Names and Symbols: Promoting Your Identity
Names and symbols are important because they give a sense of identity and serve as reminders of the community's responsibilities for creation.
Naming the parish as a place to care for creation: Give the church an identity as a place where people care about all of life. Here are some possibilities:
- Green Congregation: This is the simplest and most descriptive name. It does not, however, convey the faith-based roots of the identity.
- Creation-Care Congregation. This also is a simple description and, in this case, does bear the faith-based commitment.
- Creation Awareness Center. This is the phrase used formerly by the National Council of Churches for congregations that covenant to model care of the earth. It emphasizes the church building as a place where the people and the buildings/grounds manifest an awareness of all creation and the human responsibility for it.
- Covenant Community. This is a different version that identifies the members of the congregation as people who are committed to all of God's creation. What about naming a new church the “Creation Methodist Church”?
- Earth-Keeping Congregation or Earth-Healing Center. Some congregations already think of themselves as healing centers, and so their identity can be expanded to include not only the healing of persons and communities but also a commitment to the regeneration of nature.
- An Eco-Justice Community. This phrase emphasizes the integral relation between ecology and justice, including the relationship between degradation of the environment and the exploitation of women, minorities, the poor, and third world countries. It identifies the community as a place where concerns for the environment are explicitly and intentionally related to the concern for justice among humans—as a community of advocacy and action.
Green Zone. This is a concept that is less explicitly religious in orientation, but emphasizes the area as a place safe for the environment and therefore also for humans—similar to a drug-free zone as a place safe for children, or a hospital zone as a place dedicated to the healing of persons. A Green Zone is a place where the geographical area of the church, along with the community that gathers there, is a place that is Earth-friendly. The advantage of this concept is that it can easily be applied also to homes and neighborhoods and businesses.
- Other Names. You may come up with biblical images, such as the garden or the tree of life. You may come up with a name that relates to your region or area of the country. Whatever it is, it should be a reminder to the congregation of their commitments and their mission.
Naming the committee is also important. It should be a name that does not alienate some while it draws others. Seek to find a name that anyone can identify with.
- Green Team
- Environmental Concerns Committee
- Eco-Justice Concerns Committee
- Environmental ministry Committee
- Creation Awareness Committee
- Care for Creation Team
If the committee promotes the whole congregation by a certain identity, then the name should perhaps reflect this:
- Committee for Christ Presbyterian Church as Creation Community
- Committee for the parish as a Green Zone
Perhaps you prefer to name a program rather than a committee.
- Care for Creation
- Care of the Earth
- Restoring Creation
- Healing Creation
- Green Congregation Program
If the community is engaged in a local or regional advocacy program, you may want to establish a temporary name for the program during the period in which the advocacy is in effect.
Choosing symbols. It may also be helpful to have one or more symbols of your commitment to the care of the earth. A symbol can be a very meaningful expression of environmental ministry. The symbol could be displayed as a logo or given artistic expression.
- The tree of life
- Earth as seen from space
- Water of life
A public symbol can also give the congregation an identity with the larger surrounding community. Some of these symbols may display actual practices that are prophetic signs of future practices in a sustainable world. Here are some ideas:
- Create a community garden on your property. Make participation available to people in the neighborhood, especially the poor, or give to a local food pantry.
- Create an orchard on the property. Share the produce with needy families.
- Plant many trees and shrubs for the protection of the building from the cold wind in winter and the hot sun in summer.
- Create a small natural sanctuary on the property with trees and shrubs and flowers. It may have a small path with benches. This would be a place for people in the church and the neighborhood to sit quietly and meditate.
- Put up a wind turbine to generate electricity..
- Put up solar panels to power the outside lights.
- Create an eternal light in the sanctuary that is powered by the light from the sun.
- Surround the baptismal font with a garden of life. Perhaps include a waterfall for the font of running water made possible by solar power.
- Put plants in the church building and sanctuary so that worship is always held amidst the praise of all God's creation.
- Where there are wall to ceiling windows and the climate permits, plant the same trees, shrubs, flowers, and other plants inside as there are outside, so that the artificial separation from creation is overcome.
- Use recycled materials to build your church or some outside furnishings or a sculpture for the church yard.
- Your building itself can be a symbol.
The symbols you choose may come from the Bible or from your religious tradition or from the region or from nature itself or from technology or from your imagination!
Display your identity. You may want to display outside or at the entrance or on an inside wall a statement of your commitment in the form of a certificate and the name of your community. The testimonial could be in the form of a framed certificate or a printed announcement/sign or a plaque. Examples:
- First Baptist Church is a Center for Healing Creation
- Community Church is a Green Zone
- Christ Methodist: A Creation Awareness Center
- Commitment to Care for the Earth: St. Luke Episcopal Church
- This is an Eco-Justice Community
- Dedicated to Environmental Ministry
Church Newsletter and Web Site. As a means to keep before the parish a commitment to eco-justice concerns, consider the inclusion of regular reminders of concern for creation in the church newsletter. These can involve facts about the environment, sayings and proverbs about your commitment, reference to local, regional, national or global opportunities for advocacy, some effort that has been made to restore and protect the environment, or some suggestions for incorporating environmental practices in life at work and in the home. If you have developed a name or logo or phrase that captures your care for the earth, perhaps it can become part of the mast for your newsletter. If you have the congregation on an e-mail list-serve, use this means of communication to keep environmental issues before people. Put all the information on your church Web site.
Incorporate care for creation into the mission statement of the congregation. If your congregation has a mission statement, it is important to include your commitment to the environment in it. Including creation care in your documents of purpose serves to keep before you, at the most fundamental level, your ongoing covenant to serve and protect creation as part of your mission. Yearly planning will then be sure to include this vital dimension of religious life. If you do not have a congregational mission statement, perhaps now is the opportunity to adopt one.