exploration of the church grounds and the neighborhood or an interesting natural site near you.
Field trip : Arrange to visit a site in your area where nature has been degraded, such as a polluted stream or a brown-field. Meet with someone who is working on a restoration project. Visit an agency that works with eco-justice issues. Ask someone to give you an eco-tour of such sites in your area. Discuss your experiences.
Community project : Join a group to restore a stream or prairie area, or to clean up a vacant lot for use a community garden. Then follow it with a discussion and an opportunity to share your experience with the rest of the congregation.
Sponsorship : Establish a fund to send members to attend an ecological seminar or conference as a source of inspiration and find ways for them to share with congregation what they have learned. Send delegates or representatives to workshops on congregational care for creation or eco-spirituality. Provide scholarships for individuals or families to go to church camps for a week or a weekend which is focused on care for creation. Offer a small grant for people to do a restoration project at home or at work.