Green the Congregation through Public Witness and Ministry
Policy: We seek to change the systems that foster the degradation of creation and to rectify the injustices that result from it. And we seek to alert our members to environmental legislation that protects creation and to encourage their active participation in the development of public policy. We encourage members to participate in civic activities that foster environmental health. We seek to let our care for creation be known to others.
People: pastors and lay professionals, social ministry committees, directors of publicity, evangelism committees, all members.
Goals: To promote eco-justice and care for creation beyond the walls of the church through hands-on involvement, political advocacy, publicity, conferences, websites, and publications.
Actions: Here are some suggested actions to take to fulfill these commitments:
A. Ecological justice in local, regional, national, and global issues
1. Learn about the ecological issues: Use classes, forums, and newsletters to educate people about ecological justice issues at all levels. Engage speakers, panels, workshops, and readings to promote knowledge of environmental concerns. Seek to expose members to the social justice issues involved in environmental degradation. Do these on a regular basis to keep the concerns before the community. It is very important to understand that our personal and congregation efforts will have minimal impact if we do not also address the systemic issues—policies and laws, economic factors, cultural values, and social behaviors—that promote or severely limit advances that will serve to make our world sustainable for future generations.
2. Learn about the legislative issues and public policies. Familiarize people with environmental legislation and policies at the various levels of government. Teach people the mechanisms and procedures to participate in the governmental process and exercise influence. If your denomination has a public policy office or regional offices, work with them to become educated about the issues. Invite them to give a workshop about strategies to be active citizens in the public process.
3. Learn about ecological justice. The people who are most vulnerable in a society are those most at risk from environmental degradation: the poor, the elderly, the sick, the disabled, among other groups. They are affected most, and they have the least resources to cope. Environmental racism places people of color at risk by decisions made by the dominant cultures that have great impact on the health and quality of life of suppressed groups. In global ecological dynamics, underdeveloped countries are the most vulnerable to environmental destruction. It is critical to understand these issues in order to make wise and ethical decisions in the public realm.
Here are some key resources that explore ecological justice dynamics:
Consider the following books:
- Robert Bullard, Editor. The Quest for Environmental Justice: Human Rights and the Politics of Pollution (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 2005)
- James Martin-Schramm, Climate Justice (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2010)
- James Martin-Schramm, Christian Environmental Ethics: A Case-Study Approach (Orbis, 2003)
B. Legislative and Policy Advocacy
1. Action alerts: Provide a mechanism whereby members can sign up to receive e-mail action alerts regarding environmental and ecological justice issues with a suggested letter and the appropriate legislators to contact. These can also be promoted through the congregation website or newsletter, or by sign-up sheets in the narthex. If your denomination has an political advocacy office in Washington, ask them to send action alerts to your congregations and to those members wishing to receive them.
2. Petitions: Where appropriate, circulate petitions that support legislative actions and policies friendly to the Earth. Provide a letter writing table during coffee hour for people to take the opportunity to urge legislative action.
3. Local actions: There may be local issues that arise in the community or city in which your congregation is located. Members can get hands-on experience with community organizers dedicated to resist an action by the government or a corporation that degrades the environment or that poses a threat to human health and well-being, and at the same time to support those local actions that promote a healthy environment.
4. Eco-friendly Voting: There are many ways in which the congregation can provide information on the environmental records of candidates for public office and about pros and cons of referenda being voted on by the public. The League of Conservation Voters (at the national and local levels) is especially helpful in providing information on eco-justice issues and concerns that may assist members of Green Congregations in their voting decisions.
League of Conservation Voters [www.lcv.org]
C. Promote care for creation in your community/city.
1. Green Congregations Shared Program. Create an ecumenical, interfaith cooperative group of congregations to spread creation care among the faith groups in your community. A group of congregations dedicated to greening can meet regularly to share what each congregation has done, have an educational component, and do joint projects. Together, they can also initiate projects that green the city in which your congregations are located. The Green Congregation Program has developed such a group in Racine, Wisconsin with faith groups representing Methodists, Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, Unitarian Universalists, and Buddhists. To see how this works, check out www.racinegreencongregations.org.
2. Green Your City: You can do projects that enhance the environmental quality of life in your city. You may spearhead efforts for your city to become a Tree City with the Arbor Foundation or a Bird City. More comprehensively, you may initiate or support efforts to green the city as a whole—energy, transportation, land use, green cleaning products, green buildings—perhaps by promoting one of the programs currently available to take these steps, such as The Natural Step or Transitions US. There are lots of resources on the internet to develop a plan for the greening of your city.
3. Publicity: Promote your commitment to care for creation through parish brochures, a section on the congregational website, and articles and reports in the parish newsletter. Put items of interest in the local newspaper. It will help to have a name and identity that generate interest, conversation, and perhaps duplicates your commitment to green your congregation. Put items of interest in the local newspaper.
4. Public events: Hold conferences and sponsor speakers who draw local pastors, members of other congregations, and members of the larger community in which the congregation is located. If you have an annual lecture or renewal or theological conference at your congregation, consider making care for creation the focus. Public workshops might focus on political issues or greening the congregation or making your home Earth-friendly or greening businesses. Hold an eco-fair for the community during earth Month. Partner with other environmental organizations in planning such a workshop.
5. Multiply your impact: Consider partnering with one or more other churches in the process of greening. Or adopt another church as a way to assist them in initiating the greening process.
D. Network and cooperate:
1. Partner with other groups. Locate the environmental organizations in your area, either national ones or local community organizing groups. Network with them, engage them as speakers, cooperate with them to provide hands-on experience for parish members, and arrange to partner with them in sponsoring a speaker or conference.
2. Fair Trade products and Community Supported Agriculture. Purchase fair trade products where they are available such as products that are produced under good ecological conditions, that come with a commitment to give fair wages, and that seek to reduce the role of “middle-men.” Also, as a congregation, manage food needs as church or religious school with “Community Supported Agriculture”—so as to minimize transportation and to support local farmers, especially those growing organic food.
3. Offer support: Let other organizations know what you are doing and ask how you might participate in their mission.
4. Recognize outstanding efforts. Cooperate with other environmental organizations to give public honor to those folks in your community or your congregation who show special commitment and efforts on behalf of the Earth.
E. Green the Investment Portfolio.
1. Invest in the future of Earth community. Urge the endowment committee to invest your congregational endowment and other funds in social justice funds that include environmentally sound corporations and companies that serve the environment as their business. Many mutual funds and agencies now specialize in environmentally oriented investments. See more about ecologically sustainable investing.