Green Your Congregation through Worship
Commitment: We seek to worship throughout the year so that we express our gratitude and praise to God the creator and so that we glorify God intentionally together with all creation. In worship, we will celebrate creation, confess our sins against creation, grieve the losses of creation, and commit ourselves to care for the earth.
People: The pastor, the director of music, the organist, the worship committee, leaders of worship, the choir, and the whole worshiping community. It will be helpful to bring everyone on board, seeking guidance and leadership from them and providing resources and training where appropriate.
Goal: To make “care for creation” worship an integral and ongoing part of the policies and practices of congregational worship.
Actions: Here are some ideas to carry out these commitments:
A. Incorporate Earth-keeping confessions, intercessory prayers, hymns, and sermons into worship services throughout the year. For further resources, see our Worship Resources section and go to www.letallcreationpraise.org.
1.Worship resources: Many resources for worship are available through diverse websites. Relate every element of the service to include God’s love for and our care for creation: invocation, invitation, hymns, confession, litanies, Scripture, preaching, offering, sacraments, blessings, and closings.
a. Liturgies: There are entire, care-for-creation liturgies to adopt that include care for creation throughout all parts of the service. Ideal for special celebrations.
b. Invocations (of God the creator of all things) and invitations (for all creation to join in praise and worship).
c. Prayers and intercessions: When you pray as a congregation, always include prayers for creation—thanksgivings, confessions, intercessions for endangered species and degraded eco-systems, and for vulnerable human communities so negatively impacted by the changing ecological state of the world. There is an entire set of prayers by Lutheran pastor and theologian Dennis Ormseth available at Web of Creation that relate thematically with each Sunday of the three year common lectionary. Download them and offer them to the worship committee to include each week.
d. Hymns and songs: Keep a list of hymns from denominational and ecumenical hymnals that express themes related to care for creation. Then draw upon this list when planning worship. For Lutheran hymnals, see the congregational section of the site www.lutheransrestoringcreation.org. Also, Earth Ministry has a detailed list [www.earthministry.org]. See the “Seven Songs of Creation” at www.seasonofcreation.com.
e. Litanies and confessions. Litanies are for responsive use. They are helpful means to detail a comprehensive identification of ways in which we humans have impacted Earth and can identify empathically with Earth.
f. Blessings are important in conveying God’s grace to all parts of creation and to our efforts to restore and care for creation. See here.
g. Closing and commission: “Go in peace, serve the lord, remember the poor, care for creation.”
2. Lectionary Resources: These are care for creation ideas based on the lectionary readings available for each Sunday of the three-year cycle of the church year.
3. Preaching Care for Creation: There are three sites that provide care for creation reflections for preaching on all the lessons of the three-year lectionary cycle. Here they are:
a. Lutherans Restoring Creation offers exegesis and theological reflections on the weekly lectionary lessons by Dennis Ormseth, Lutheran Pastor and theologian. Go to the clergy subsection at www.lutheransrestoringcreation.org.
b. The Christian Ecology Link is a multi-denominational organization from the United Kingdom for people concerned about the environment. They have provided Ecological Notes on the Common Worship Lectionary by Keith Innes. [http://www.christian-ecology.org.uk/econotes-index.htm]
c. The Environmental Stewardship Commission of the Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota (MEESC), has collected environmental and earth-centered reflections, sermons, and commentaries on the lectionary readings. [http://www.env-steward.com/lectnry.htm]
d. The Season of Creation. For commentary on the lectionary lessons on the Season of Creation, see The Season of Creation: A Preachers Commentary edited by Norman Habel, David Rhoads, and Paul Santmire (Fortress, 2011). See further resources for preaching on the Season of Creation at www.textweek.com.
e. Sermons on Caring for Creation: There are sermon collections on many sites, including http://www.webofcreation.org/worship/257-sample-sermons. See also the collection of sermons by many preachers, biblical scholars, and theologians of different denominations in Earth and Word: Classic Sermons on Saving the Planet edited by David Rhoads (Continuum, 2007).
B. Celebrate key worship services throughout the church year with a focus on creation.
1. A Season of Creation: Celebrate a season of the church year, called a Season of Creation. The church year is based on the life of Jesus (Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Easter) and the life of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost). Of course, we celebrate God in every aspect of the church year; and yet there is no season in which we focus on God the creator and the life of the created order. Now there is an optional “Season of Creation” available for use by congregations. There are alternative lessons and suggested liturgies for four Sundays (recommended for the four Sunday in September leading up to World Communion Sunday and Saint Francis Day), including Bible studies, suggested spiritual practices, and “care for creation” actions celebrating various aspects of God’s creation.
For four weeks out of the Season of Pentecost, observe this four-week Season of Creation. For all the relevant materials, go to www.seasonofcreation.com. If you do not celebrate the full four weeks, choose one or two of the liturgies for use in worship at this time or at other times throughout the year. For more information and to learn the ways that different countries and churches are celebrating the Season of Creation or Creation Time check the resources at www.letallcreationpraise.org and www.textweek.com.
As mentioned above, for commentary on the lectionary lessons on the Season of Creation, see The Season of Creation: A Preacher’s Commentary edited by Norman Habel, David Rhoads, and Paul Santmire (Fortress, 2011).
2. Greening of the Cross: During the Season of Easter or the Season of Lent, have a Greening of the Cross service in which worshipers put greenery on a wooden cross to show how Jesus’ death renews all creation.
3. Holy days: There are other Sundays and saints’ days that can be occasions to focus on care for creation. See the calendar of Holy Days on the Web of Creation site for such times of commemoration in the church year, such as Thanksgiving Day, Rogation Day, and St. Francis Day.
4. Blessing of the Animals: At some point in the year, perhaps around St. Francis Day (October 2), have a Blessing of the Animals service. Some congregations do it with the pets of members of the congregation. Others bring in animals from nearby zoos or police horses or other animals to which they may have access. The Blessing of the Animals is an opportunity to hold the service in an outdoor location (on church property or another public area) and to invite the local community to participate. Consider blessing the human animals as well!
Blessing of the Animals
5. Celebrate Creation in All Seasons of the Church Year: All the seasons lend themselves to care for creation, because God the creator, Christ the redeemer of creation, and the Holy Spirit, the sustainer, is celebrated throughout the year.There are lectionary lessons and themes throughout the church year when it would be appropriate to devote the entire service around creation themes. As you plan worship for a season, keep this possibility in mind. There are many resources for general services that celebrate creation. See Ben Stewart, A Watered Garden: Christian Worship and Earth’s Ecology (Fortress, 2011) and Jennifer Phillips, Preaching Creation throughout the Church Year (Cowley, 2000).
C. Celebrate key worship services to observe national commemoration days.
1. Earth Day/Week: Observe Earth Day in April, along with special worship services or educational programs throughout the week. Many churches hold adult forums, outdoor worship services, habitat restoration projects, and opportunities for members to commit themselves to earth-keeping disciplines in their homes and work places. There are worship materials for each Earth Day at the National Council of Churches website, with educational resources and ideas for action from the Eco-Justice Working Group. You will also find an archive of worship and educational materials from previous years.
2. Thanksgiving: An opportunity to express gratitude for all creation.
D. Celebrate services special to the congregation.
1. Covenant with Creation: Near the beginning of the school year, perhaps in September, offer a worship service in which community members have an opportunity to sign a “Covenant with Creation” to establish their commitment to do their part in the Greening of the Congregation. Have members make their covenant as an offering. Consider offering the covenant within a brief liturgy to be done during a regular worship service.
2. Planting of trees: Some communities regularly enhance their property, sometimes by commemorating the death of a member of the community with a planting and dedication of a tree in their honor.
Tree Planting Service
3. Blessing of Creation-Care Projects: Bless the land where your church is located! Or consider brief rituals of dedication for your community garden, plants in the sanctuary, and the development of a native prairie on the property.
4. Christmas Tree Ceremony. Some congregations have a service of the burning of Christmas trees on Epiphany. Instead, why not have a service of recycling and rebirth as the trees are prepared for composting? Or place a living Christmas tree in the church and then plant it on church property in the spring.
E. Greening of Occasional Services. Do not forget to express care for creation in the occasional services of the church.
1. Baptism and confirmation: There are wonderful opportunities to connect the water of baptism to our gratitude for creation and for the “new creation” in Christ. Furthermore, caring for creation is a value we wish to engender in the baptized and their guardians. Adult baptism and confirmation can include instruction about our biblical vocation to serve and preserve the Earth.
2. Weddings: In the preparation, service, and reception, the congregation can model care for creation as a way to foster values in the couple being married and for those attending.
3. Funerals. There is an active movement now for green burial practices so that the use of resources and the means of burial provide the greatest care for creation. See more at www.greenburialcouncil.org.
F. Appoint the chapel with appropriate banners, greenery, and art that keeps before the congregation their earth-keeping identity and mission. All of these adornments make excellent gifts from groups in the congregation, as commemoration gifts, and from other donors.
1. Plants: Green the worship space with living plants/trees and provide them elsewhere in the church as a sign that the whole creation is the worshiping community. Where possible, highlight the relationship between inside and outside the church building as a sign that all of Earth is the sanctuary in which we worship. Some plants also purify the air!
2. Bring other life into the church: Consider placing in the church an aquarium, a cage for hamsters, a bird cage, or other appropriate animals, as a way to show that all of life is the worshiping community.
3. Banners: Place banners at the entrance or inside the sanctuary as a reminder of your commitment to creation, such as “Let all Creation Praise God” or “The Whole Earth is full of God’s Glory.”
4. Art: Place artwork in the chapel that celebrates God the creator and creation. Stained glass pieces, for example, may be commissioned with this in mind.
5. Solar-powered light/font: Consider providing an “eternal light” or running water in the baptismal font that is powered by the natural energy of the sun.
G. Worship with Creation. Intentionally carry out practices that show you are worshiping with all creation. Name the plants and animals with which you share you property, your “Earth Community,” as your partners in worship.
a. Invitation: Invite them to join you, or invite yourselves to join with them as you worship.
b. Prayers: Include them in your prayers of thanksgiving and intercession.
c. Blessings: Blessing them as you are blessed upon leaving worship.
H. Green your worship practices :
Here are some ideas to make your worship practices more earth-friendly:
● Use beeswax candles instead of oil-based candles.
● Place plants on the altar instead of cut flowers; send them home for planting.
● Use local wine that does not require transportation from a distance.
● Provide organic, whole grain communion bread.
● Use recycled paper for printed materials.
● Purchase furniture with certified wood and non-toxic fabric.
● Reduce/reuse/recycle or eliminate bulletins.
● Place basket to recycle printed materials at the exits.
● Practice intinction or provide reusable glasses (not plastic) for communion.
● Wash worship utensils/communion vessels in eco-safe dish-washing detergent.
● Purchase fair trade palms for Palm Sunday.
● Consider the origin of material used to make paraments.
● Use a live tree(s) for Christmas, then plant it in the church yard.
I. Brief Devotional Worship: Be thoughtful and reflective about including care for creation in prayers, readings, and devotional reflections for church meetings, meals, and special events. Consider the following resources that have collected all kinds of prayers, blessings, hymns, quotation, and Scriptures:
- Earth Gospel: A Guide to Prayer for God’s Creation by Sam Hamilton-Poore (Upper Room, 2008)
- Earth Prayers from Around the World, edited by Elizabeth Roberts (HarperSanFrancisco, 1991);
- Earth and All the Stars edited by Anne Hawthorn (Wipf and Stock, 2008).
Learn about the theology of worship and the theology of the liturgy so that you have a deep sense of what is happening when you incorporate care for creation into worship.
1. Theology of worship. Read and study together several resources that explicate a theology of worship and ecology.
- Gordon Lathrop. Holy Ground: A Liturgical Cosmology (Fortress, 2003)
- Paul Santmire. Ritualizing Nature: Renewing Christian Liturgy in a Time of Crisis (Fortress, 2008)
- Ben Stewart. A Watered Garden: Christian Worship and Earth’s Ecology (Fortress, 2011).
- See the chapter “A Theology of Liturgy on a New Key: Worshiping with Creation,” in The Season of Creation: A Preacher’s Commentary, edited by Norman Habel, David Rhoads, and Paul Santmire.
2. Educate during worship: Use worship as an opportunity to explain what is happening in worship and why the liturgy may be done in a new way to incorporate care for creation in the entire worship experience.