Using a Parish Model
How to Use the Comprehensive Model Presented Here Below in the Action Plan
In embracing care of the earth, it is important to work with a vision of what the parish as a whole might become. Otherwise, you might do one project, such as retrofitting lights or getting rid of Styrofoam, and think you have greened your parish entirely! The whole idea is to change the underlying ethos, to incorporate concern for creation into every aspect of parish life.
These pages represent one possible model. As we have shown, the model has five areas for transformation: (1) worship; (2) education; (3) building & grounds; (4) lifestyle at home and work; and (5) public ministry. The idea is to keep the whole model before you as you address one area or another.
In no way is it possible to address all areas at once or to complete the vision in a brief period. However, unless you have a comprehensive picture before you of what is possible and desirable, the transformation will fail for lack of imagination.
What follows is a brief picture of the model to work with: the five areas, plus some ideas to implement in each area. You may want to jump in and do some dramatic things that will engage everyone immediately in the whole process, or you may want to work more gradually. As you set goals for each year, determine which areas you wish to address. These may be based on needs or opportunities or an expression of the gifts and interests people bring to the task for that year.
An Example of a Model: The Parish as a Green Zone
It is helpful to have a model or a name for your parish as a place to care for the earth. The model we are using here is that of a Green Zone. Having a model fosters creativity in thinking about how to deal with our impact on the environment. It encourages us to think comprehensively about the environment in relation to every area of parish life, so that we may work toward a holistic approach to the environment. This is not an agenda, but a visionary document identifying things you have done or might do in the future.
A Green Zone is a geographical area in which lifestyle and activities promote a healthy environment and where the people are committed to healing creation. Activities in a Green Zone have a fivefold thrust. This model follows the five-fold action plan we advocate throughout this manual.
- Seek Transformation Through Worship:
- Introduce concerns for creation into every area of communal life.
- Incorporate concerns for creation into worship: confession, forgiveness, thanksgiving, intercession, preaching.
- Create rituals for tree plantings, litanies over our despoiling of the environment, petitions for endangered species, blessings of the animals and trees, and so on.
- Make banners and decorate worship with reminders of our life for creation.
- Provide resources for personal devotions that foster creation spirituality.
- Seek Transformation Through Education:
- Teach care of the earth in classes for all ages.
- Provide forums and workshops on the problems of the environment and what we can do: Bring in speakers from local organizations.
- Provide information about local recycling centers and disposal sites.
- Expose attitudes which lead to damage of the environment, and teach theologies and resources which foster healing.
- Introduce people to ethical issues which we will be facing in the struggle over scarce resources, job losses, and environmental damage.
- Help people to love the natural environment, and develop a spirituality rooted in creation.
- Connect people to nature with retreats, nature walks, outings, awareness of nature around the church.
- Inform people about local, national and world issues on the environment.
- Provide symbols which enable people to identify with issues of creation awareness.
- Provide books and periodicals in the library. Promote them in newsletters.
- Make the Geographical Area of the Parish Into a "Zone" Which is Safe for the Environment. Do a comprehensive "environmental inventory" for a) everything which comes into the building, b) the use of everything in the building, and c) everything which goes out of the building.
- Everything that comes in:
- Where feasible, bring fewer resources onto the property and into the building: less energy, less water, less paper.
- Where feasible, purchase recycled stationary, bulletin paper, towels, toilet paper, as well as products which will be safely used and safely disposed.
- Consider, where workable, using no pesticides, prohibiting smoking, using cloth napkins (no paper cups, plates, tablecloths).
- Where feasible, provide as much of your own resources as possible: plant gardens and fruit trees, use water from drainage, plant trees near buildings for shade.
- Consider wind turbines, solar energy, and so on (even when only symbolic of what can be done in the future.)
- The efficient and full use of everything:
- Use products efficiently. When buying new equipment, look for furnaces and appliances which are energy efficient.
- Where appropriate, provide insulation (weather stripping, caulking, storm windows, shutters, thermal curtains, tinted glass, trees).
- Where workable, use less water by means of toilet dams, tap shutoffs, energy saving faucets, the use of drainage water, and limited lawn watering.
- Seek to avoid unnecessary use of paper. Try using office paper completely and efficiently.
- Where possible, use only safe products and use them up.
- Consider providing plants inside which purify the air.
- Everything that goes out:
- Recycle as close to 100% of the waste as possible: paper, bulletins, containers, cans, aluminum, plastic, furniture, appliances, batteries.
- Where possible, take toxic waste to proper disposal sites. Study the waste baskets and garbage cans periodically in order to see where you can recycle better or avoid products which produce such waste.
- Where feasible, compost food, grass clippings, leaves and other organic wastes.
- Promote a Personal Lifestyle Among Members Which Fosters a Healthy Environment.
- Encourage people to treat their houses, businesses, industries, and other public arenas as Green Zones.
- Provide the tools for people to do an "environmental inventory" of their homes and places of work.
- Provide a "covenant" with creation in which people commit themselves to certain actions on behalf of the environment. Pledge and renew the covenant annually at a special worship service.
- Encourage people to consider ecological concerns in diet, transportation, gift-giving, and so on.
- Provide books which list things people can do for the environment and work through the list together.
- Provide interest or support groups to foster change and develop habits.
- Get rid of junk mail.
- Advocate in the Political Sphere. Promote a commitment to action on behalf of the environment in the local, state, national and global arenas.
- Become informed about local, national, and global issues. Make your views known to governmental representatives and corporate officers.
- Seek to be advocates and reconcilers in controversy, pursuing creative and forward-looking solutions.
- Provide support groups for people affected by environmental issues.
- Engage in educational programs in your community. Organize grassroots environmental projects.
- Cooperate with other congregations and with environmental groups.
- Involve groups in the church in action programs in church and community.
- Conduct a letter-writing campaign. Write "letters to the editor."
- Encourage people to join environmental organizations and to participate in local and regional environmental committees.
- Give recognition to people who care for creation in outstanding ways.
How to Use the Comprehensive Model Presented Here in the Parish Pages
The key to a Green Zone is to think comprehensively and creatively. View every external and internal obstacle as an opportunity to learn how you can move toward a new world. Think what a church might be like fifty years from now, a church which is an ideal place to care for the earth. Out of such a vision of possibilities, begin step by step to fulfill the hopes that will make your space a place where all God's creation is loved and celebrated. Insofar as you are able to do that, the kingdom is now.
This then is an example of a model. It needs to be adapted to your situation and filled with possibilities, issues and concerns appropriate to your situation. Always keep in mind that every issue related to the environment has human costs and consequences. That is to say, every issue of the environment is also always an issue of human justice. These ethical matters are extremely complex and may require openness, learning, sacrifice and risk.
The key is to address several areas of this model at once so that it is clear this has to do with the whole life of the parish. Also, it is important to make changes in such a way that they get incorporated into the ongoing life of the congregation beyond the year. Institutionalize changes: establish ongoing recycling, make a policy of using safe cleaning products, regularize educational programs, determine set Sundays each year to celebrate and express concern for nature, found a committee to keep advocacy issues before the community, and so on. Doing something once may help in the short term, but if you seek to transform the community, the changes must have some sense of permanence or continuity to them.
The model helps to keep the larger picture before you. Fill in the areas of the model with your own accomplishments and projects in process and goals to achieve.
Finally, keep in mind the larger goal, namely to generate a lifestyle that sustains life for the next generations. In regard to each action, then, consider the four legs that hold up the stool of sustainability: ecological, economic, communal, and spiritual.
- Does the project and the way it is done sustain the natural environment?
- Does the project and the way it is done sustain the economic support of the people with fair and equitable distribution?
- Does the project and the way it is done sustain the community? That is, can the project be thought of as a way to build and strengthen the community?
- Does the project and the way it is done enhance a loving relationship with the rest of nature? Does it deepen the faith of the participants? Does it encourage them to endure in their commitment to care for Earth?
The issues involved in our transformation to creation-caring communities are matters of life and death. We are choosing to secure the future for our children and grandchildren by acting so as to sustain life, restore nature, and build hope that our environment will support those who come after us. What we do and how we do it are of utmost importance.