Lutherans Restoring Creation (“LRC”) has arisen out of a long Lutheran tradition of reflection and action on addressing environmental concerns from the perspective of our faith and theology. LRC began with the efforts of a small, dedicated network that has existed in one form or another, since 1997, “Lutheran Earthkeeping Network of the Synods” or “LENS.”
The History of LENS
LENS has functioned as a network of people affiliated with congregational, synod-level, regional, and churchwide units within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America devoted to the task of caring for God’s creation. [Additional material on LENS is archived here.]
Its mission has been to foster the development of an earthkeeping network of synods across the ELCA and to share information and resources—events, ideas, activities, and programs—in support of earthkeeping efforts.
From May 15-18, 1997, more than 250 delegates from a variety of Orthodox and Protestant traditions, as well as some other visitors, attended the Eco-Justice Working Group Summit in Estes Park, Colorado. Meeting at the scenic, rustic YMCA of the Rockies, they exchanged ideas, shared experiences, and worshiped together in their common mission of honoring God’s creation.
Among those delegates were two dozen members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. As the conference allowed one hour each day for denominational gatherings, some people discussed in advance the need to use the ELCA’s denominational gatherings to build a network among synodical environmental committees. Such a grassroots network had never before existed, but Region 5, which consists of Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, had had experience with organizing a regional training retreat and maintaining some communication among synodical efforts concerning environmental stewardship. Jim Schwab, the chair of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod’s Environmental Concerns Working Group, conferred with various people, including Dr. Job Ebenezer, who was the ELCA’s Director of Environmental Stewardship at this time, about the possibilities inherent in planning such a nationwide network.
When the delegates met, everyone was almost immediately in agreement on the necessity of charting such an effort before they left Estes Park. In four hours of meetings over four days, they developed a mission statement and mapped out ideas for future action. To see delegates who attended the founding LENS meetings are listed here.
At the NCC Eco-Justice conference in Washington DC in 2001, a group of earthkeepers from the ELCA again met in caucus to plan and vision their work. They met about filling the position left by Job Ebenezer at churchwide, in addition to naming four primary goals for LENS:
- needs structural support from the institutional church;
- should be predominantly an educational and liaison role, separate from public policy advocacy;
- should be a coordinator/resources person to relate and provide Lutheran perspective and educational resources to Lutheran youth, synod offices, synod environmental committees, Lutheran colleges and campus ministries, and other organizations (e.g., National Council of Churches, environmental groups);
- should be supported with an advisory committee of volunteers from across the country, who could provide support, advice, and a buffer for that individual.
In addition, the group began to organize the website and listserv, organized ways to connect with other Lutheran justice organizations and began working to change ecological practices in the ELCA. For more information, full notes from the 2001 Washington, DC meeting are listed here.
The Caring for Creation Now Consultation was held in Mundelein, Illinois on November 5-7, 2003. Sixty persons representing various synods, congregations and interests within the ELCA attended the consultation. Eleven Churchwide staff members also were present.
The consultation began by affirming the Social Statement, yet seeking ways to make it more effective in creating change. During the consultation, passion quickly turned to participatory action. Citing the need for more resources, a Caring for Creation liturgy was developed and work begun on a sample synod resolution making environmental concerns a priority issue of the ELCA. Workgroups were formed. Information sharing among a growing network will be accomplished through the Lutheran Earthkeeping Network of the Synods (LENS) listserv and web page hosted on the Web of Creation website as well as through ELCA Division for Church in Society and Lutheran Office for Governmental Affairs web and print communications.
Notes the Consultation on the Tenth Anniversary of the Caring for Creation Statement held November 5-7, 2003 in Mundelein, Illinois are here: Statement of the Consultation “Caring for Creation…for the Healing of the World.”Report from the Consultation and Agenda for Caring for Creation Churchwide Consultation
In January 2005, a small of group of LENS members gathered together for a organizational meeting in Mundelein, Illinois. At this conference, much strategizing as well as planning for the Fall gathering took place.
In October of 2005, a group of earthkeepers from throughout the ELCA gathered together in Minneapolis, Minnesota, hoping to and achieving five primary goals. In our time together we:
- convened over 20 ELCA earthkeeping leaders
- set foundations for a network of effective, active Lutheran creation care advocates
- provided basic advocacy and organizing training
- significantly progessed with planning for the activities and projects for LENS in 2006-2007
- departed with a sense of excitement, expectation, and an understanding of individual responsibilities
Further groundwork – January 2008
More recently, an earthkeeping “visioning” consultation was held at the ELCA Churchwide Offices in January of 2008. Several long-time LENS participants, plus representatives of several churchwide units and one bishop, attended this meeting to discuss ways to bring a higher awareness and active involvement in caring for creation to all expressions of the ELCA.
The following informational report was shared with the Council of Bishops in March 2008:
Churchwide “Earthkeeping Consultation” Jan 16-17, 2008
~ Summary Report ~
WHAT the event was about:
Bringing together 14 participants, representing different units of the ELCA as well as long-standing interested parties [theologians, laity, and rostered leaders] to the ELCA’s “story” and efforts to lift up the care of creation as an important part of this church’s ministry in being “sent for the sake of the world.”
Participation was by invitation (though not all who were invited were able to attend). The impetus for convening this “visioning” meeting came from a mutual interest and shared funding by the EOCM Unit (Keith Mundy, Stewardship) and CS (Office of Mary Minette, ELCA Director for Environmental Education & Advocacy). Kim Winchell, a diaconal minister in the N/W Lower MI Synod, served in the role of meeting planner, convener, and discussion facilitator.
Keith Mundy, Stewardship, EOCM
Mary Minette, Director, Environmental Ed. & Adv., ELCA Washington Office
Tammy Devine, Diaconal Minister, and ELCA Wellness Coordinator, BOP
Russ Senti, Director, Lutheran Outdoor Ministries Center, Oregon, IL
John D. Schleicher, Bishop, N/W Lower MI Synod and Bishops Environmental “Ready Bench”
Dr. David Rhoads, LSTC, Web of Creation, Green Congregations Program
Dr. H. Paul Santmire, theologian, author, ELCA pastor, and co-author of the ELCA 1993 social statement on creation
Lynette Stott, Director, ELCA State Public Policy Offices
Heidi Hagstrom, Director for ELCA Youth Gathering 2009
Bob Sitze, Director, ELCA Hunger Education Program
Mark Peters, Director, Lutheran Coalition for Public Policy in Minnesota
Rev. Dennis Ormseth, Green Congregation program, Minnesota
Rev. Nelson Bock, Faculty, Religion Dept. of Wartburg College, and Colorado Interfaith Power & Light
Kim Winchell, Diaconal Minister, Earthkeeping Ministries, N/W Lower MI Synod
PURPOSES of the Consultation:
- Gather and identify leaders in ELCA earthkeeping efforts and initiatives.
- Deliberate together about ways to identify, connect, and deepen earthkeeping efforts throughout ELCA.
- Seek to identify or propose channels or processes to harness the synergy of potential collaborative efforts among ELCA units and ways to connect earthkeeping leaders and efforts, to share information and best practices for more visible effects and outcomes.
- Participants will work together to develop recommendations on possible courses of action and next steps, and share these with ELCA Units, synods, and other leaders.
- A powerful meeting; sense of a kairos moment, containing both urgency and hope.
- Consensus to self-organize the 14 participants as a follow-up Advisory Group to the Earthkeeping Consultation (several additional members to be added, for broader representation), and a five-member “Steering Team” identified.
- Final summary report and recommendations pending, to be shared broadly.
- We see this as beginning a process, a conversation that holds a promise and hope of “rippling out” across the expressions and ministries of the ELCA and its members.