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. The most comprehensive site for finding books, curricula for all ages, preaching aids, and a list of relevant Bible quotes is Bible and Ecology.
Biblical and Theological Quotes
- The Bible and Ecology: Rediscovering the Community of Creation by Richard Bauckham, explores the relationship of humankind to the whole of creation.
- The Bible and the Environment: Towards a Critical Ecological Biblical Theology by David G. Horrell.
- Biblical Prophets and Contemporary Environmental Ethics by Hilary Marlow.
- Ecology and the Jewish Spirit: Where Nature and the Sacred Meet by Ellen Bernstein.
- The Green Bible: Understanding the Bible’s Powerful Message for the Earth More than 1,000 verses in the Bible address the question of creation care and offer insight as to how humans should think and act as we confront the environmental crisis facing our planet. Essays from church leaders and theologians such as N. T. Wright, Barbara Brown Taylor, Brian McLaren, Matthew Sleeth, Pope John Paul II, and Wendell Berry are included. Passages are marked in green. With a foreword by Desmond Tutu.
- Green Kingdom Come: Jesus and a Sustainable Earth Community by Joe Grabill, who ponders the question, “Would Jesus live sustainably?”
- Greening Paul: Reading the Apostle in a Time of Ecological Crisis by David Horrell, Cherryl Hunt, and Christopher Southgate (Baylor University Press, 2010).
- An Inconvenient Text: Is a Green Reading of the Bible Possible? by Norman Habel.
- God and World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation by Terrence Fretheim.
- The Splendor of Creation by Ellen Bernstein has garnered critical acclaim for its insightful reading of the Book of Genesis and discussion of contemporary environmental issues.
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.
● Climate Justice by James Martin-Schramm (Fortress, 2010)
● 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. It is important to know the approach to creation-care by your own denomination.
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.
Study Guides for Congregational action. There are many new study books available for greening your congregations. They can be studied and an action plan can be developed.
We urge you to consider two new resources for congregations to understand better their role in God’s creation and specific actions they can take to care for Earth.
These resources lend themselves quite well to adult education classes and study groups.
- 50 Ways to Help Save the Earth: How You and Your Church Can Make a Difference is written by Rebecca Barnes-Davies and published by Westminster John Knox Press.
- Green Church: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rejoice is a resource by Rebekah Simon-Peter, published by Abingdon Press. For other eco-resources, check the Abingdon internet site and go to Green Church Abingdon Press.
- Green Christianity: Five Ways to a Sustainable Future is a very helpful and readable book by Mark Wallace. He discusses: Find God Everywhere; Read the Bible with Green Eyes; Enjoy the Flesh; Eat Well (Seek Justice); and Live a Vocation; and Case Studies in Spiritual Ecology. This would make an excellent study group book. [Fortress Press]
- Together with All Creatures: Caring for God’s Living Earth. Another congregational resource is a recent statement by the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod prepared by the LCMS in April 2010. http://www.lcms.org/graphics/assets/media/CTCR/TWAC-SC.pdf
- Web of Creation Resources: 1). This new Training Manual for the Green Congregation Program (2011 Edition), 2). A companion volume Theological Reflections on Your Congregation Caring for Creation provides the basis for each of the areas of action in the Green Congregation Program) and 3). the Environmental Guide for Congregations, Their Buildings and Grounds (see here). (Includes biblical, theological, ecological, and ethical reflections along with specific actions for your congregation to take in the areas of worship, education, office, coffee hour, dinners, energy use, paper and wood products, water use, cleaning products, food choices, transportation, indoor air quality, nature inside and out, recycling and waste).
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.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has these resources available:
- Earthbound. Consider also the excellent DVD video series that provides excellent theological foundations for earth care. Each of six sessions provides about twenty five minutes of video with people talking around a particular theme, which is then illustrated with a case study from some sector of the church, such as colleges, camps, and public policy offices. The video production is professional and the segments move quickly. Produced by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, it is accessible to a wide audience and available through Seraphim Productions. The series is available from Seraphim Communications at http://store.seracomm.com. A trailer of the series is available at the web page for Earthbound on Seraphim’s site.
- Mindful Eating as a Spiritual Discipline. Available on the Web of Creation, this curriculum offers ecological, spiritual, and practical suggestions to engage members in eating in ways that are both healthy and Earth-friendly.
- Theological Reflections on Your Congregation Caring for Creation by David Rhoads is provides the basis for each of the areas of action in the Green Congregation Program. Available for free download in the manual section of the Green Congregation Program at Web of Creation.
- Environmental Guide for Congregations, Their Buildings and Grounds by David Rhoads and David Glover includes biblical, theological, ecological, and ethical reflections supporting actions for your congregation and home. Available for free download in the manual section of the Green Congregation Program at Web of Creation.
- Evocations of Grace: The Writings of Joseph Sittler on Ecology, Theology, and Ethics, edited by Peter Bakken and Stephen Bouma-Prediger. Delightful essays that stretch the mind and lead to excellent conversations.
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.
- Work with the youth to make an inventory of all the plants and animals on the church property, then publicize this as your Earth community with whom you share this living space. Post pictures on a bulletin board or Web site. Promote these living beings as part of your worshiping community.
- Engage the youth in a project to learn about the economic and ecological benefits of energy saving projects. Then teach the rest of the congregation what you have learned and hold a fund-raising drive to sell home energy products to members of the congregations. For information on this program, see Green Energy Agents at www.greenenergyagents.org. For description of such program in local church, go to www.racinegreencongregations.org.
- For more resources and ideas on youth, go to the education for youth section of the site www.bibleandecology.org.
There are many ideas for youth projects related to the environment. Be creative.
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.
See the new vacation Bible School resource called “ReNew” a “Green VBS” from Sparkhouse. See the resources and a blog at www.wearesparkhouse.org.
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 Annie Dillard, Barbara Kingsolver, and Bill McKibben, and poetry by Gary Snyder, Wendell Berry, Mary Oliver, among others. Consider works by naturalists such as John Muir and Aldo Leopold.
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. Many popular films deal with these issues: “An Inconvenient Truth,” “Wally,” “Avatar,” among others.
- Renewal is a must see film about various projects related to the environment carried out by groups in different faith traditions. A new Renewal Documentary keeps the tradition alive. Consult their website for resources to show this film: www.renewalproject.net. Excellent for a one time showing or an adult education series.
Learning/ Support groups: Small groups are one of the best ways to learn about the environment and also change behavior. Consider the educational materials for small groups available from the Northwest Earth Institute (www.nwei.org). They have excellent materials around many topics of ecological living. In addition, a “covenant group” that gives support and accountability for the adoption of Earth-friendly habits and mindsets is the best way to make changes that will endure. Imagine a monthly meeting of friends committed to adopt and practice spiritual disciplines around energy-use, water conservation, a shift to green cleaning products, time with nature, and so on. At each meeting, learn about a practice and adopt it for the month and then return the next month to discuss the struggles and successes your had in making the changes.
Workshops: Hold workshops to introduce people to green their lifestyle. Consider a workshop for greening your home or greening your work place or greening your community.
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. See the checklist on “Promoting your Identity as a Green Congregation.”
Subscribe to Online Educational Resources
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 (www.emagazine.com). For religious periodicals, the newsletter from Earth Ministry is inspirational (go to www.earthministry.org). Here is a list of books to consider:
Recommendation of Books for Church Libraries
- The Green Bible (New Revised Standard Version) (Harper One, 2008). English Bible with passages highlighted in green that are related to nature and earth-care.
- Simple Living, Compassionate Living by Earth Ministry (Morehouse, 1999) Excellent selection of readings and study guide for use by church groups.
- Earth Gospel: A Guide to Prayer for God’s Creation by Sam Hamilton-Poore (Upper Room, 2008). Excellent selection of readings and prayers for four weeks of daily devotions.
- Holy Ground: A Gathering of Voices on Caring for Creation (Sierra Club, 2008) Inspirational selection of religious writings on Earth-care.
- Earth and Word: Classic Sermons on Saving the Planet ed. David Rhoads (Continuum, 2007) Thirty Five outstanding sermons on care for creation by scholars and preachers.
- Love God, Love Earth ed. Sally Bingham (2009) Collection of interfaith reflections by people from various denominations and religions.
- Green Living (published by E-Magazine) a very practical guide for members to engage in earth-friendly living.
- 50 Ways to Help Save the Earth: How You and Your Church Can Make a Difference is written by Rebecca Barnes-Davies and published by Westminster John Knox Press.
- Green Church: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rejoice is a resource by Rebekah Simon-Peter, published by Abingdon Press.
- Green Christianity: Five Ways to a Sustainable Future is a very helpful and readable book by Mark Wallace (Fortress, 2011)
- Green Congregation Training Manual by David Rhoads (Web of Creation) Step by step process and resources for congregations to engage in care for creation.
- Our Father’s World: Mobilizing the Church to Save Civilization by Edward Brown (InterVarsity Press 2008). Challenge to churches from an evangelical to embrace earth-care. 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.
D. Hands-On Experiences:
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, the youth, families, 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. Include silent meditation. Invite a naturalist to lead you in a nature-focused exploration of the church property or the neighborhood or an interesting natural site near you. Include a Bible study that connects faith and nature.
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.